May 23, 2023

Presidential Poll: Why tribunal rejected live coverage

Presidential Poll: Why tribunal rejected live coverage

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA

THE Presidential Election Petitions Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, rejected a request to allow its day-to-day proceedings on petitions seeking to nullify the outcome of the February 25, 2023, presidential election to be televised live.

Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel dismissed the application brought by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, as lacking in merit.

The court held that no regulatory framework or policy direction permitted it to grant such an application, adding that allowing cameras in the courtroom is a major judicial policy that must be supported by the law.

“The court can only be guided and act in accordance with the practice directions and procedures approved by the President of the Court of Appeal. We cannot permit a situation that may lead to the dramatisation of our proceedings,” Justice Tsammani held.
Besides, the court held that the request was not part of any relief in the petitions before it, saying it was merely hinged on a sentimental claim that it would benefit the electorate.

It maintained that the petitioners failed to establish how televising the proceedings would advance their case, adding that such live broadcast would not add any utilitarian value to the determination of the petitions.

More so, it noted that such a live broadcast must be planned and budgeted for.

While assuring the parties that it would secure their right to a fair hearing as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the court held that it found no reason to grant the application which it described as “novel and unprecedented.”

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who came second in the election, initially made the request for live coverage, and Obi, subsequently, threw his weight behind the request.

The duo, through their lead lawyers, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, and Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, maintained that the petitions they lodged to query the declaration of the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, as the winner of the election, was “a matter of monumental national concern and public interest.

They argued that the case involved the interest of citizens and the electorate in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, who they said participated in the presidential poll.

Atiku and the PDP insisted that their case against Tinubu was a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, and applied for;

“An order, directing the Court’s Registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.

“With the huge and tremendous technological advances and developments in Nigeria and beyond, including the current trend by this honourable court towards embracing electronic procedures, virtual hearing and electronic filing, a departure from the Rules to allow a regulated televising of the proceedings in this matter is in consonance with the maxim that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

“Televising court proceedings is not alien to this Honourable Court, and will enhance public confidence”, the petitioners added.

APC, Tinubu disagree

However, in separate processes they filed before the court, Tinubu, APC and INEC, sought the dismissal of the application which they described as frivolous and unmeritorious.

Tinubu accused both Atiku and Obi of trying to ridicule the judiciary by attempting to reduce the proceedings of the court to a soapbox and a movie theatre.

“Televising of election tribunal proceedings (live) will only cause unnecessary tension, violence and unrest among the public, which may lead to breach of peace”, APC argued through its lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN.

Tinubu, in a counter-affidavit he filed alongside the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima, accused Atiku of deliberately attempting to expose the judiciary to public opprobrium.

According to them, the court “is not a rostrum or a soapbox. It is not also a stadium or theatre. It is not an arena for public entertainment” adding that “Atiku’s request had no bearing with the petition and was only aimed at dissipating the judicious time of the court.

Besides, they argued that the application was at best, “academic, very otiose, very unnecessary, very time-wasting, most unusual and most unexpected, particularly, from a set of petitioners, who should be praying for the expeditious trial of their petition.

On its part, APC, through its team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, told the court that contrary to Atiku’s claim, the presidential election “is not the subject matter of any national concern”, insisting that the election was “well managed by INEC with a turnout of voters in their millions.”
It argued that the proceedings of the court were already being adequately covered by the media.

“There is nothing unique or peculiar in the electoral dispute that emanated from the outcome of the 25th February 2023 election that is different from the earlier five presidential elections in the country since the Advent of the Fourth Republic and if anything, the February 25, 2023 election referred to, has the least litigation since 1999,” APC added.

It further argued that live broadcasts “will subject the proceedings of the court to unnecessary sensationalism and undue social media trial, which distracts from the kernel of the serious business before the court”.

INEC equally opposed live broadcasts of the proceedings.

Why we oppose the move to consolidate Atiku, Obi’s petitions-Tinubu, APC

In like manner, Tinubu and the APC opposed the move to consolidate the three petitions seeking to nullify the outcome of the election.

