By OBINNA EZUGWU
Halfway into proceedings at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) in Abuja, many have alleged, with good reasons, of an attempt to ensure that the legal challenge against the declaration of President Bola Tinubu, as winner of the contentious February 25 presidential election, is not decided on its merit.
The Court, which began its pre-trial session on Tuesday, May 9, has 180 days, or approximately six months, to deliver its verdict. But with three of the six months gone, and things seemingly not looking palatable for Tinubu and his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), obvious and subtle attempts are being made, it would appear, to compel the court to uphold the outcome of the election in ‘national interest.’
This has come in part, as threats of anarchy and violence should the president be removed from office, as embodied by Asari Dokubo, a Niger Delta militant leader and staunch supporter of the president, who has already stationed a private militia in Abuja, the nation’s capital, ready for mayhem.
“What we clearly see is an attempt to intimidate Nigerians, especially the tribunal judges into accepting Tinubu and upholding his election,” said Mr. Anthony Chidi, Abuja based lawyer. “While there was unusual security beef up in the days before the inauguration of Tinubu on May 29th, Asari and his army were allowed to parade the streets. And now, with the tribunal verdict being anticipated, he’s openly training a militia right here in Abuja, threatening violence, while security forces look away.”
Recently, a journalist and critic of the president, David Hundeyin, quoted a source he said, had been reliable, to have alleged that Tinubu met with Hope Uzodimma, governor of Imo State, as well as heads of security agencies, including the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to go after tribunal judges, and lawyers to his key opponents, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party, respectively.
Elections have always been contentious and flawed in the country since independence in 1960. But since the return of democracy in 1999, after over a decade and half of military rule, none has been as contentious as the February polls that produced Tinubu. While elections have always been rigged, with the populace moving on afterwards, the 2023 election has proved to be different.
The eight years Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s predecessor – from 2015 to 2023 – had brought unprecedented economic ruination; mass unemployment, poverty, galloping inflation and widespread security challenges. The country, many agreed, danced on the precipice, and needed to be redeemed. Thus, the populace, feeling the heat of poor economic outcomes under Buhari, developed more than passing interest in the February election.
Buoyed by the introduction of technologies, such as the BVAs, which was to eliminate ballot box snatching and multiple thumping of ballot papers, as well as the promise of uploading polling units results via the INEC viewing portal, which was to bypass the use of collation centres where winners and losers had ultimately been decided, irrespective of how the people voted, millions, particularly the youths, took keen interest in the 2023 polls, seeing same as an opportunity to “rescue the country.”
And riding on the back of this new wave of optimism, Mr. Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, who was crowded out of the PDP, the country’s main opposition party, in the lead up to its primary election last year, joined the Labour Party, a hitherto small platform, and within six months, built it into a formidable opposition force, on the back of massive support from young Nigerians.
But the election itself didn’t ultimately go hitch-free as many thought would be the case with the introduction of technology, backed by the the electoral act of 2022. Critically, INEC reneged on its promise to upload election results from polling units in real time, which gave room for what the opposition say is the manipulation of votes. In the end, the electoral umpire announced Tinubu, candidate of the ruling APC, winner with 8.7m votes. According to the results announced by INEC, Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the PDP came second with 6.9m votes, while Obi of Labour Party placed third with 6.1m votes.
Not satisfied with the results announced, however, Atiku and Obi headed to court, and armed with what they say are evidence of voter fraud, including multiple cases of mutilation of ballot papers, proceedings at the tribunal have generated unprecedented amount of interest, even as as it seems obvious that the ruling party is in a tight spot.
But it appears that the president, troubled as his legal defence may seem, may be devising intimidation tactics to stay in power. His legal team, fortnight ago, put the country on edge when they warned of the possibility of anarchy if their client wasn’t allowed to continue as president.
Tinubu lawyers, led by Wole Olanipekun, admitted his failure to score 25 percent of votes cast in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, but said it was insufficient to overturn his victory as declared by INEC, even as they maintained that failure to transmit election results from polling units should not be a reason to nullify the election.
“Any other interpretation different from this will lead to absurdity, chaos, anarchy and alteration of the very intention of the legislature,” the legal team argued in one breath. And in another breath, contended that, “Our submission is that the Petitioners are inviting anarchy by their ventilation of this issue of non-transmission of results electronically, by INEC.”
The submission rattled many, who saw same as an attempt to force the hands of the judiciary, and both Obi and Atiku’s legal team didn’t hesitate to label it as such.
“This is a cheap, misguided, and destructive blackmail clearly intended to target the country’s judicial and constitutionalism,” wrote Obi’s legal team in their final written address.
“It also aims at cannibalizing our democracy. It will also raise the issue of insecurity if the Petitioners emulate the bad example of the 2nd-3rd Respondents. However, that will never happen. When has it become offensive for Petitioners to canvass a ground prescribed for the challenge of an election in section 134(1)(b) of the Electoral Act 2022? Desperation taken too far can be extremely dangerous. Let the 2nd-3rd Respondents know that where the rule of law is trampled upon or truncated, anarchy reigns supreme!”
