Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Presidential Poll Tribunal: Military And Police Warn Protesters As Court Issues Verdict Wednesday

Ahead of the delivery of the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja on Wednesday, the military and the police have said they will not condone any unlawful action by troublemakers.

The Director, Defence Information, Brig. Gen. Tukur Gusau, warned those who might be planning to cause violence on that day to discard the idea.

The tribunal, in a statement on Monday, announced it would on Wednesday deliver judgment on the petitions challenging the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner of the 2023 presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The Chairman of the INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had on March 1 declared Tinubu the president-elect because his party scored the majority of votes cast in the poll.

The tribunal justices who will deliver the verdict on Wednesday are the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Haruna Tsammani; Justice Stephen Adah of the Court of Appeal (Asaba Division), Justice Monsurat Bolaji-Yusuf , Court of Appeal (Asaba Division), Justices Moses Ugo (Court of Appeal, Kano) and Abba Mohammed of the Ibadan Division of the Court of Appeal..

In the 2023 poll, the former Lagos State governor polled 8.8 million to defeat the Peoples Democratic Party standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar, who scored 6.9 million, Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, who polled 6.1 million votes, and 15 other candidates.

However, five of the 18 political parties that participated in the elections turned to the court to contest the declaration by the electoral body.

Leading the charge against Tinubu’s electoral triumph are Atiku and Obi who have asked the tribunal to nullify the ex-Lagos governor’s victory in the February 25 presidential election.

Besides the PDP and the LP, other aggrieved parties included the Action Alliance, Action People’s Party, and the Allied Peoples Movement.

In the course of the tribunal proceedings, the five-member panel headed by Justice Tsammani dismissed the petitions of the AA and the APP.

The dismissal was a sequel to a formal withdrawal of the petitions by the parties.

Atiku in his 66-page petition urged the court to cancel the election and order a fresh poll due to alleged irregularities that marred the exercise in thousands of polling units.

The ex-vice president in his joint petition with the PDP marked: CA/PEPC/05/2023, applied for the withdrawal of the certificate of return that was issued to Tinubu by INEC.

He maintained that the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election was “invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.”

Atiku further argued that Tinubu’s election was invalid because of corrupt practices and prayed the court to nullify his election and declare him the winner of the presidential election, having secured the second-highest number of lawful votes cast in the election.

He insisted that the APC candidate did not meet the constitutional threshold and “is constitutionally disabled from contesting for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

However, in a reply he filed through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Tinubu questioned the legal competence of the petition.

He described Atiku as a consistent serial loser who had since 1993 crisscrossed different political parties in search of power.

Obi in his petition argued that the election was flawed by irregularities, citing also the alleged non-qualification of Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, to contest the election.

He also alleged that Tinubu failed to win a majority of lawful votes and also one-quarter of lawful votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory.

He alleged that the election was conducted in substantial non-compliance with the provision of the law.

On August 1, the panel reserved judgment after the PDP, the LP, and the APM had adopted their final written addresses.

But announcing the judgment day in a statement on Monday, the Chief Registrar, Court of Appeal headquarters, Umar Bangari, stated that the tribunal verdict would be aired live on television stations.

This, he noted, was to promote transparency and openness and for Nigerians to watch the proceeding.

The statement read, “The Court of Appeal wishes to inform the general public that judgment in the following petitions before the Presidential Election Petition Court will be delivered on Wednesday 6th September 2023.

‘’CA/PEPC/03/2023 between Mr. Peter Gregory Obi & Anor vs Independent National Electoral Commission & 3 Ors; CA/PEPC/04/2023 between Allied Peoples Movement vs Independent National Electoral Commission & 4 Ors; CA/PEPC/05/2023 between Abubakar Atiku & Anor vs Independent National Electoral Commission & 2 Ors.

‘’In a bid to promote transparency and openness, these judgments will be televised live by interested television stations for the public to follow.”

He also said only accredited persons, including the counsel and representatives of political parties, would be granted access to the courtroom on the judgment day.

“Access to the court premises will be strictly on accreditation. Only accredited individuals, including counsel and representatives of political parties, will be granted access to the courtroom.

‘’Interested members of the public are advised to watch proceedings from their television sets. We appeal for the maximum cooperation of the general public to ensure a hitch-free exercise, please,” the statement added.

Speaking on the security arrangement made to forestall the likelihood of a breakdown of law and order on the judgment day, Gusau explained that the Guards Brigade and Army Headquarters Garrison in collaboration with other security agencies would not fold their arms and allow anyone to foment trouble.

The DDI said this in response to questions from The PUNCH about the security order that would be implemented to ensure public safety before or on the judgment day.

Asked if the security forces would allow protests by those who might be dissatisfied with the tribunal verdict, Gusau said, “We have been maintaining peace and security in collaboration with other security agencies across the country.

‘’In Abuja, we have the Guards Brigade and the Army Headquarters Garrison in conjunction with other security agencies that have been on the ground to provide security in the FCT.

“We will continue to do our own work, and if anybody wants to perpetrate any mayhem, we cannot fold our arms and be looking at them. We have to do our job.

‘’On the (judgment) day, we will maintain our normal vigilance in conjunction with other security agencies. We can’t be doing our work and see somebody trying to unleash mayhem and we keep quiet. So, why are we outside (on patrol)?”

Meanwhile, the police authorities have beefed up security across several states in preparation for Wednesday’s judgment.

The Osun State Police Command assured that adequate security measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of lives and property.

