Presidential Poll Dispute: Court adjourns APM’s petition against Tinubu till Friday

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, sitting in Abuja, has adjourned further proceedings on the petition the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, filed to challenge the outcome of the 2023 presidential election, till Friday.

Though the petition was earlier consolidated with the ones that were filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and that of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Peter Obi, however, at the resumed sitting on Tuesday, the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel adjourned APM’s case after its attention was drawn to a recent judgement of the Supreme Court.

The President, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose election is being challenged by the APM, had immediately the petition was called up for hearing, notified the court that the apex court had in the said judgement, dismissed an appeal the PDP filed to challenge his eligibility to contest the presidential election that held on February 25.

Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, maintained that PDP’s appeal, which bordered on the legality or otherwise of his client’s nomination to contest the election by the All Progressives Congress, APC, touched on the substance of APM’s petition.

Chief Olanipekun, SAN, stressed that the only ground the APM canvassed in its petition, was the fact that the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, had double nominations, prior to the presidential election.

Insisting that the issue had been settled by the Supreme Court, Tinubu’s lead counsel, said: “As officers of this court, it behoves us to assist the court in all circumstances and also bring to the attention of yours lordships, decisions of courts, even from other jurisdictions, which relate to any matter pending before yours lordships.

“Even if those decisions do not necessarily align with the interest of out clients. If becomes more imperative if we are aware or abreast of any decision of the Supreme Court which touches on matters within the proceedings before your lordships.

“In this wise my lords, this particular petition which has just been called in respect of which the sole issue that is being ventilated is the nomination of the 1st Respondent who we represent.

“We are aware that the Supreme Court gave a judgement on the issue on Friday, May 23, in respect of appeal No: SC/CV/501/2023, and the parties involved were PDP Vs INEC& 3 Ors, where the apex court considered all the issues and resolved them.

“We promise that within next two days, certified true copies of the judgement will be made available.

“We will also confirm from the petitioners, whether in the light of the Supreme Court decision, there will still be the need to continue with this petition,” he added.

Responding, counsel for the APM, Mr. S.A.T. Abubakar, sought for an adjournment to enable him to obtain and study the said Supreme Court judgement.

He said: “My lords, based on the submissions of the learned silk, we shall be praying this court, on behalf of the petitioner, to adjourn the hearing of this petition to enable us to apply to the Supreme Court for a copy of the judgement referred to.

“This is to enable us to examine it to know the effect it has on our petition.

“However my lords, we shall be praying for the petition to be adjourned till Friday,” the petitioner’s lawyer added.

Both counsel for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, and that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, said they were not opposed to the request for an adjournment.

“My lords, we agree with the petitioners that they need time. I have no objection to their application for an adjournment,” Fagbemi, SAN added.

The 4th Respondent, Mr. Ibrahim Masari, through his counsel, Mr. Roland Otaru, SAN, did not oppose the application.

Consequently, the Justice Tsammani-led panel adjourned further proceedings on the petition till Friday.

The APM had in its petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, contended that the withdrawal of Mr. Masari who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari, who was listed as the 5th Respondent in the petition, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Senator Kashim Shettima.

It further argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed as at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement.

According to the petitioner, as at the time Tinubu announced Shettima as the Vice Presidential candidate, “he was no longer in a position, constitutionally, to nominate a running mate since he had ceased to be a presidential candidate of the 2nd Respondent having regards to the provisions of section 142 of the 1999 Constitution”.

More so, APM, contended that Masari’s initial nomination activated the joint ticket principle enshrined in the Constitution, stressing that his subsequent withdrawal invalidated the said joint ticket.

It, therefore, prayed the court to declare that Shettima was not qualified to contest as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the APC as at February 25 when the election was conducted by INEC having violated the provisions the of Section 35 of the Electoral Act, 2022.

“An order nullifying and voiding all the votes scored by Tinubu in the presidential election in view of his non-qualification as a candidate of the APC”.

Likewise, an order to set aside the Certificate of Return that was issued to the President by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Both President Tinubu and the APC had since filed processes to challenge the competence of the petition which they said was bereft of merit.

The court had upon the consolidation of all three petitions, granted the APM the nod to call its proposed lone witness to testify before it.

It further allocated a day to INEC to enter its defence to the petition, even as it gave Tinubu and Masari, two days and a day, respectively, to also present their defence.

APM told the court that it would mainly rely on documentary evidence to establish its case that Tinubu was not the valid winner of the presidential contest.

It will be recalled that though five petitions were initially filed to challenge the return of Tinubu as winner of the election, however, the Action Alliance, AA, on May 8, withdrew its case, even as the Action Peoples Party, APP, followed suit two days later by also discontinuing further proceedings on its own petition.

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