The presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party, Atiku Abubakar and that of the Labour party, Peter Obi was slammed by the All Progressives Congress on Thursday for criticising the verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which upheld President Bola Tinubu’s election and the electoral process.
This happened as Atiku and Obi attacked the Independent National Electoral Commission over its conduct of the polls.
The five-member tribunal had nullified the petitions of Atiku and Obi in the 12-hour judgment delivered on Wednesday.
However, speaking on the development during a press conference at the PDP national secretariat in Abuja, Atiku said his belief that the PEPC’s judgment left a lot to be desired convinced him to direct his legal team to approach the Supreme Court for redress.
He stated, “I take great pains to tell you that the decision of the court of first instance on this matter utterly falls far short of expectation. I am therefore here to tell you that, though the judgment of the court yesterday is respected, it is a judgment that I refuse to accept.
‘’I refuse to accept the judgment because I believe that it is bereft of substantial justice. However, the disappointment in the verdict of the court can never destroy my confidence in the judiciary.
He further noted, “I have asked my lawyers to activate my constitutionally guaranteed rights of appeal to the higher court, which, in this instance, is the Supreme Court. It is my conviction that the electoral process in Nigeria should be devoid of untidy manipulations and that the outcome of every election should be a perfect reflection of the wishes of the electorate.’’
“I believe that such is the only way through which our democracy can have a manifest expression of its true meaning. Whether I prevail in this quest or not, the record of my effort in ensuring an order of credible elections in Nigeria shall remain for the future generations to evaluate.”
According to Atiku, much of his political successes are a function of the boldness exhibited by the Nigerian judiciary.
He added, “My decision to go to court is anchored in my belief that the court is the sanctuary of justice. The journey of my political career, as you know, holds so much to the courage and fearless decisions of our judiciary.
“Indeed, I am no stranger to legal battles, and I can say that I have a fair idea of how the court system works. All through my career as a politician, I have been a fighter, and I must say that I have found the judiciary as a worthy pillar to rest on in the pursuit of justice.’’
The former vice president slammed the Independent National Electoral Commission for poor management of the last general elections which he said the judiciary had a duty to redress.
He explained, “The last presidential election in our country and the way it was managed by the electoral umpire, INEC leaves behind unenviable precedents, which I believe the courts have a duty to redress.
“Our gains in ensuring transparent elections through the deployment of technology was heavily compromised by INEC in the way it managed the last presidential election, and I am afraid that the judgment of the court as rendered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal yesterday (Wednesday), failed to restore confidence in our dreams of free and fair elections devoid of human manipulations.
“Like I did say at the beginning of this legal battle when I instructed my lawyers to file my petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election, my ultimate goal in this pursuit is to ensure that democracy is further strengthened through the principles and processes of fair hearing.”
Speaking earlier, the Acting National Chairman of the party, Umar Damagum, said the PEPC’s judgment “Left lovers of democracy in and outside the country, more confused with a lot of questions on whether the Nigerian Constitution, electoral act and other laws guiding the conduct of credible election in our country are still functional.’’
He pointed out that close observation of the faces of Nigerians across the country showed hopelessness and despair since the pronouncement of the judgment.
The LP presidential candidate, Obi, has similarly criticised Wednesday’s judgment of the PEPT.
The ex-Anambra State governor averred that it was “not conterminous” with justice, adding that everything about the presidential election was not yet over.
He insisted the matter had not yet reached its logical conclusion.
He stated this during a world press conference at his residence in Onitsha, Anambra State, on Thursday.
He announced his intention to immediately challenge the judgment as permitted by the Constitution.
The businessman also said his legal team had already been instructed to file an appeal against the decision of the tribunal.
Obi said, “Yesterday, the Presidential Election Petition Court finally delivered its long-awaited judgments on the petitions challenging the outcome of the presidential election held on February 25, 2023.
“This judgment was delivered within the statutory time frame under the extant statutes. We acknowledge the Court’s contributions to due process and the seeming attempt to strengthen our democracy.
“As petitioners in this case, we respect the views and rulings of the court, but we disagree with the court’s reasoning and conclusions in the judgment it delivered. It is my intention as a presidential candidate and the intention of the Labour Party to challenge this judgment by way of appeal immediately, as allowed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He added, “The PEPC has rendered its judgment, but that esteemed body is not the final arbiter. The responsibility now falls on the Supreme Court. I do know that judgment is not coterminous with justice. I implore Nigerians to remain focused, steadfast, and peaceful; abide by the rule of law, and understand that this matter has not reached its logical conclusion.
