Peter Obi, What Next?

…As Silence Greets Tribunal’s Dismissal of His Petition against Tinubu

By Jude Atupulazi

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Wednesday in Abuja dismissed the petition of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Gregory Obi, describing it as greatly incompetent and defective. The tribunal rejected 10 out of 13 witnesses called by Obi.

The tribunal in a ruling on several objections against the petition, struck out several paragraphs of the petition for being vague, incompetent, inconsistent, nebulous and self-contradictory.

In the ruling delivered by Justice Abba Mohammed, Obi’s petition against Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Party, APC, was said to have raised several general allegations of malpractices, irregularities, corruption without being specific as required by law.

The tribunal held that while Obi claimed to have scored the highest number of lawful votes in the February 25 Presidential Election, he failed to state or specify the number of the lawful votes he claimed to have won.

Justice Mohammed said to worsen the situation, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate pleaded the report of forensic experts but failed to file the report along with the petition or serve same on the respondents in the petition.

Besides, Justice Mohammed said Obi’s claim that his votes were suppressed in favour of Tinubu was vague because he failed to give out any figure of votes to establish the claim.

The tribunal also held that Obi’s allegations that votes credited to Tinubu were inflated was untenable because he never mentioned the number of the votes allocated to Tinubu.

On the allegations of corrupt practices, Justice Mohammed stated that it was not every allegation of corruption that was regarded as corrupt practices, adding that averments in a pleading must be specific and not general as done by Obi.

‘The Law is very clear that where someone alleges irregularities in a particular polling unit, as in the instant petition, such a person must prove the particular irregularities in that poling unit for him to succeed in his petition,’ it held.

The tribunal also held that Obi did not prove the particular polling units where elections did not take place and that he also failed to specify particulars of polling units where the complaints of irregularities were alleged.

The tribunal said it rejected 10 out of 13 witnesses presented by the Labour Party presidential candidate for many reasons.

Justice Haruna Tsammani, who took over to deliver judgment on the substantive petition filed by Obi and LP, said Obi called 13 witnesses, who testified as PW1 to PW13, noting that of the 13 witnesses, only three witnesses whose statements were on oath, were filed along with the petition.

The remaining 10 witnesses, the Justice said, were subpoenaed and their witness statements on oath were only filed after the hearing started.

Tsammani held that by virtue of Section 285 of the Nigerian Constitution, Section 137(7) of the Electoral Act 2022, and other provisions, every witness statement on oath must be filed along with the petition.

He said that based on the Supreme Court authority, once the 21-day window for filing an election petition elapsed, the content of the petition cannot be amended.

The Justice stated further that no additional statement on oath could be filed after the close of the specified window since the respondents would not have the opportunity to respond.

Tsammani said the petitioners were aware of the legal provision relating to the filing of witness statements on oath, yet went ahead to present 10 witnesses without their witness statements on oath earlier filed with the petition.

The tribubnal also dismissed the petition by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The judgement on Obi’s case was however one that might not have come as a surprise to many Nigerians, given their doubts about the integrity of the nation’s judiciary.

Consequently, just as it happened after Tinubu was declared winner back in February by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Wednesday’s judgement was greeted with studied silence. There were no jubilant scenes anywhere and many Nigerians must have had a feeling of déjà vu and seemingly decided to go about their businesses.

Some felt surprised that anyone could have expected justice in present circumstances.

Joseph Uka, a business man in Awka, said he never expected any redemption by the judiciary but only hoped that God could intervene. He said what just played out was capable of eroding the belief of Nigerians in the sanctity of elections and specifically wondered how the tribunal could dismiss the issue of 25% in Abuja which had earlier been decided by the Supreme Court.

For Chidi Okpala, an entrepreneur also based in Awka, the judiciary had killed whatever remaining confidence reposed in it by the masses and warned that the denial of justice could be an invitation to anarchy.

For Dele Momodu, a publisher and chieftain of PDP, the outcome of the tribunal process should elicit pity and not anger.

He wrote on his twitter page: ‘I watched in utter amazement and wonderment how our Constitution was brazenly and deliberately turned upside down by those who lack a sense of History and care less about the verdict of history… What all men and women of good conscience should have for them is pity and not anger… NIGERIA SHALL BE FREE…’

With the outcome of the tribunal, many now wonder what will be Obi’s next step. Will he throw in the towel and forget everything, especially given the belief that the judiciary is teleguided by the those in power? Will he still fight on and take the matter to the last and highest court of the land, the Supreme Court?

Fides checks revealed that Obi will head to the Supreme Court and will pursue the matter to its logical conclusion. ‘It seems Nigerians have forgotten Obi’s doggedness. This is a route he has gone before. During the time he was going for tenure interpretation, he lost at the Appeal Court, did not get deterred and went to the Supreme Court where he won,’ a source who did not want to be named told Fides.

Meanwhile, as though to lend credence to our source, Obi’s party, the Labour Party, has rejected the judgement of the tribunal and hinted about challenging it.

In a press statement released on Wednesday, Obiora Ifoh

National Publicity Secretary of Labour Party, said the party had watched with what he called dismay and trepidation the dismissal of petitions by the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court led by Justice Haruna Tsammani and has rejected the outcome of the judgment in its entirety because justice was not served and it did not reflect the law and the desire of the people.

His words, ‘Nigerians were witnesses to the electoral robbery that took place on February 25, 2023, which was globally condemned but the tribunal in its wisdom refused to accept the obvious.

‘What is at stake is democracy and we will not relent until the people will prevail.

‘We salute the doggedness of our team of lawyers who fearlessly exposed the rot in our system. We can only weep for Democracy in Nigeria but we refuse to give up on Nigeria.

‘Details of the party’s position will be presented after consultation with our lawyers after the Certified True Copy of the judgement is made available to us.’

He urged Nigerians who loved democracy to remain focused and hopeful because a New Nigeria was still possible.

As at press time there were indications that Obi would hold a press conference to speak on latest developments.