The command spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, assured “there won’t be a crisis in any part of the state as adequate security measures have been provided.’

“We don’t harbor any fear but we are prepared and we will ensure that lives and property are protected before, during, and after the judgment,” she noted.

Similarly, the police in Kwara State disclosed that they were ready to stop any protest or demonstration that might arise as a result of the judgment and the Nigeria Labour Congress’ warning strike planned for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The command explained that its men were on alert to contain any protest or demonstration that might have been planned by miscreants in case the judgment did not go down well with them.

Although Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, was peaceful on Monday evening with no noticeable presence of security men, the spokesperson for the state police command, Ajayi Okasanmi, said that the force was ready to maintain the peace and security in the state.

“We are appealing to politicians and different political groups in the state to call their members to order as no form of protest or demonstration will be tolerated in the state. The political leaders are advised to call their supporters and warn them against organizing any protest in the state for now.

“This is a state of harmony and the situation is cool and peaceful but our officers and men are ready to check untoward movement or demonstration by any group of miscreants who plan to disrupt the peace of the state,’’ Okasanmi cautioned.

In response to the planned delivery of the judgment on the presidential election petitions, the Gombe State Police Command has also warned troublemakers to steer clear of the state.

Confirming the command’s readiness to deal with any untoward incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, Mahid Abubakar, said measures had been activated to ensure the protection of lives and property.

He said, “Any individual or group of persons planning to cause trouble should steer clear from the state, else they will be arrested and they will face the full wrath of the law.

“The command is aware of the development and given that the Commissioner of Police, Oqua Etim, has directed adequate security measures be put in place to avert any unforeseen circumstances before, during, and after the judgment.’’

Speaking on its expectations, the PDP said it would not pre-empt the ruling of the justices because it approached the election tribunal with facts and figures concerning the February 25 election.

The party spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, said the panel knew what to do given the evidence before it.

He noted, “As a party, we won’t pre-empt the learned justices. We approached the panel with facts and evidence on why we are challenging the outcome of the election. We went to the tribunal fully armed with evidence because elections are about rules, laws, and due process.

“The justices will now look at the evidence before them and give their ruling. We are optimistic that this evidence will determine the outcome of this matter. We are hopeful of victory. This matter is not about the PDP and certainly not about Atiku. Nigerians and the international community are eagerly awaiting the end of this process.’’

“The interest shown in this petition by Nigerians is enough for everyone to be hopeful. The PDP is only amplifying the voices of the people. So, there is no need for us to think that the ruling will go against us because we are confident of victory,” he concluded.

LP speaks on appeal

On its part, Labour Party leadership vowed to head for the Supreme Court if it has any reason to doubt the judgment.

This was disclosed by the National Legal Adviser of LP, Kehinde Edun, in a telephone chat on Monday.

While expressing confidence ahead of the judgment, Edun told The PUNCH he had no doubt that the LP would triumph “given all the evidence on the ground.’’

When asked if the party leadership would protest if the ruling did not go their way, the national legal adviser dismissed the notion, saying the LP would rather explore the option of the apex court.

Edun stated, “No, there is no reason for protest. We still have an option. Of course, the tribunal is not the final court. It is just the court of first instance for the presidential election. The court of appeal is the court of first instance.

“We still have an option to head for the Supreme Court. What is the reason to protest after the judgment on Wednesday? If we find a reason to appeal further, we will do it. The issue of protest does not arise now at all. If you are dissatisfied, you can still go upstairs. But we don’t think that will even happen. We are going to get the victory.

“But if it doesn’t go our way, we can now consider the reason for the outcome. When we look at the reason and feel dissatisfied, we will go to the Supreme Court.”

The Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, was enthusiastic about the ruling party’s chances of securing a favourable judgment.

In the case that the judgment was unfavourable, he said the party would abide by the rule of law.

Ibrahim stated, “As the ruling party and a progressive one, we certainly have more confidence in the court than the cutlass anybody may want to brandish.

In a related development, the Court of Appeal, Abuja, has directed its staff to stay at home on Wednesday, the day fixed for the tribunal judgment.

A worker told our correspondent that only a few accredited staff would be allowed inside the courtroom.

He said, “We were told today that we should not come to work on Wednesday and that only those with tags would be allowed into the court premises on that day. They said it was for our own good. I learnt they would give those people that will come to work on Wednesday tags. If that is done, only a few people will come to work. “

The Chief Registrar, Bangari, described the matter as an internal administrative issue.

“This is an internal administrative matter. If the staff were asked not to come to work on a day like that, it is strictly an internal affair. That is not important. In any case, NLC has declared a strike.”

The Treasurer for the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Musa Alonge, said the union, as an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress, would abide by its decisions.

He said, “We are an affiliate of NLC, and apart from that we have our own issues which we will also be giving them (the court authorities) a 21-day ultimatum. We are revisiting our issues on remuneration, we are on course.”

Ajuri Ngelale the spokesperson to President Bola Tinubu, on Monday said his principal was not worried about possible outcomes of the judgment of the presidential election tribunal.

Speaking in an interview on Channels Television on Monday, Ngelale said Tinubu saw no need to threaten judicial officers regarding the election petition.

The presidential spokesperson said Tinubu was optimistic that the panel would deliver judgment based on the evidence presented.

He said the president has “confidence and faith” in the judiciary, adding that Tinubu is sure that his mandate would be affirmed.

“Unlike some political gladiators in the country, the president sees no need to threaten judicial officers,” he said.

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