Solomon Odeniyi, Abiodun Sanusi and Esther Blankson
•Stay away from inauguration venue if you don’t have business there – SGF
•Buhari hands over transition documents to incoming President Thursday
About 65 world leaders, including Heads of State, have been invited to grace the inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, who will be sworn in as the 16th President of Nigeria on May 29.
Also expected at the nation’s seventh transition ceremony are past presidents, diplomats, heads of international organisations and prominent Nigerians and representatives of foreign governments and agencies.
The inauguration programmes will begin on Thursday with the investiture of Tinubu with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic and the Vice-President-elect, Kashim Shettima, as the Grand Commander of Order of the Niger.
A director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to The PUNCH on Thursday that several African leaders had indicated interest in attending the inauguration ceremony which would take place at Eagle Square, Abuja.
“We have 54 countries in Africa and most of them have been invited to the inauguration; so, we don’t expect less than 65 world leaders from Africa, Europe and America at the event,’’ said the director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue.
Representatives of Nigeria’s traditional allies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, China, Germany, Finland, Jamaica, Japan, Israel, Turkey and several others are expected at the high-profile event.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Thursday as activities for the transition of power to the incoming administration began, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, disclosed that scores of world leaders would attend the event.
The preparation for the swearing-in of the former Lagos State governor is gathering steam as the battle to nullify his election victory by the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi continues at the Presidential Election Petitions Court.
On Thursday, the PEPC adjourned further proceedings in Atiku’s petition till Friday (today) to continue further pre-hearing sessions as well as to hear pending applications that were filed by the respondents.
The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led panel said the court would decide on the number of witnesses that would be allowed for each of the parties, the time to be allocated to them, as well as the time to be allowed for cross-examination.
He urged the parties to put heads together and agree on further modalities to be adopted.
The court had similarly adjourned Obi’s petition till today following the failure of the parties to harmonise the documents germane to their pleadings.
But unveiling the inauguration programmes, Mustapha, who doubles as the Chairman of the Presidential Transition Council, disclosed that Tinubu and the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima would be honoured with the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic and Grand Commander of Order of the Niger, respectively, on May 25.
Reeling out the activities for the event, he further disclosed that transition documents would be handed over to Tinubu and Shettima on the same day.
Similarly, he said the former president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, would deliver the inauguration lecture.
The lecture titled, ‘Deepening Democracy for Integration and Development’ would be held on May 27.
Other activities include the Regimental Dinner in honour of the Commander-in-Chief at the Armed Forces Officers Mess slated for Tuesday, May 23; the Valedictory Federal Executive Council Meeting at the Council Chambers inside the Presidential Villa on May 24; Public Lecture and Juma’at prayer at the National Mosque on May 26; Children’s Day Parade and Party on May 27 and an Inter-denominational Church Service at the National Christian Centre on May 28.
Also, the Inauguration Dinner/Gala Night at the State House Conference Centre is billed for May 28 while the inauguration/swearing-in of the president-elect and the vice president-elect will take place on May 29 accompanied by an inauguration parade at the Eagle Square.
There will also be a post-inauguration luncheon strictly for the President with his colleague Presidents, Heads of Government and guests at the State House Banquet Hall after the inauguration ceremony.
The SGF revealed that many world leaders had indicated interest in attending the event.
“So far, invitations have been sent to Presidents and Heads of Government as well as Heads of international organisations. We are also glad to report that many of these invitees have confirmed attendance in person,’’ he affirmed.
But when asked about the identities of the leaders, the SGF said, “Diplomatic privilege does not allow us to announce the number of people coming. If you know what is happening globally, we cannot tell you who is coming. We leave that to their embassies to make it public.”
Mustapha insisted that the handover would hold despite the court cases seeking the cancellation of the ceremony.
The transition committee chairman noted, “The inauguration would not be stopped pending the determination of the cases in court. This is not the first time we have had elections. In my political life, I have seen different transitions.
‘’From Shagari’s period to Buhari, the inauguration went on despite court cases. In 2003, Buhari spent months at the tribunal up till the Supreme Court. He repeated the process three times. The only election that was not litigated was in 2015 when Jonathan conceded defeat. With or without litigation, the handover will be held on May 29. The Constitution and Electoral Act are clear on this.”