Similarly, Atiku’s legal team described it as, “a subtle threat of apocalyptic catastrophe of national chaos and anarchy if a judgment is not given in a particular manner cannot deter a Court of law from doing Justice. The court must do Justice, rather let the heavens fall”
Regardless of the push back, however, Asari Dokubo’s shenanigans in Abuja, the very seat of power, and right under the nose of the country’s security agencies, is for observers, a reason to be weary, and many, especially on social media, have continued to raise concerns.
“It appears that they hired Asari Dokubo and his terrorists group to scare Nigerians,” noted a popular commentator, @mindset_tweet. “As I said, heaven will NOT fall when BAT is disqualified, but if the heaven wants to fall, let it FALL.”
Asari, who was vocal and threatening about his support for Tinubu ahead of the election and prior to his swearing in as president, last month, met with the president in Aso Rock, after which he boldly sat at the seat of power and accused the country’s military of being behind oil theft in his native Niger Delta, among other allegations.
While his Aso Rock press conference rattled many, who saw it as an overreach, the militant leader has since gone from brandishing AK-47 rifles to threaten Igbo people, to parading militants right in Abuja and threatening Simi Fubara, governor of Rivers, his home state.
In a scandalous video that emerged last week, Asari was captured addressing his over 300 fighters somewhere in Abuja, during which he vowed to deal with anyone seeking the downfall of President Tinubu.
“If you do anyhow, you see anyhow… We work for President Ahmed Bola Tinubu and he will succeed. Anybody, who is plotting for him to fail, the person has already failed,” he declared before bursting into a song: “Na turn by turn oo! Na Jagaban turn ooo! A beg, wait for your turn oo!”
It’s been alleged that the militant leader is currently camping his men at Chelsea Hotel in Abuja, where as much as 1000 of them are allegedly camping and being fed on government payroll, with the aim of unleashing mayhem, should the tribunal remove the president. BH has not been able to independently verify this claim.
“That video of Asari Dokubo raising army for Tinubu was released to instill fear in Nigerians as the sack of Tinubu is imminent. Yesterday, news about dead bodies of EndSARS protesters was broken, today we are hearing about a private army for Tinubu. Coincidence?” Wondered Shehu Gazali Sadiq, @Shehusky, a supporter of the Labour Party.
“No. Everything was planned and arranged to send fear over the nation. Tinubu intends to actualize his presidential ambition with whatever it costs, even with human blood. Get ready!”
Last week, the PDP candidate, Atiku, in a statement by his spokesperson, Paul Ibe, raised raised the alarm over what he described as a sinister plot to undermine the Nigerian judiciary as well as democracy.
The former vice president explained that since the conclusion of the presidential election in February and the attendant controversies in its trail, there have been unfortunate developments that are saddening to many Nigerians.
According to him, it was needless to say that the election that brought the current government into office is the worst in the annals of democratic politics in our country, even though it was promised to be the best ever.
“Consequently, the outcome of that election and the arbitrariness of the electoral umpire to declare a winner against the requirement of the law has been the reason Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria (1999-2007) and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and other parties in the election have chosen the patriotic path to challenge the outcome of that election,” he said.
“But as proceedings on the controversial February 25 election continues at the court, there have been threats from the ruling party that aim to intimidate the judiciary from serving the duty of justice.
“It is regrettable that the APC and, indeed, agents of President Bola Tinubu have ceaselessly chosen to stand in the way of justice by making catastrophic threats to anarchy if justice is not served according to their whims.
“These and reports in the media about some heinous plots to harass justices sitting on the petition are ominous to peace and the security of our nation.”
However, the APC immediately fired back, describing the alarm as “arrant nonsense.”
he ruling party in a statement by Felix Morka, its national publicity secretary, noted that Atiku and the PDP were merely looking for an alibi to cover their expected failure at the tribunal.
“Quite frankly, there is nothing in Atiku Abubakar’s statement that is worth a reaction from the APC. It is just arrant nonsense, totally lacking in substance and cogency. Its only imaginable purpose is a childish attempt to float an alibi to deflect the shame of a highly probable defeat in court, having miserably failed to make out a credible case to justify his bogus claim that he won the last Presidential Election,” Morka said in the statement.
“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and our party won the election convincingly. We have full faith and confidence in our courts to dispense electoral justice in accordance with our Constitution and all applicable laws”.
Similarly, President Tinubu, through his Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communications & Strategy, Mr. Dele Alake, in a statement, advised the PDP presidential candidate to stop his “desperation.”
“We have read the laughable and jejune statement by former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Candidate in the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar,” he said.
“It is obvious that having been thoroughly defeated by the All Progressives Congress and now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the former Vice President has not fully recovered from the shock of defeat, hence the current attempt to mischievously rake up another round of inanities that offend basic logic and rational thinking.
“In the ill-thought-out and illogical statement, Alhaji Atiku accused the current administration of the governing APC of plotting to undermine the judiciary without providing any shred of evidence.”