Under fire from the barrage of criticisms trailing the 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has appeared before the court to defend the presidential poll that produced Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as president-elect and vice president-elect respectively.
Accordingly, the commission prayed the presidential election petitions tribunal (PEPT) sitting at the Court of Appeal in Abuja to dismiss a petition filed by Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, saying the reliefs sought are not grantable.
The electoral body contended that Tinubu and Shettima who were All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential and vice presidential candidates were duly declared and returned as elected and issued Certificates of Return having fulfilled the requirements of the constitution to be declared winners and returned
INEC is the 1st respondent in the petition filed before the tribunal by Obi, the 1st petitioner, and LP, the 2nd petitioner.
They had dragged INEC, Tinubu, Shettima, and the APC to the court as 1st to 4th respondents respectively.
In its reply filed on Monday night at the tribunal by its lawyer, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), the commission prayed the court to either “dismiss or strike out the petition for being grossly incompetent, abusive, vague, nebulous, generic, general, non-specific, ambiguous, equivocal, hypothetical and academic.”
The petitioners are seeking the nullification of the election of Tinubu and Shettima in the February 25 presidential poll.
Tinubu who defeated 17 other candidates in the election scored a total of 8,794,726 votes, the highest of all the candidates, while former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came second with 6,984,520 votes and Obi, third with 6,101,533 votes.
The commission argued that while Shettima, the vice president-elect, was duly nominated and sponsored to contest the election, it also said that Tinubu and Shettima were duly declared and returned as elected and issued Certificates of Return having fulfilled the requirements of the constitution to be declared winners and returned.
Also, the governing APC told the presidential election petitions tribunal sitting at the Court of Appeal, Abuja, to dismiss the petition filed by the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate, Obi, against the emergence of Tinubu as president-elect in the February 25 presidential election.
In its preliminary objection filed against the petition of LP, APC, the 4th respondent in the petition, urged the tribunal to reject the petition in its notice of objection marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023 and filed by the legal team of the party led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).
In the objection, the party asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost on the grounds that it lacked merit and was frivolous.
In the petition marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023 filed by Mr Obi and LP’s lead counsel, Livy Ozoukwu, they contended that Tinubu “was not duly elected by a majority of the lawful votes cast at the time of the election”.
The petitioners claimed there was rigging in 11 states, adding that they would demonstrate this in the declaration of results based on the uploaded results.
Obi and LP said INEC violated its own regulations when it announced the result despite the fact that at the time of the announcement, the totality of the polling unit results had yet to be fully scanned, uploaded, and transmitted electronically as required by the Electoral Act.
But in its response to the petition, the APC asked the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that Mr. Obi, the 1st petitioner, lacked the requisite “locus standi” to institute the petition because he was not a member of LP at least 30 days to the party’s presidential primary to be validly sponsored by the party.
It said, “The 1st petitioner (Obi) was a member of PDP until May 24, 2022. 1st petitioner was screened as a presidential aspirant of the PDP in Apni 2022.”
The 1st petitioner participated and was cleared to contest the presidential election while being a member of the PDP.
“The 1st petitioner purportedly resigned his membership of PDP on May 24, 2022, to purportedly join the 2nd petitioner (Labour Party) on May 27, 2022.
“The 2nd petitioner conducted its presidential primary on May 30, 2022, which purportedly produced the 1st petitioner as its candidate, which time contravened Section 77(3) of the Electoral Act for him to contest the primary election as a member of the 2nd petitioner.”
The party argued that Obi was not a member of LP at the time of his alleged sponsorship.
The APC argued that “by the mandatory provisions of Section 77 (1) (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act 2022, a political party shall maintain a register and shall make the such register available to INEC not later than 30 days before the date fixed for the party primaries, congresses and convention.”
It stated further that all the PDP’s presidential aspirants were screened on 29 April 29, an exercise Mr. Obi participated in and cleared to contest while being a member of the party.
It argued that the petition was incompetent since Mr. Obi’s name could not have been in LP’s register made available to INEC at the time he joined the party.
The APC equally argued that the petition was improperly constituted having failed to join Atiku Abubakar and PDP who were necessary parties to be affected by the reliefs sought
“By Paragraph 17 of the petition, the petitioners, on their own, stated that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar came second in the presidential election with 6,984,520 votes as against the petitioners who came third with 6,101,533 votes;
“At Paragraph 102 (ii) of the petition, the petitioners urged the tribunal to determine that the 1st petitioner scored the majority of lawful votes without joining Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in the petition.
“For the tribunal to grant prayer (iii) of the petitioners, the tribunal must have set aside the scores and election of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
“Alhaji Atiku Abubakar must be heard before his votes can be discountenanced by the tribunal,” it said.
The party said the petition and the identified paragraphs were in breach of the mandatory provisions of Paragraph 4(1) (D) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022.
According to APC, Paragraphs 60-77 of the petition are non-specific, vague, and/or nebulous and thereby incompetent contrary to Paragraph 4(1)(d) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022.
It said that the allegations of non-compliance must be made distinctly and proved on a polling unit basis but none was specified or provided in any of the paragraphs of the petition.
“Paragraphs 59-60 of the petition disclose no identity or particulars of scores and polling units supplied in 18,088 units mentioned therein,” it added.
Accordingly, the party argued that the tribunal lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain pre-election complaints embedded in the petition as presently constituted, among other arguments.
The APC urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost as the same was devoid of any merit and founded.