Former Vice President and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate Alhaji Atiku Abubakar chastised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Friday for filing processes to defend the eligibility of President-elect Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Atiku insisted that the electoral body’s support for the president-elect, whose election triumph is being challenged in court, was improper.
While accusing INEC of acting as a proxy for Tinubu, the PDP candidate who finished second in the presidential election held on February 25, urged the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja to dismiss a counter affidavit and preliminary objection filed by the Commission to challenge his petition.
According to Atiku, INEC lacked the legal capacity to defend the controversy surrounding Tinubu’s educational qualifications, his age as well as his alleged indictment in a drug-related case in the United States of America, USA.
He contended that INEC, being the umpire that conducted the election, ought to remain neutral in the case.
Atiku’s lawyer had at the resumed proceedings in the matter, notified the court that there were seven pending applications, among which he said included the one that INEC sought the striking out of 32 paragraphs of the petition relating to Tinubu’s qualifications.
Uche, SAN, prayed the court to not only dismiss INEC’s preliminary objection but to also declare it as a gross abuse of the judicial process.
“All that INEC has done is to ask for averments that were against Tinubu to be struck out. INEC is fighting a proxy war for Tinubu, which a neutral umpire is not expected to do. This is very wrong my lords,” Atiku’s lawyer added.
However, INEC, which is the first respondent in the matter, through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, asked the court to either strike out the said paragraphs or dismiss the entire petition for want of competence.
Likewise, Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, equally drew the attention of the court to processes they also filed for the petition to be dismissed.
The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel subsequently adjourned the case till Saturday to conclude the pre-hearing session.
The court held that it’s ruling on all the preliminary objections would be delivered before its final judgement on the case.
The development came on a day the court equally adjourned another petition that was brought before it by the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, Mr Peter Obi, till Saturday.
A mild drama played out in the court on Friday, as the Lamidi Apapa-led faction of the LP, briefed another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to announce an appearance for the party.
Immediately Obi’s petition was called up for hearing and lawyers were asked to announce their appearances, Chief Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, stood up and told the court that he was briefed to represent the LP.
The senior lawyer addressed the court after Prof. Awa Kalu, SAN, who appeared alongside five other SANs, had already announced his presence as counsel for the petitioners.
Maduabuchi, SAN, told the court that he was instructed by the party to appear on its behalf and to represent it in the matter.
However, the panel declined to record his appearance.
“You did not file this petition. Let the person that filed the case announce their appearance. We cannot record you,” Justice Tsammani held.
Another member of the panel berated Maduabuchi, SAN, for accepting the brief when he was aware that the party already had its team of lawyers.
“As a learned silk, you should know better and you should have told whoever briefed you that there is another lawyer handling the matter,” a member of the panel added.
Realising that he would not be allowed to take over the case, Maduabuchi, SAN, said he would go back and relate what happened in court to his client.
“That is not our business. You can either leave the court or sit and observe the proceedings,” Chairman of the panel, Justice Tsammani told him. Earlier, Obi, who was in court, announced himself as the representative of the petitioners.
Remarkably, the two factional Chairmen of the party, Julius Abure and Apapa were both in court for the matter.
It will be recalled that irate youths had on Tuesday, attacked Apapa at the court premises, accusing him of yielding himself as a tool in the hands of people seeking to disintegrate the party.
Apapa, who denied the allegation that he received N500 million to scuttle Obi’s case against Tinubu, was subsequently taken into protective custody by security operatives attached to the court.
Meanwhile, the court said it would on Monday, deliver its ruling on two separate applications that Atiku and Obi brought for day-to-day live coverage of proceedings in their cases.
They argued that the dispute trailing the presidential election was of serious national importance to both Nigerians that are within and outside the country.
However, INEC, Tinubu and the APC opposed the request which they said would expose the judiciary to unnecessary opprobrium.
They further argued that a live telecast of the proceedings would not be possible in the absence of an administrative policy direction from the President of the Court of Appeal.
Both Atiku and Obi are seeking the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to Tinubu by INEC.
The duo, in their separate petitions, claimed that they won the presidential election, insisting that Tinubu was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the poll.
More so, they told the court that Tinubu was not qualified to contest, adding that his election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices.
It will be recalled that INEC had on March 1, announced Tinubu as the winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
INEC declared that Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat Atiku who polled a total of 6,984,520 votes and Obi who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.