The SGF disclosed that the theme for the inauguration is, ‘Nigeria: Better Together,’ adding that the event is historic for the country as well as the international community.
He added, “The upcoming event is historically significant to this great nation and the international community, particularly Africa because of the democratic values and lessons in nationhood. For these reasons, we have chosen, ‘Nigeria: Better Together’, as the theme for the 2023 transition.
‘’I am delighted to inform you that May 29, 2023, will mark the seventh consecutive democratic transition of power in Nigeria and on that day, we shall all be ushering in the 16th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The significance of the above is underscored by the desire of this administration to lay a solid foundation for seamless transition of power by institutionalizing the process through legislation.”
According to him, the transition council interfaced and learnt from the transition processes practised in the United States of America and Kenya, expressing hope that Nigeria would have legislation on presidential transition soon.
Mustapha said, “In furtherance of discharging its functions, the PTC also interfaced with leading democratic nations including the United States of America and the Republic of Kenya, as part of its learning efforts to pick up useful lessons in line with international best practices.
“It is important to also state that these countries have specific legislations on Presidential Transition, some of which date back to 1963. It is our expectation that specific legislation on presidential transition in Nigeria would be passed soon.”
On the security of the venues and guests, Mustapha said adequate measures had been put in place.
“Adequate arrangements have been made for the safety and security of all people throughout the inauguration period,’’ the official assured.
The Chairman, Security, Facilities, and Intelligence Committee and National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, said covert and overt operations had been put in place to secure the venues as well as hotels for guests’ accommodation.
Monguno added that attacks during the events were not being envisaged, warning those who have no business at the venues of the events to steer clear of them.
He said, “Our primary function is to provide both overt and covert security cover for all the venues where the stated activities would be held, including the hotels where guests would be staying. The span of our work is before, during, and after the inauguration.
‘’My advice is that if you have no business at the venue, you need not be there. The most important message I would like to pass across to you is that we do not envisage anything negative. Everybody should be calm, especially those coming from other countries.”
Tight security assured
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps have assured of tight security in the Federal Capital Territory during the inauguration ceremony.
The police noted that adequate personnel and equipment had been deployed for the activities leading to D-Day.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi, confirmed the development during an interview with our correspondent on Thursday.
Adejobi said, “We have made adequate deployment of personnel and equipment for activities lined up for the presidential inauguration, and also for the inauguration ceremony itself. All security exigencies have been checked. There’s no cause for alarm as the inauguration ceremony will be held seamlessly.
“The police will provide adequate manpower and equipment for the security of everyone, and there’s no threat to the inauguration as everything has been put in check.”
The Spokesperson for the NSCDC, Olusola Odumosu, said no fewer than 3,000 operatives had been deployed on covert and overt operations ahead of the transition programme.
Giving an update on the preparations on Thursday, he said, “The NSCDC will be deploying 3,000 personnel for the inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu. The personnel will be deployed from the National Headquarters and the Federal Capital Territory Command. It is going to be a joint effort with other security agencies to ensure the success of the inauguration.”
In the meantime, the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, has slated May 24 for ruling on the suit filed by five FCT residents seeking an order to stop the inauguration of the president-elect.
The plaintiffs- Anyaegbunam Okoye, David Adzer, Jeffrey Uche, Osang Paul and Chibuike Nwanchukwu sued for themselves and on behalf of other residents and registered voters in the FCT.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/578/2023 before the Federal High Court on April 28, the plaintiffs aver that Tinubu failed to secure at least 25 per cent of votes cast in the FCT.
They are seeking an order of court restraining the Chief Justice of Nigeria and any judicial officer and/or any authority or persons from swearing in any candidate in the February 25 presidential election as president or vice president.
The counsel for the plaintiffs, Chuks Nwachukwu, had earlier informed the court that they filed the ex parte application and originating motions seeking a referral of the constitutional matters to the Court of Appeal for interpretation.
However, Justice Inyang Ekwo said the applicants should address the court on their locus standi and whether there is a similar matter before the presidential elections court.