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Presidential election: Yar’Adua, others jolted as INEC supports Atiku’s position

Posted by By GODWIN TSA, Abuja on 2008/02/02 | Views: 395 |

Presidential election: Yar’Adua, others jolted as INEC supports Atiku’s position

Proceedings at the Presidential Election Tribunal in Abuja took a dramatic but frightening dimension to the presidency on Monday, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) disagreed with President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Proceedings at the Presidential Election Tribunal in Abuja took a dramatic but frightening dimension to the presidency on Monday, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) disagreed with President Umaru Yar’Adua.

As if they had a premonition of the unusual development, for the first time in the history of the petition against President Yar’Adua and his deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, some serving governors from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)- controlled states, ministers, as well as party loyalists, including top ranking government officials stormed the Court of Appeal, venue of the election petition tribunal in solidarity with the president.

Among the PDP governors who attended the proceedings were those of Kebbi and Nasarawa states, while the Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), Minister of State for Energy, Odein Ajumoghobia, the Minister of Information, John Odey, Minister of Education, Aja Nwachukwu, and the Minister of Interior, Major General Godwin Abbe, were among other top government officials and political appointees who witnessed the proceedings.

As usually noticed during the trial of governors, praise singers and party faithful held solidarity rallies in the streets of Abuja with the slogan, “No going back on Yar’Adua and Jonathan.”
Signals heralding the unusual development emerged weekend, when posters of President Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan appeared in public places within and around Abuja metropolis.
This came with heavy security network within and around the premises of the court, with stern looking mobile policemen stationed at strategic places in armoured vehicles.

The judgment of the Supreme Court at the weekend ordering the INEC Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, to provide answers to the 27 questions put across to him by Atiku on the conduct of the presidential polls seems to have ignited the nervous situation in the nation’s capital city.
More frightening was the fear in some quarters that INEC may have finally pitched tent with the Atiku and Major Gen. Mohammadu Buhari forces to upturn the election of President Yar’Adua.

Specifically, INEC had sharply disagreed with President Yar’Adua over which procedure should be adopted in interrogating the commission’s chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu at the tribunal.
This was a strange position since both parties had always been working harmoniously in defending the mandate of the president at the tribunal.

At Monday’s proceedings, parties were supposed to have adopted their written briefs. However, this was not to be, following the judgment of the Supreme Court last Friday, which ordered that Iwu be interrogated by counsel to Atiku, Professor Alfred Kasumu (SAN).
Atiku’s counsel had informed the chairman of the tribunal, Justice James Ogebe about the judgment of the Supreme Court, which ordered that Iwu should be interrogated.
He said that they were expecting the INEC chairman to respond to those questions in order to file their written address.

It was at this time that counsel to INEC, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), rose to his feet to lend his support to the position of Kasumu.
In sharp contrast to the position of the INEC lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to President Yar’Adua and Jonathan objected vehemently, saying that Kasumu should file his written address before INEC could respond.

As the argument dragged on, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Ogebe, intervened by holding that if INEC had agreed with the position of Kasumu, there was little or nothing Olanipekun could do to change the position because INEC was more concerned in the interrogatories.

Accordingly, the position suggested by Kasumu was agreed upon.
INEC is expected to file its response to the interrogatories Tuesday and its final address Wednesday, while Atiku is expected to file his final address on Thursday.
Agabi, who spoke on behalf of the INEC boss, said: “The interrogatories have been served on the chairman of the commission. He would have answered immediately he was served, but could not because all the staff of the commission who could provide answers to some of the questions had closed.”
The tribunal wanted to hear the petition filed by Buhari, the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) presidential candidate in the April 2007 election, but his counsel, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), objected, saying that he would wait for the interrogatories to be answered before he would proceed.
Buhari is also challenging the election of Yar’Adua at the tribunal.

Before the end of proceedings, the tribunal chairman expressed disappointment that parties could not address the tribunal as planned at the last adjourned date.
He said: “I am disappointed that this matter could not go on today. We have agreed at the last adjourned date that parties would address the court today (Monday) and a date will be fixed for judgment.
“The whole world is watching what we are doing here and they are also waiting for the outcome.”