“Our legal team has already received our firm instruction to file an appeal against the decision. I shall not relent in the quest for justice, not necessarily for myself but indeed for our teeming supporters all over the country whose mandate to us at the polls was regrettably truncated by INEC.”
Highlighting the fact that the PEPC was not the ultimate authority in the matter, Obi emphasised that the responsibility now rests with the Supreme Court, which he expressed confidence in.
He urged Nigerians to maintain their focus, steadfastness, and commitment to peaceful processes while emphasizing the importance of adhering to the rule of law.
He expressed unwavering determination in his pursuit of justice, not only for himself but also for the multitude of supporters across the nation whose electoral mandate he said was unjustly thwarted by the INEC.
He extended his gratitude to every Nigerian who had supported his cause and the campaign for a new Nigeria built on principles of fairness, equity, justice, the rule of law, peace, prosperity, inclusiveness, sustainable growth, and development.
“The strength and value of our democracy reside in solid national institutions and our confidence in them. Electoral litigations will be almost unnecessary and nonexistent if the Independent National Electoral Commission discharges its statutory functions creditably, transparently, and with discernible fairness. When that body fails, as it did recently, thus subverting the will of Nigerian voters, the recourse to the judiciary becomes imperative, as is now the case,’’ he added.
Earlier in a statement by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, the PDP presidential candidate denied a report that he allegedly congratulated and described the process that brought the former Lagos State governor into power as an act of electoral banditry.
The statement read in part, “Former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, has not issued any statement congratulating President Bola Tinubu over the outcome of the election petition tribunal in Abuja.
“Atiku couldn’t have validated electoral banditry because doing so would have amounted to a rape on the conscience of Nigerians who have struggled for years to entrench electoral integrity.
“If their conscience is clear and they are convinced that their victory is valid, they don’t have to blackmail their political opponents into congratulating them through fake news.
“Why should a man be desperate for validation? Does truth require validation? Why should you issue a congratulatory statement and attribute it to Atiku if your conscience is not troubled by the electoral heist you have perpetrated.’’
Contrary to the ‘’fake news being circulated by Tinubu propagandists,’’ Atiku said he had asked his lawyers to proceed to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgment of the election petition tribunal.
“To confirm that the purported message is fake and pedestrian, it was addressed to the ‘President-elect.’ Though we know it is a pyrrhic victory, is it not ridiculous to still address Bola Tinubu as “President-elect” five months after swearing-in?
Ibe further stated that, “This struggle is not about Atiku; it’s about Nigeria and the future of our democracy. By allowing election riggers to get away with their misdeeds, our democracy will be in greater jeopardy. Consent is essential to democratic mandate; ruling people against their will undermines everything democracy stands for.”
He also dismissed claims in some quarters that Atiku may go into political retirement, stressing that he would continue to play his role in the advancement of democracy in the country.
“The Waziri has nothing personal against President Tinubu. He owes him no ill will. Let me, however, make it very clear that this struggle is about principle and justice. He is not in this struggle because he hates Tinubu.
‘’He is in it to ensure that people who rigged elections are not allowed to get away with it. Injustice and rigging promote bitterness and division. No leader should be proud to lead angry and aggrieved citizens,” Ibe added.
But responding to Ibe’s statement that the election was rigged, the Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, slammed the PDP candidate, saying it takes a criminally-minded person to understand how a system is hacked.
While stating that he had no problem with the Adamawa State-born politician heading to the Supreme Court to challenge the verdict, Ibrahim labelled him as a bad sportsman.
He said, “It takes a thief to detect a thief. He, who is in the business of manipulating things, will certainly be the first to complain if things are manipulated. I believe INEC has experts and ICT specialists who will surely check the thoroughness and foolproof nature of their equipment.
“It is not for Atiku, as an interested party, to tell INEC whether or not the equipment are technically perfect or fit for the operation they are deployed on. INEC is an independent organization that has the right to decide the type of technology and how it should be deployed. Atiku can’t stay at the sideline and dictate that a vehicle is not roadworthy when he is not a vehicle inspection officer.’’
Lampooning the ex-vice president further, Ibrahim accused him of having ‘a compromised mind.’
He noted, “As an interested party, I think he probably has a compromised mind or intention that INEC countered that is making him uncomfortable. That probably explains why he is complaining. In all the curriculum vitae of Atiku that I have gone through, everybody will attest to the fact that he has always been a politician through and through.
