Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, Dirisu Yakubu, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole and Esther Blankson
The Presidential Election Petition Court on Monday refused a request for a live broadcast of its proceedings, stating that the application lacked merit.
The five-member panel of the court headed by Justice Haruna Tsammani, held that Nigeria’s judicial policies and legislative framework had no place for live telecast of court sessions.
The rejection of the applications filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar and the Labour Party and its candidate, Peter Obi, was handed down on Monday as the Supreme Court fixed Friday for judgment in a suit seeking the disqualification of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu and Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima.
The suit was brought by the PDP through its counsel, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, alleging that Shettima had double nomination as a senatorial candidate and later, presidential running mate.
The party wants the apex court to upturn the verdict of the Court of Appeal which dismissed the appeal on the grounds of locus standi.
In their respective motions, Atiku and Obi had prayed to the court for an order directing its registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.
They equally argued that the live broadcast of the proceedings would remove any doubts about the transparency of the judiciary and promote fairness.
But the respondents the Independent National Electoral Commission, the president-elect and the APC – opposed the applications, insisting that they related to policy formulation of the court, which is outside the PEPC’s jurisdiction as constituted.
Arguing the motion, Chris Uche, counsel for Atiku and the PDP said, “There is no single legislative or statutory position against it.”
According to him, a live broadcast doesn’t necessarily mean the faces of the justices would be shown.
In his submission, Abubakar Mahmoud, counsel for the electoral commission, averred that a live broadcast “will only defeat the solemn atmosphere of the court.”
The president-elect represented by Wole Olanipekun, SAN, expressed surprise over the application saying, “The court is not a stadium or a crusade ground. It is not a theatre or circus.”
Tribunal explains rejection
However, the court in its ruling held the petitioners’ submission on public proceedings “does not mean the court must sit in a stadium or a market square.”
“The application is a novel one in this country. It is not provided for in any of our rules or procedures,’’ the PEPC ruled.
The court also held that the case of Oscar Pistorius, O.J Simpsons and others cited by the petitioners in their application did not apply to the Nigerian judiciary.
The panel further held that for the court to okay the application, judicial policies and regulatory frameworks would be put in place.
In a separate ruling, the court also rejected the application by the Labour Party and its presidential candidate seeking to televise the proceedings of the court.
The court dismissed the application on the same grounds as Atiku and the PDP.
Asked if the former vice-president planned to appeal the ruling, the Media Adviser to Atiku, Paul Ibe said the demand for the live telecast was in the interest of the people, adding that his principal would rather focus on the main issue rather than dissipate energy on an appeal.
“One of the senior lawyers has spoken and he said there’s no need for appeal. It (rejection of live telecast by the tribunal) has happened, and we will move on. Live telecast was not a substantive issue, but we demanded it for the sake of transparency.
‘’Now that Nigerians would not have the opportunity to watch the proceedings live as we wanted, we will move on to the substantive issue. There is no need for an appeal,” Ibe told The PUNCH after the court session.
Also, the PDP ruled out any plan to appeal the ruling, saying it would be a waste of time.
PDP rules out appeal
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, was unavailable to pick up his call, but a member of the party’s National Executive Committee and Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, said appealing the ruling was not what the PDP would bother itself about.
He added, “There is no need to appeal this ruling. It would be a sheer waste of time. The position the tribunal has taken should be respected but if truly they had nothing to hide, they would have granted this request.
“We recall the Human Rights Violation and Investigation Commission presided over by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa many years ago. Despite the sensitive issues the panel interrogated, the proceedings were transmitted live. So, what is too hard to televise in an election in which people want to see and know the truth?’’
Counsel for the Labour Party, Awa Kalu SAN, stated that the team had yet to meet to take a decision on the issue of appeal.
However, he noted “That doesn’t mean the decision cannot be appealed at the end even after the other issues have been determined.’’
He said appealing the decision would not defeat the purpose of the appeal because “the law is not for one day.”
The acting National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Obiora Ifoh, said the party would abide by the position of the court.
Ifoh disclosed that though live-streaming the proceedings would afford Nigerians the opportunity to have a clear idea of what was going on in the court, appealing the ruling, he noted, would prolong the case.
He declared, “No, we won’t appeal the ruling. There is no time because we want this case. We actually wanted that live telecast because we want Nigerians to see how transparent the process will be. We are apostles of transparency.’’
When asked if they considered that the proceedings may extend beyond May 29 when the president-elect would be inaugurated, the LP official acknowledged the chances of concluding the pre-hearing sessions and commencement of the hearings were slim if the introduction of witnesses, cross-examination and other proceedings were anything to go by.
APC slams opposition
But the Spokesman for the dissolved APC Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, stated that he was not surprised by the ruling.
