The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal on Tuesday gave an indication that it would consider the prayer of the Peoples Democratic Party and the Labour Party’s demand for a live broadcast of its proceedings.
The tribunal presided over by Justice Haruna Tsammani asked the parties in the ongoing petitions to settle and decide on their objections, including the motion on notice filed by the PDP and its standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar requesting for the live broadcast of the presidential tribunal proceeding which began on Monday.
Tsammani gave the directive during Tuesday’s hearing when the matter was raised by counsel for the PDP and Atiku, Chris Uche, SAN.
Speaking at the resumed pre-hearing session, the head of the five-man panel assured that the application for a live broadcast of the proceedings “will be considered together with the other issues.”
The PDP and Atiku, in an application dated May 5, argued that televising the court sitting would enhance transparency and boost citizens’ confidence in the judicial process.
The PDP and Atiku are challenging the victory of the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, in the February 25 presidential election on the grounds that the Independent National Electoral Commission failed to electronically upload the election results as of the time the winner was declared.
The respondents in the petition marked: CA/PEPC/05/2023, are the INEC, Tinubu and the APC.
Also, the LP and its candidate, Peter Obi claimed the ex-Lagos State governor did not secure at least one-quarter of the votes cast in the election in the Federal Capital Territory.
Atiku on coverage
In their application for a live telecast of the court proceedings, the PDP and Atiku specifically prayed to the court for an order directing the court’s registry and the parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.
The application filed by their team of lawyers led by Chris Uche, SAN, was premised on the grounds that the matter before the court was a dispute over the outcome of the presidential election held on February 25 and therefore, a matter of national concern and public interest.
They also contended that being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, it was a matter of public interest where millions of Nigerians were stakeholders with a constitutional right to watch the sitting.
The applicants said, “An integral part of the constitutional duty of the court to hold proceedings in public is at discretion to allow public access to proceedings either physically or by electronic means.
“With the huge and tremendous technological advances and developments in Nigeria and beyond, including the current trend by this court towards embracing electronic procedures, virtual hearing and electronic filing, a departure from the rules to allow a regulated televising of the proceedings in this matter is in consonance with the maxim that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.
“Televising court proceedings is not alien to this court, and will enhance public confidence.”
Addressing the court during the resumed pre-hearing session on Tuesday, the counsel to Atiku and the PDP stressed the urgency of the application.
He pointed out that the application was a motion of priority which required immediate attention given the national importance of the issue at hand.
Uche stated, “We urge your Lordship to set it down for hearing and adoption as soon as the court’s business may allow.”
In the course of announcing the appearance of the petitioners’ legal team, Uche craved the indulgence of the court to permit him to announce five names against the three recommended, adding that he stumbled upon “order 3 rule 11” which provided the allowance.
But Tsammani asked him to maintain the agreed three names with respect to the presidential election.
“Agreement is an agreement,” the justice said, but the senior lawyer responded, ‘’My Lord, there were many agreements in this election that were broken.”
“We were not part of that,” Tsammani countered.
The counsel for INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud acknowledged the application for a live broadcast of the proceedings which he described as “innocuous” and requested for time to respond “being served yesterday.”
He also adopted their answers in the pre-hearing information sheet filed on May 2.
Responding to the question of live coverage, he said they would wait for a formal response.
The lawyer to the president-elect, Akin Olujimi, SAN, said they would reply to the prayers for live media coverage of the proceedings at the appropriate time.
He added that he had an application to strike out the petition in addition to others.
The counsel to the APC, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, equally adopted the answers filed on May 2.
He said they had received the application and “we are taking steps to respond appropriately to the application.”
Fagbemi also told the court that he had filed two motions seeking to dismiss the petition and to strike out the responses of the petitioners.
On the motion for live broadcast filed by the petitioners, he said they would reply at the appropriate time.
Responding further, Uche argued that he was just hearing that the 2nd and 3rd respondents had filed their responses, adding that in the spirit of cooperation, he was prepared to accept service in the open court.
“We pray that the parties don’t insist on the maximum length of time if we are to make progress,’’ he said.
Fagbemi, however, objected to his statement, insisting on abiding by the rules.
‘’The motion was filed by 9:30 am and not in the open court. If he said counsel should cooperate, we will follow the time and we will not flout the rules,” he noted.
After the legal teams adopted their various responses, Tsammani ordered them to meet and harmonise their positions in respect of documents to be tendered, those they would object to and those to allow.
He, thereafter, adjourned the pre-hearing of the petition against Tinubu till Thursday by 2 pm.
Earlier, the tribunal also held a pre-hearing session for the petition filed by the Allied Peoples Movement.
The party, through its team of lawyers led by M. Atoyebi, adopted answers filed on April 21, in response to a pre-hearing information sheet that was issued.
Speaking on their demand for live media coverage of the court hearing, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said it was a matter of national concern and public interest.
Ologunagba, who addressed a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, contended that being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, it was a matter of public interest in which millions of Nigerians are stakeholders with a constitutional right to watch the sitting.
He stated, ‘’As you are aware, the pre-hearing session in our petition before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal commenced today (yesterday), Tuesday, May 9, 2023.
“At the pre-hearing session, our legal team announced the filing of a motion on notice before the PEPT requesting a live broadcast of the proceedings of the court.
“This application, which is innocuous, is in the interest of openness which is an essential ingredient of participatory democracy especially as Nigerians are desirous of being directly involved at every stage of the electoral process.’’
“The PDP and Atiku Abubakar have a water-tight petition. Our facts and body of evidence are incontrovertible. Our party restates its confidence in the ability of the Judiciary to discharge its Constitutional duty dispassionately based on the evidence before it,” Ologunagba declared.
LP on coverage
Also, the Chief Spokesman for Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, endorsed the PDP application for the live transmission of the proceedings.
He said, “It should be telecast live if there is an opportunity for it. This is because of the interest Nigerians have in the case. It is very important they air this particular deliberation publicly so that people will know how the proceedings go.
“Locally and internationally, everybody is interested in this case. It is about the definition of the sovereignty of the nation and its judicial council. It is a very serious matter. It also defines who we are. Are we actually democrats who support the rule of law in this country? If not, we are not democrats.”
Tanko passed a vote of confidence on the court proceedings in the last two days.
He, however, urged the judiciary not to give in to intimidation and sentiments in dispensing its verdict.
He noted, “So far, so good, what the judges have said was so clear that they are going to look at the substance of the case. It is more important than looking at the technicalities.
“They also make us believe that they want to do away with this matter before swearing-in. That’s encouraging to us. Because the target is to ensure that whoever becomes the president does not have adjudication on his head. If defined deeply, it gives the power to Section 146 of the Constitution to come into action.