‘’He is a serial election contestant and a loser. There is nowhere in the CV that he is an ICT expert. So, I really don’t know where the word ‘compromise’ that he used for the BVAS technology is coming from.”
The APC image-maker also knocked Atiku’s use of the word ‘electoral banditry’ to describe the outcome of the tribunal, arguing that such tantrums should not be coming from a statesman like him.
Ibrahim disclosed that the PDP candidate should not be seen downplaying the integrity of the tribunal in the vain hope that it would make the apex court to award him a favourable judgment.
“His rejection of the verdict is not unexpected. What is unexpected is the kind of tantrums that came out of Atiku Abubakar. When you insert words like ‘electoral banditry’ and at the same time say you still have confidence in the judiciary, you are contradicting yourself.
‘’This is because by the verdict of yesterday (Wednesday), the court has affirmed what INEC has done, which is a vote of confidence on the electoral institution by the judiciary.
“But because you want to lure the Supreme Court justices, you are saying that you condemned what the lower court has done but you are still hopeful and confident in the apex court where you are heading; that is contradictory,’’ Ibrahim maintained.
Continuing, he stated, “Much as you want to bribe the justices morally and indirectly with sweet words, you cannot disconnect what you have said about the lower court. It is either you have confidence in the judiciary in total or you lack confidence in total. You cannot have confidence in one segment of the judiciary and lack confidence in another.
“By that statement, Atiku may soon use the word ‘legal terrorism’ by the time the outcome of the Supreme Court counts against him. And it is not unexpected. That is not the kind of statement that should come from a statesman in the status of Atiku Abubakar.”
Speaking in the same breath, the Presidency said Atiku was free and justified to appeal the judgment of the Presidential Elections Petition Court at the Supreme Court.
“Neither the president nor the Presidency will be against anybody exercising their rights. It’s good that he (Atiku) exhausts the options constitutionally and legally available to him,” a Presidential aide who did not want to be mentioned told our correspondent in a telephone interview.
The Presidency official said Atiku’s decision to pursue his case at the Supreme Court would enrich the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.
“It is good for him to go to higher courts. That is part of the democratic process. It only enriches our electoral jurisprudence. So, he has subjected himself to the process. And judicial adjudication is part of the process.
“So, we have seen through the first leg, which is the appeal court. So, if he is not satisfied, he’s free to go to the Supreme Court,” the aide noted.
However, he argued that the court’s judgement satisfied high legal and scholarly standards and may not be found wanting.
“Nigerians know. Even those who are not lawyers could see the erudition, scholarship and intellectual depth of the judgment delivered by the five Justices of the appeal court yesterday,’’ the official added.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have yet to obtain the Certified True Copies of the tribunal verdict 24 hours after the judgment was delivered.
Although Atiku and Obi’s legal teams were at the Court of Appeal for the certified document on Thursday, they had yet to obtain it as of 7.26pm when our correspondent reached out to Atiku’s counsel, Chris Uche, SAN.
When asked if they had received the judgment which was needed to file their appeal, Uche said, “Not yet. Our lawyers have been there since morning. The law allows us 21 days from yesterday. We are hoping to get the judgment today (Thursday), so we don’t lose days.’’
When asked the reason given for the delay, he said, “They say there are some corrections being made.”
The National Legal Adviser of the LP, Kehinde Edun, disclosed that they have 21 days to file an appeal at the Supreme Court.
He said, “Our legal team is on it already. They have started the work. We don’t have forever. Since this is a final judgment, I think we still have up to 21 days from the day the judgment was given.
“We don’t have to exhaust the time we have. We want to make it as fast as possible. So we will not necessarily exhaust the time we have. We will definitely make it before then.
When asked what the grounds of appeal are, Edun stated that the party’s legal team is still working on them.
“We have not come up with it. We are still them. But I know the rejection of 10 of our 13 witnesses will be part of it. Our team is already at work. As an opposition, we have a mountain to climb, especially in this our clime. Many things will be against you.
‘’But the obstacles are not insurmountable. It takes a lot of courage, effort and resilience to change the status quo. It is not always easy but we will get there,” he stated.
The LP chieftain also applauded the PDP for also deciding to pursue their case to the Supreme Court.
Edun stated that fighting for the cause of justice instead of chickening out is a better approach to deepening the nation’s democracy.
He said, “It is encouraging that the PDP too has not given up. The only way to make democracy better is to continue to challenge the status quo and fight injustice. It is not to cower or chicken out. The fact that those two want to go and appeal is better for our democracy.”