“Law does not admit emotions and sentiments. The opposition is just discovering this and they will discover more as it goes on that it is not about the noise and blackmail. It is about law,’’ he noted.
The minister of labour and employment revealed that he would join Tinubu’s legal team when his tenure ends next week.
But a civil society organisation, Enough is Enough, expressed disappointment with the refusal of the PEPC court to permit the live broadcast of its proceedings.
The group in a statement posted on its Twitter handle @EiENigeria, however, said it remains hopeful of a change in the future.
It said, “It’s disappointing to hear that the tribunal dismissed the request for live coverage. However, we firmly believe that access to information and transparency in legal matters are fundamental pillars of a fair and just system.’’
In a new development, the Supreme Court, on Monday, fixed May 26 (Friday) to deliver its judgment on an appeal challenging the eligibility of the former Lagos State governor to contest the February 25 presidential election.
The appeal marked: SC/CV/501/2023, which was brought before the court by the opposition PDP is seeking to disqualify Tinubu and Shettima.
The PDP contended that the manner the APC and Tinubu nominated Shettima as the vice presidential candidate for the election was in gross breach of the provisions of sections 29(1), 33, 35 and 84(1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2022, as amended.
It told the court that there was evidence that Shettima was nominated twice, both for the vice presidential position as well as for the Borno Central Senatorial seat, an action the PDP maintained was in contravention of the law.
Aside from asking the court to nullify Tinubu and Shettima’s candidacy, the appellant equally applied for an order to compel the INEC to expunge their names from the list of nominated or sponsored candidates that were eligible to contest the presidential poll.
A five-member panel of the apex court, led by Justice Inyang Okoro, okayed the matter for judgment after the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.
While the PDP’s counsel, Joe Agi, SAN, urged the court to uphold its case by setting aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the matter, counsel for Tinubu and the APC, Mr Babatunde Ogala, SAN, sought the dismissal of the suit on the premise that it was bereft of any merit.
Besides, the respondents contended that the matter had become statute-barred in view of the expiration of the period allowed for the hearing and determination of such a pre-election case.
On its part, INEC, through its lawyer, Mr Adebiyi Adetosoye, said it was in support of Tinubu and APC’s demand for the appeal to be dismissed with substantial cost.
Furthermore, the respondents queried the legal right of the PDP to institute the action as well as the jurisdiction of the court to dabble into the issue of nomination of a candidate for an election, which they argued bordered on the domestic affair of a political party.
After listening to all the parties, the Supreme Court adjourned the case for judgment.
Recall that Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja had on January 13 dismissed the case on the grounds that the PDP lacked the locus standi to challenge Tinubu’s candidacy.
He held that the suit was caught by the principle of estoppel, stressing that the issue surrounding Shettima’s nomination had been decided earlier by another court of competent jurisdiction.
He, therefore, held that the suit was an abuse of the court process and as such deserved to be dismissed, adding that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit filed by a plaintiff without the requisite legal right.
Meanwhile, the APC and the president-elect have rejected the proposal to consolidate the three surviving petitions challenging their victory in the February 25 presidential election.
Justice Tsammani had on Saturday referred parties to paragraph 50 of the 1st Schedule of the Electoral Act on the idea of consolidating the three surviving petitions to determine them as one.
The judge directed the legal teams to consult their clients and report to the court on Monday.
At the resumed session on Monday, counsel for the APC, Charles Edosomwam, SAN, said his client was opposed to the consolidation of the petitions because “the grounds are different and the wide range of issues raised by parties are also different.’’
‘’The major issues before this court will be lost like a pin in a haystack if the petitions were consolidated. Moreover, it will be pragmatically impossible for the respondent to effectively defend the case. It is our position that the issue of justice cannot be sacrificed at the altar of convenience,” Edosomwam submitted.
In a similar vein, Tinubu, through his team of lawyers led by Akin Olujinmi, SAN, argued that “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.”
However, the INEC said it would leave the issue to the court’s discretion.
Although the PEPC received five petitions challenging Tinubu’s victory, only three remained after the Action Alliance and Action Peoples Party withdrew their petitions.
The remaining petitions are those filed by the PDP and Atiku, the Labour Party and Obi, and the Allied Peoples Movement.
Meanwhile, the APM, on Monday, told the court that it would call only one witness to prove its case that Tinubu didn’t win the poll.
Counsel for the party, S. Abubakar, said his client’s case would rely majorly on documentary evidence, adding that the lone witness would need only 20 minutes to present his testimony and another 20 minutes for cross-examination and re-examination.
“My Lords, our petition is basically premised on documentary evidence. It was part of our agreement that if there is any document to be relied on, which is a report of an expert, it must be furnished to parties before the hearing date,” he stated.