Meanwhile, President Yar’Adua and his deputy, Jonathan Goodluck had, in the cause of proceedings tendered some documents in which they claimed that they actually won the April 21 presidential election, even as the tribunal said that Atiku and Buhari could not stop the tendering of the documents.
The documents, which were admitted in evidence by the tribunal, included the entire results of Lagos State for the poll, in which Atiku, candidate of the Action Congress (AC) was the winner.
Yar’Adua’s Certificate of Return (COR) issued to him by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was also tendered and admitted in evidence.

Yar’Adua’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who tendered the documents, told the court that the reason for tendering the Lagos State results would be explained to the whole world during parties’ final addresses to the tribunal.

All the respondents in the consolidated petitions of Buhari and Atiku, wherein they sought the cancellation of the election, opened and closed their defence on Monday.
The respondents include, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, INEC, Police, Chief of Defence Staff and the PDP.
When Olanipekun moved to tender the documents, counsel to Buhari objected, saying that the respondents were barred from bringing in any documents at that stage of hearing of the petitions, citing paragraph 2 of the Practice Direction.

Ahamba argued that the provision made it mandatory for the respondents to frontload their reply to the petitions with the documents while filing.
Both Ahamba and Atiku’s counsel, Mr. Emeka Ngige (SAN), also argued that the Lagos results would not come into the petition, because they were not pleaded by the petitioners.
Replying, Olanipekun submitted that the respondents were permitted by the law to lead in evidence; pleadings made by the petitioners and bring in documents listed by them, if the petitioners did not do so.
He also pointed out that though Buhari said he was challenging results of 29 states, the petitioner had also said in his petition that the election was flawed in all states of the federation.

Ruling, Justice James Ogebe said: “Since the documents being sought to tender were listed in the respondents’ reply, Paragraph 2 of the Practice Direction cannot override the original position of the law. The documents are admitted for what they are worth. It is also on record that Lagos results are not in dispute.”

Meanwhile, the AC has condemned the “unprecedented” presence of “a large army of assorted security forces and government officials” at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, venue of the proceedings.
In a statement issued on Monday, AC viewed the deployment of “a large security detachment and the presence of a hired crowd of rowdy and noisy placards-carrying people as a clear case of intimidation of the Nigerian judiciary.

“For a government which has often touted its commitment to the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary, the AC finds it rather sad and regrettable that the PDP government would choose to mobilize such an army of security officers to the venue of the Presidential Election Tribunal,” the statement said, adding, “such intimidations have negative consequences for our democracy and it amounts to an attempt to cow the judiciary into submission.

The party also said: “In what we perceive as the government’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday directing INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu to answer the questions put to him by our party and its presidential candidate, the government on Monday, resorted to panic measure in a bid clearly aimed at intimidating the judiciary, by flooding the court premises with security men who were armed to the teeth. Government also sent governors, ministers and thugs to the court.

“We do not say that security in the court premises is not important, rather, it is just that it is curious, if not suspicious that for the first time since the hearing of this case began, at no time did the security services find it necessary to flood the court premises, block access roads, restrict access to the court and engage in ‘bomb-detection’ even inside the courtroom.

“Such large number of slogan-chanting supporters carrying protest banners designed to intimidate the courts could also have been intended to taunt the opposition to draw them into confrontation and create unnecessary incidents that have become a feature in many of the court premises around the country where election petitions are being heard. The atmosphere in and around the Court of Appeal had been calm, friendly and rancour-free since the present case began. The PDP-led Federal Government should not change it to one of violence and confrontation.

“The PDP government should not mistake the silence of Nigerians, since the sham elections of April last year, as a licence to go embark on an assault of the judiciary. They should not test the will of Nigerians through attempts at the “Pakistanisation” of the judiciary. To most Nigerians and the watchers of the affairs of this country all over the world, the judiciary remains the only institution that the eight years of misrule by the PDP has not destroyed. Any attempt to erode the legacy of the credibility and independence of the courts will meet with stiff opposition of our patriotic citizens.”

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