Tinubu and the APC, who are respondents in all the cases, maintained that merging all the petitions would adversely affect their ability to effectively defend all the issues the petitioners raised against their victory.

They, therefore, prayed to the PEPC to hear and determine the three petitions separately.

The President-elect and his party took the position on a day the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, said it was in support of the proposal to consolidate all the petitions.

However, the commission, through its lawyer, Mr Kemi Pinhero, SAN, said it would leave the issue to the discretion of the court.
Similarly, Atiku Abubakar threw his weight behind the merger of the petitions by the court.

Lead counsel for Atiku and the PDP, Mr Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, pointed out that consolidation of the petitions would guarantee expeditious determination of the legal issues surrounding the poll and would not “make any of the petitions to lose its character or separate reliefs it seeks.

“The main purpose for consolidation is to save time and cost.”

On his part, Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, who led the legal team of Mr Peter Obi, said his clients would leave the issue to the discretion of the court.

“This court has the discretion to decide whether or not to consolidate. But that discretion must be exercised judicially and judiciously. Our conclusion is that taking into account the totality of the parties before this court, as well as issues arising from the petitions, whatever the court directs, that is what we will do having regards to the circumstance,” Kalu submitted.
While opposing the consolidation plan, Tinubu, through his team of lawyers, led by Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, cited four legal authorities he said the court must consider, and jettison the idea, which he said would defeat the essence of justice.

“My lords, the issue of justice should be a restraint on the power of this court to exercise its discretion in granting the order for consolidation,” Tinubu pleaded, stressing that the petitioners did not only raise various issues against him but are equally seeking different reliefs.

The court had on its last adjourned date expressed its intention to consolidate all the petitions before it, noting that it was empowered by Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, to merge the petitions and determine them together.

It, therefore, gave counsel for all the petitioners the permission to consult their clients and report back to it with the outcome of the meeting, which they did, yesterday.

Consequently, at the resumed proceedings yesterday, Tinubu’s lawyer argued that the provision of the Electoral Act the court referred to was not absolute.

He said: “My lords, when the exercise of power is subject to the limitation of some conditions, then it cannot be said that the exercise is mandatory. There are issues raised in one petition that are not there in others. The issues vary. The same goes for evidential issues that are based on pleadings that have been exchanged by parties in this case.

“We want to make it clear at this stage that it will be absolutely difficult for us to consent to consolidation of the petitions. I most humbly urge your lordships not to grant the consolidation.”

Earlier, counsel for the APC, Mr. Charles Edosomwam, SAN, argued that consolidating the petitions would be against the interest of justice.

Tribunal asks Obi to reduce seven weeks of demand

Earlier before the court adjourned till Tuesday (today) to present its pre-hearing report on the petitions, the Justice Tsammani-led panel urged Obi and the LP to reduce the seven weeks they earlier demanded for the presentation of their case against Tinubu.

Noting that the 180 days statutorily allowed for the determination of the electoral dispute would elapse on September 16, the court said it would be difficult for it to conclude the hearing and deliver judgment within two days, should Obi and the LP spend seven weeks to present their proposed 50 witnesses.

Responding, counsel for the petitioners, Prof. Kalu, SAN, said he would persuade his clients to reduce the period to six weeks, even as he blamed the INEC for not furnishing them with the sensitive electoral materials they requested for.

We’ve only one witness against Tinubu, APM tells the court

Apart from the PDP and LP, the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, equally lodged a petition to challenge the outcome of the presidential election.

APM said it would produce only one witness to establish its claim that Tinubu was not the valid winner of the 2023 presidential election. “The APM, through its lawyer, Mr. S. Abubakar, told the PEPC it had enough documentary evidence to prove its petition against the President-elect.“Mr. Abubakar told the court that some of the parties in the petition met last Saturday and agreed on some of the modalities that would be adopted during the hearing of its case, including the time to be allocated for the examination-in-chief of witnesses. “Whereas the parties agreed to give 20 minutes for the testimony of star witnesses, they would be cross-examined for 25 minutes, while five minutes would be for re-examination.“