President Bola Tinubu has made a fervent appeal to the justices of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPT) in Abuja. He is urging them to exclude the Labour Party’s (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi, from any potential rerun presidential election. According to Tinubu’s argument, only he and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, are constitutionally qualified to recontest.
The appeal comes amidst the possibility that the justices might nullify the February 25, 2023, presidential election. Tinubu contends that if such a scenario unfolds, Peter Obi and his party would no longer be eligible to participate in any rerun election.
However, Obi’s counsel has countered this stance, imploring the five-member panel of the PEPT not to undermine the will of the people as expressed in the February 25 presidential election. They strongly emphasize that Tinubu should be removed from office without any further delay.
Tinubu also criticized both Obi and LP for seeking to cancel the election and demand a fresh poll excluding him, Shettima, and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He argues that granting such a relief would be futile since Obi and LP are constitutionally prohibited from contesting in the rerun election.
The essence of President Tinubu’s arguments was presented in his final written address in response to the petition filed by Obi and the LP, challenging his declaration as president. As a reminder, INEC chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had declared Tinubu the winner of the February 25 presidential election with 8,794,726 votes, while Atiku and Obi secured 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively.
Both Obi and Atiku maintain their claims to victory, as they each assert a majority of lawful votes cast in the poll. They have requested the court to order a rerun election to determine the authentic winner.
Tinubu, in his final written address, submitted through his lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), has argued that the evidence provided by the petitioners fails to substantiate claims of non-compliance and corruption that could nullify his election.
He, however, added that:
“In the very unlikely event that the election of February 25, 2023, is voided, the only candidates constitutionally prescribed to contest any subsequent election shall be the 2nd respondent and the candidate of the PDP who came second, by scoring the next majority of votes in the highest number of states (19 states), to the 1st petitioner’s 16 states, and also coming second by a plurality of votes, having scored 6,984,520, far and above 1st petitioner’s 6,101,533 votes.
“In effect, the petitioners have no locus standi to ask for relief 2, both constitutionally and legally; constitutionally, because he is barred from contesting; legally, because he has no benefit to derive from the said relief, assuming it is granted”, he said.
Contending that the court cannot decree an order for a fresh election, outside the provisions of the constitution, Olanipekun who cited a plethora of authorities, said: “The law is settled that ‘a party prosecuting an action would (only) have locus standi where the reliefs claimed would confer some benefits on such a party.’”
According to him, the only candidates constitutionally prescribed to contest any subsequent election shall be the 2nd respondent and the candidate of the PDP who came second, by scoring the next majority of votes in the highest number of states (19 states), to the 1st petitioner’s 16 states, and also coming second by plurality of votes, having scored 6,984,520, far and above 1st petitioner’s 6,101,533 votes.
Citing Section 134(3) of the Constitution, Olanipekun submitted that, “the 1st petitioner is constitutionally barred from participating in any election, in the very unlikely event that the election of February 25, 2023, is voided”.
Section 134(3) provides thus: “In default of a candidate duly elected in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be a second election in accordance with subsection (4) of this section at which the only candidate shall be – (a) The candidate who scored the highest number of votes at any election held in accordance with the said subsection (2) of this section; and (b) One among the remaining candidates who has a majority of votes in the highest number of states, so however that where there are more than one candidate with majority of votes in the highest number of states, the candidate among them with the highest total of votes cast at the election shall be the second candidate for the election.”
Olanipekun also faulted the petitioners’ prayers for the cancellation of the election and an order mandating INEC to conduct a fresh election, on the grounds that the petitioners did not suggest who the participants or candidates at the said election would be.
“Most humbly, the court cannot decree an order for a fresh election, outside the provisions of the Constitution,” he said.
“In any event, the 1st petitioner has failed to comply with the law of the land, by first making himself a member of the 2nd petitioner, before proceeding to purportedly contest election and even file a petition.
“We, again, refer to the un-contradicted evidence of the respondents’ sole witness, who observed that the name of the 1st petitioner is nowhere located in Exhibit RA18.
“Arising from the foregoing, is the fact that the petition is improperly constituted, and, as such, at the end of evidence/trial, it is clear that it does not vest jurisdiction in this honourable court to entertain it, and more particularly, to grant the reliefs sought.
“The essence of all these is that in the absence of the PDP and its candidate, the NNPP and its candidate, the grounds of the petition, the paragraphs making allegations against the parties and any evidence extracted during trial become incompetent and inadmissible in the absence of those parties.”