Ahead of today’s ruling on the application for live transmission of the proceedings of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and the All Progressives Congress have disagreed over the need for the hearing to be broadcast by the media.
The PDP and LP told The PUNCH on Sunday that the live telecast of the court sittings would remove any doubts about the transparency of the judiciary and promote fairness, but the APC argued that it would not advance the course of justice.
The PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who came second behind the President-elect, Bola Tinubu in the February 25 election, had prayed the tribunal to broadcast its sittings live to Nigerians to enable them to have firsthand information of the processes that would guide the tribunal in determining the authentic winner of the contest.
Atiku and the PDP in an application dated May 5, filed by their counsel, Chris Uche, SAN, 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 LP and its standard bearer, Peter Obi filed a similar application through their lead counsel, Awa Kalu, SAN, in which they argued that Nigerians being stakeholders have a right to have real-time information about the election petition proceedings.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the president-elect and the APC vehemently opposed the application, describing it as frivolous.
They argued that the application relates to policy formulation of the court, which is outside the PEPC’s jurisdiction as constituted.
Counsel for APC, Lateef Fagbemi, asked the court not to concede the request to turn the court into “a Big Brother electoral series.”
The counsel to the president-elect, Wole Olanipekun, SAN, noted that the live broadcast if approved, would expose both the judges and lawyers to danger while the counsel to INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, argued that the application was needless since already, “the court is a public place and is accessible to all, subject to the availability of space.”
After hearing the arguments from all the parties last Thursday, the court reserved a ruling on the application till Monday (today).
But speaking on the issue ahead of the ruling, Obi is insisting on the live broadcast of the court proceedings.
Obi, who spoke to our correspondent through his media aide, Emeka Obasi, urged the tribunal to rule in favour of his application in the interest of transparency and democracy.
He said, “We are in the modern age where transparency is required. An election is being disputed by four political parties. To be fair and for equity, it is very much expected that processes are steamed live for people to follow. We are talking about over 200 million Nigerians. The courtroom cannot contain 1,000 people.
“Every interested Nigerian should be given the access to see for himself or herself the proceedings of the most important ruling in the history of the country. So, if we are practising democracy, the tribunal has nothing other than to approve the live streaming.”
Buttressing his principal’s arguments, the Spokesperson for Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko noted that the approval of the live broadcast would build trust and restore “the hope of the common man as the judiciary is seen to be the hope of the common man, especially now that the judiciary is seen also to be on trial.”
PDP insists on broadcast
In a telephone conversation with The PUNCH on Sunday, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba gave strong reasons for the party’s demand for a live telecast of the hearing.
According to him, voters needed to be carried along by the tribunal throughout its sittings to give them a sense of participation.
He noted, “Live telecast is consistent with democracy because participatory democracy provides that the people have the right to know. As a party, we are saying that elections are a process, not an event.
‘’The Independent National Electoral Commission in its guidelines to the elections under the Electoral Act enjoins parties to be transparent and in most cases, what the political parties did were televised.’’
“The process which led to the emergence of the candidates which is an internal process of the parties was witnessed by INEC. That is a process. Starting from the party primaries to the sponsorship of candidates, everything was done in the open. The next part is the actual election conducted by INEC.
INEC has been televising its processes-voting, collation, counting, announcement, and declaration of results were done in the open. In the presidential election, in particular, INEC’s collation and declaration of results were in the open and televised live worldwide.
‘’The other part of the election is the tribunal. Now, if the first two processes can be televised, we expect that the last one which involves the judiciary should be televised live,” he submitted.
Similarly, the Media Adviser to the PDP standard bearer, Mr Paul Ibe maintained that the live telecast would enhance the transparency of the court proceedings, stressing that it is of primary interest to Nigerians.
He added, “The live telecast is to give Nigerians, who were participants in the election as citizens, whether they voted or not, an opportunity to be part of the process. It (live telecast) is good for transparency too. All eyes are on the judiciary and what the tribunal will make out of it.
‘’We are of the view that the court should grant this request because it is one made on behalf of Nigerians regardless of their political affiliations. It will make sense for the process to be open to Nigerians. We don’t know what INEC is saying because it is acting as if it is a political party in the election. It should stop acting as if it is an agent of a political party.
‘’Let’s hope they are not hiding anything and in any case, what they are hiding is what they don’t want Nigerians to know. The commission conducted elections in the negation of its own rules. People should be able to see in real-time the tribunal’s proceedings.”
The supporters of the LP presidential candidate who took to social media on Sunday, are also insisting on a live broadcast of the proceedings of the court.
They endorsed the prayers of their candidate with various hashtags one of which read, ‘#LivebroadcastInTheCourtRoom.’
As of the time of filing this report, our correspondent observed that the hashtag had a total of about 200,000 tweets on the microblogging site, Twitter.
A Peter Obi supporter, Ndi Kato said, “We are seeking to have a live broadcast of the election tribunal on tv stations but the court which we are depending on for that ruling has now banned phones in the court. Which way Nigeria? Why is our judiciary like this?”
A lawyer, Malcom Omirhobo noted that the INEC and the APC were opposed to the live broadcast due to “unclean hands.”
He said, “INEC and Tinubu are opposing the live broadcast of P/election tribunal proceedings because they turned Nigeria into a reality show by shamelessly asking the opposition to go to court after rigging elections. Now, they are afraid to entertain the world with their crime.”
Similarly, a member of the PDP, David Titiloye said on Twitter, “The lawyers of the PDP have been insisting on the live broadcast of the presidential election tribunal because Atiku is confident that it will be tougher for the judiciary to pervert justice when the whole country is watching but APC and INEC have been insisting otherwise. Why ?”
Also, the lead pastor, of Household of Love Church, Yinka Yusuf, who posted via his Twitter account, @rev-yinkayusuf, said, “ Mr Judiciary, please shock the world by allowing live broadcast of the presidential election tribunal. Only a thief is afraid of stop and search!. Go to court is not go to a secret society. We can’t wait to congratulate whoever is the true winner.”
Meanwhile, over 9,222 Nigerians had signed a petition demanding a live broadcast of the tribunal proceedings as of 2.50 pm on Sunday.
The petition by a citizen, Jane Peter and addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, National Judicial Council and one other, is titled, ‘Live Broadcast The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal-PEPT.’
The petitioners contended that allowing the live coverage of the proceedings would ensure transparency and openness in the conduct of the tribunal.
“We believe that the judiciary in Nigeria can also save time and earn the trust of Nigerians by working to terminate the case and give its judgment before the inauguration date,” it also stated.
‘Not people’s opinion’
But the Chief Spokesman for the dissolved Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, believed the matter should be subjected to the court and not the people’s opinions.
While urging Nigerians to await the final verdict of the tribunal, the senior lawyer stressed that people must understand that this is not the first time an election petition would be decided in the country.
He said, “I sincerely don’t think this is a matter we subject to press analysis. We subject the ruling to an analysis but not before it is given. Let us be patient. As a senior member of the bar, I cannot begin to speculate now.
“We have made our submission where we asked ‘How does this advance the case?’ Everything they say the court should do would be to advance the course of justice.
“For me, I prefer to wait and see what the court says and abide by it. The matter has been submitted to the court for ruling tomorrow (today). Let them be patient. It is not the first time the court is deciding election petitions in Nigeria. Justice will be served one way or the other at the end of the day.”
The APC Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim said the matter is in court and declined to speak further.