By Chukwudi Nweje
Prince Adewole Adebayo may have stirred the hornet’s nest by scoring the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) a whooping 90 per cent in their performance when many Nigerians think the 5-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal failed the country and the judiciary. Adebayo blames Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the presidential election and Peter Obi, his Labour Party (LP) counterpart for litigating constitutionalism and eligibility of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress ( APC) when they should have argued issues relating to what they considered a faulty election. He spoke on the contentious status of Abuja and other national issues.
Mixed reactions still trail the September 6, 2023 judgement of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) as Nigerians say it is based purely on technicalities rather than law; they also say the verdict has set new precedents that would ensue unless set aside by the Supreme Court, what is your take?
The position I maintained immediately after the election in March is what the court validated. I have a unique advantage because I participated in the election from the primary to the general election, I am a lawyer and I have been in election matter for over two decades, so I know what the rules are, that is one of the reasons I didn’t file any petition.
From March when the result was announced till the PEPC began sitting, I kept saying that there are differences between what happened in the field on election day and what is before the court. Your chances of succeeding in court is tied to what you filed and presented to the court and the actual thing that happened in the street. Once what is before the court is different from what happened in the street, the judgement will reflect how the court finds what is before it which may not bear any resemblance to what happened in the street. If you look at that judgement of the PEPC in law, you will score the judges 98 to 99 per cent. On every issue they got the law correct, from the legal point of view you can’t fault the judgement.
You were a candidate at the February 25 presidential election, are you saying you are satisfied with the outcome?
There are four reasons why I didn’t go to court; firstly, the results from my agents didn’t show me that I won the election but the result showed me that many of my votes were given to the PDP, APC and LP and I cannot join all the other losers to go to court, secondly the idea that INEC did not transmit the result through BVAS is not relevant in court, thirdly the allegations of bribery; there are man things that happened on election day including vote buying and violence that cannot be proved in court because to prove it, you have to bring the perpetrator of the act or the victim. You cannot go to court and say that several people were killed, you have to be specific that Mr A or Mr B was killed.
The PDP and the LP have gone to the Supreme Court to appeal the verdict of the PEPC, and many Nigerians believe that the PEPC judgement has created new precedents that may endure unless the Supreme Court sets them aside, for instance, the status of Abuja and decisions regarding the Independent National Electoral commission (INEC), BVAS, IRev, double nomination among others. What is your take?
Let me make it clear, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the status of Abuja long ago. I stood before the Supreme Court when it ruled that we should not come before it again to enforce INEC regulations.
On October 1, 2021 in Abuja, political parties, presidential aspirants and INEC assembled for a meeting and I said then that INEC will switch off their server on election day and say they have technological problems. I said it then that INEC regulations is not binding on anybody. It is not just now that the court told us that INEC said that it will transmit the result.
The most important thing that will help you at the election is that you have your registered agent and after the election, your agent will collect the result and you as a candidate. As a candidate, will you collate your results and be an IRev for yourself.
Any time you go to the INEC and the result they announce is different from the one your agent collected, you will take note of it and when you file your petition in court, you go with your result sheets like it was done in the case of Aregbesola vs Onyinlola. When you present your results, the court will ask INEC to bring their official copy and if INEC doesn’t bring it, the court will know they are hiding something. The petitioners in this case didn’t do that.
The petitioners went to court to argue about the status of the FCT and the eligibility of the other party’s candidate, the nomination of the vice President band and other things that have no bearing to what happened on election day. What the petitioners went to court to litigate did not relate to what happened at the election; they were litigating constitutional issues and other statutory arguments, that is what is the court decided.
People in Abuja are agitating that elections should be conducted for them to elect their governor and other representatives since the PEPC equated the FCT to a state, what do you say?
It is a comedy show that they are doing. In politics, you do the serious and the comic. Abuja as a federal capital territory is a constitutional creation and how Abuja will be administered is also written in the constitution. It is there that Abuja will be administered by the President himself by appointing a minister, so the president can even put Abuja under the Ministry of Interior, which is still a ministry. The person running Abuja under Nigeria’s constitution is the President. There is no Ministry of FCT in our constitution, what we have is 36 states and the federal capital territory; what the constitution says is that anything you give to the states that you give the FCT its own, so if for instance people are voting, the people of Abuja should be allowed to vote too but people don’t understand the history of it. The history is that we copied most of our constitution from the United States, especially the presidential system and in the United States, the federal capital, that is the District of Columbia, the capital does not count in the presidential election. If you live in Washington DC, the District of Columbia, your vote doesn’t count in the Electoral College for presidential election because they don’t treat the District of Columbia as a state. America has 50 states and only the electors from the 50 states can come to Congress to elect the president.
We wanted to make our own different by saying when you count the votes, count the FCT too, it is not an attempt to rate the FCT above the states, it is to make the FCT belong.
All of us have argued this in court, including the lawyers of the petitioners, there is nothing unique in it.
Anyone in the FCT that wants to have a governor in the FCT, the court is not where they should do that, they should go to the National Assembly and tell them to amend the constitution or pass a new FCT Act which the president may sign and they can create a Mayoralty for Abuja.
We can revert to what we had in Lagos when Lagos was the federal capital and we had a governor in Lagos and it was an issue between Alhaji Lateef Jakande and President Shehu Shagari both of who were in Lagos and became almost partners which became an issue in the United Party of Nigeria (UPN) because many people thought Jakande had moved from the UPN to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) because he as the governor of Lagos and the President of Nigeria had to work together. I believe that was what added to the wisdom that we decided that the FCT should be under the president without a governor. Imagine a situation where you have a governor of Abuja being of a different party from the President of Nigeria, two of them would be struggling over control.
You noted in a recent tweet that in the 2023 election, politicians failed Nigeria, political parties failed Nigeria, INEC failed Nigeria, the media failed Nigeria but the judiciary did not fail Nigeria, how do you mean?
It is not the judiciary that can legitimize an election; before you file your petition in court, the election has been legitimized because there is something in law called ‘Presumption of Regularity’. The law says that from the moment INEC announces Mr X as the winner of an election, everybody including the court has to assume that person is the winner, that is the law; judges can’t change the law, they are just there to apply the law, so right from the beginning it is not the court that legitimises, it is the legal system. In our legal system, once INEC announces you, even if you didn’t participate in the election, you are the winner and the court will regard you as the winner. If I go to court to challenge you and my legal team is careless and start arguing about other things outside the election, the election court will tell you it is not their business. The way to resolve this is to stop making the court do a job that is not theirs; the court is not part of the political process.
You said at the beginning that the PEPC validated your earlier position in March this year, do you think the Supreme Court will also affirm it or go in a different direction?
One hundred per cent. Left to me, the petitioners should not have gone to the Supreme Court because they are just going there to receive a photocopy of the PEPC judgement; so where the Court of Appeal says ‘We hold’ the Supreme Court will just say ‘We Affirm’ the lower court is correct. The lower court applied the Supreme Court decisions and the Supreme Court will not overrule a court that relied on it to make the decisions it made now.
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