DEVELOPING: PEPC begins delivery of judgement in APM’s Petition Against Tinubu
Only abridged version will be read in court
By Solomon Onyilo
Nigeria's Presidential Election Petition Court, (PEPC) sitting in Abuja, has commenced the delivery of judgement in the petition by the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) filed to nullify the election of President Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was declared winner of the February 25, 2023 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and sworn-in as president on May 29.
It is the first of the three petition judgements billed to be delivered today. The other two are the petitions by Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of Labour Party.
The five-member panel of the court led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, had disclosed that it would not read everything in the judgement, especially all the arguments that were canvassed during the hearing.
The panel further stressed that though all the three cases challenging President Tinubu’s election were consolidated, the petitions will, however, maintain their separate identities.
Whereas the petition by the Labour Party and its candidate in the presidential election that held on February 25, Peter Obi, was called first, however, the panel, kick-started its verdict with that of the APM.
Cited as 1st to 5th defendants in APM’s petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, are INEC, the ruling APC, President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, and Mr. Kabiru Masari.
During the hearing, the petitioner, through its lawyer, Mr. Andrew Malgwi, SAN, urged the court to sack Tinubu and withdraw the Certificate of Return that was issued to him by INEC, all the Defendants prayed the court to dismiss the case for want of competence.
President Tinubu, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, maintained that the petition the APM lodged against him, lacked merit.
He argued that the sole issue the party relied upon to seek his sack from office, which bordered on allegation that his Vice President, Shettima, was nominated twice by the APC for different elective positions, had already been decided by the supreme Court.
President Tinubu argued that APM’s petition did not only fail to disclose a reasonable cause of action against him, but was equally bereft of substance.
Likewise, both counsel for the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, and that of INEC, Mr. Steven Adehi, SAN, separately urged the court to dismiss the petition.
Whereas APC told the court that Tinubu’s nomination and eligibility to contest the presidential election that held on February 25, was without fault, on its part, INEC, threw its weight behind the outcome of the poll.
After it had listened to all the parties, the Justice Tsammani-led panel said it would communicate the judgement date to them.
It will be recalled that the APM closed its case on June 21, after its lone witness testified before the court.
Specifically, APM, in its petition, contended that the withdrawal of Mr. Masari, who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari, who was listed as the 5th Respondent in the petition, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Senator Shettima.
It further argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed as at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement.
According to the petitioner, as at the time Tinubu announced Shettima as the Vice Presidential candidate, “he was no longer in a position, constitutionally, to nominate a running mate since he had ceased to be a presidential candidate of the 2nd Respondent having regards to the provisions of section 142 of the 1999 Constitution”.
More so, APM, contended that Masari’s initial nomination activated the joint ticket principle enshrined in the Constitution, stressing that his subsequent withdrawal invalidated the said joint ticket.
It, therefore, prayed the court to declare that Shettima was not qualified to contest as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC as at February 25 when the election was conducted by INEC having violated the provisions the of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“An order nullifying and voiding all the votes scored by Tinubu in the presidential election in view of his non-qualification as a candidate of the APC”.
As well as an order to set aside the Certificate of Return that was issued to the President by INEC.
The court had on May 30, suspended further proceedings in the matter after counsel to President Tinubu, Chief Olanipekun, SAN, drew its attention to a judgement of the Supreme Court which he said settled the issue the APM raised in its petition.
Chief Olanipekun, SAN, maintained that an appeal the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, filed against President Tinubu, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court, bordered on the legality or otherwise of his client’s nomination to contest the election by the APC.
He argued that the said judgement of the apex court touched on the substance of APM’s petition.
Tinubu’s lawyer stressed that the only ground the APM canvassed in its petition, was the fact that the Vice President, Shettima, had double nominations, prior to the presidential election that held on February 25.
Insisting that the issue had since been settled by the Supreme Court, Tinubu’s lead counsel, said: “As officers of this court, it behoves us to assist the court in all circumstances and also bring to the attention of yours lordships, decisions of courts, even from other jurisdictions, which relate to any matter pending before yours lordships.
“Even if those decisions do not necessarily align with the interest of our clients. If becomes more imperative if we are aware or abreast of any decision of the Supreme Court which touches on matters within the proceedings before your lordships.
“In this wise my lords, this particular petition which has just been called in respect of which the sole issue that is being ventilated is the nomination of the 1st Respondent who we represent.
“We are aware that the Supreme Court gave a judgement on the issue on Friday, May 23, in respect of appeal No: SC/CV/501/2023, and the parties involved were PDP Vs INEC& 3 Ors, where the apex court considered all the issues and resolved them.
“We will confirm from the petitioners, whether in the light of the Supreme Court decision, there will still be the need to continue with this petition,” he added.
Following its decision not to withdraw the petition, the APM tendered in evidence before the court, exhibits it said would establish its case that Tinubu was ineligible to contest the presidential election.
Part of exhibits the petitioner tendered in evidence through the witness, Aisha Abubakar, who identified herself as the Assistant Welfare Director of the party, included documents on Masari’s withdrawal as Tinubu’s running mate for the election.
However, before the witness could exit the box, APC’s lead counsel, Prince Fagbemi, SAN, tendered through her, a copy of the Supreme Court judgement which the Respondents said had earlier settled the issue the APM raised in the petition.
On his part, INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Kemi Pinhero, tendered before the court, a letter dated July 6, which the APC wrote to Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, notifying him of the withdrawal of Shettima’s nomination as its senatorial candidate in Borno state.
Equally admitted in evidence by the court was a letter that indicated that one Mr. Lawal Kaka Shehu, was subsequently nominated to replace Shettima as APC’s flag-bearer for senatorial poll.
After the witness was discharged from the box, a Deputy Director at the INEC, Mr. John Arabs, who was summoned through a subpoena, produced and tendered documents in evidence, among which included the “original online form” which Shettima submitted to indicate his withdrawal from the senatorial race.