Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the previous presidential election, criticized the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Friday for defending the qualifications of President-elect Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Atiku argued that it was inappropriate for INEC to support Tinubu, whose victory in the election is currently being contested in court.
Accusing INEC of acting as a proxy for Tinubu, Atiku, represented by his legal team led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, urged the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja to dismiss INEC’s counter affidavit and preliminary objection challenging his petition.
Atiku argued that INEC lacked the legal authority to defend the controversies surrounding Tinubu’s educational qualifications, age, and alleged indictment in a drug-related case in the United States of America (USA). He asserted that INEC should maintain neutrality in the case as the election’s impartial arbiter.
During the court proceedings, Atiku’s lawyer informed the court about the existence of seven pending applications, including one in which INEC sought the removal of 32 paragraphs from the petition related to Tinubu’s qualifications.
Chief Chris Uche, SAN, requested the court not only dismiss INEC’s preliminary objection but also declare it a blatant abuse of the judicial process.
“All that INEC has done is to ask for averments against Tinubu to be struck out. INEC is fighting a proxy war for Tinubu, which a neutral umpire is not expected to do. This is very wrong, my lords,” Atiku’s lawyer added.
INEC, represented by its team of lawyers led by Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, requested the court to strike out certain paragraphs or dismiss the entire petition for lack of competence. Tinubu’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and the APC’s lawyer, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, also filed processes for the dismissal of the petition. The court adjourned the case until Saturday to conclude the pre-hearing session, with a ruling on the preliminary objections expected before the final judgment.
In a separate case, brought by the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, the court also adjourned the proceedings until Saturday. There was a brief dispute in court when another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, attempted to appear on behalf of the LP but was declined by the panel.
The court is set to deliver its ruling on two applications by Atiku and Obi, requesting day-to-day live coverage of the proceedings. They argued that the presidential election dispute is of national importance and should be accessible to Nigerians. However, INEC, Tinubu, and the APC opposed the request, citing potential harm to the judiciary’s reputation. Atiku and Obi both seek the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return issued to Tinubu by INEC, claiming that they won the election and alleging Tinubu’s disqualification and corrupt practices.