The Labour Party (LP) and its February 25 presidential candidate, Peter Obi, have again accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of deliberately frustrating their case at the Presidential Election Petition Court.
Recall that Obi and LP are challenging the outcome of the election which produced Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Nigeria’s president.
Jibrin Okutepa, counsel to petitioners, at the court session on Monday, disclosed to the court that INEC is holding the legal team “hostage” by refusing to provide the documents requested for.
Narrating the experience as “excruciating,” Okutepa said: “We are bringing this to your lordships’ notice because we have done everything humanly possible, including letter writing, and persuasion and it seems to us that we need to come before your lordships to come to our aid.”
“This afternoon, we received a few copies of IREV reports for a few LGAs in Lagos state, including Agege, Mushin, Oshodi, Isolo, epe, Surulere, Eti-Osa and Alimosho.
“Each document was certified on May 29 but they decided to give it to us today.
“The same thing with Gombe. They just gave us the IREV report for just two LGAs. Those ones were also certified on May 29.
“We have consistently written letters, including the letter that I personally signed and delivered on May 20 to A.B Mahmoud (INEC lawyer), detailing all the documents we wanted,” he continued.
According to the senior lawyer, the letters were written to INEC, requesting documents to help prove their petition, noting that the letters were acknowledged by the commission.
He furthered that INEC also refused to accept service of the subpoenas issued to them.
“It appears that INEC is deliberately frustrating us….We have nowhere to cry to except to your lordships,” Okutepa said.
He prayed the court to direct that a copy of the subpoena should be served on INEC through its lawyer.
Meanwhile, in response, Abubakar Mahmoud, INEC counsel, described Okutepa’s allegations as “unfounded.”
Mahmoud said he only received one letter from Livy Uzoukwu, petitioner’s lead counsel, on May 15 which he said was promptly replied to on the same day.
“Aside from that, I have not received any other communication from the counsel,” he said.
He added that Okutekpa never approached him to talk about issues.
“There is absolutely no reason to deny LP any documents,” the INEC lawyer said.
“There are procedures and costs which they are fully aware of. If counsel chooses not to follow them and then just comes here and blames INEC, I don’t think that is correct.
“I’m taken aback by this complaint. It is totally unfounded and if counsel has issued a subpoena, he should follow the process. He didn’t consult me about the subpoena and he never brought any issue to me on any refusal to accept any subpoena. We are happy to help in any way we can.
“We are taken aback and I don’t think we would continue to sit here and hear lamentations that are unfounded,” Mahmoud stated.
However, Uzoukwu denied receiving any response to his letter.
“I’m really shocked that my brother AB Mahmoud said he replied to my letter.
“It is possible that he replied maybe the letter wasn’t sent to me. I can say authoritatively, that I received no letter whatsoever,” he said.
He prayed the court to make an order against INEC to comply with the subpoena and produce the documents they are requesting.
Stephen Adah, one of the justices in the five-member panel, addressing parties, said the lawyers must imbibe the spirit of cooperation.
“When we started these proceedings, we talked about the spirit of cooperation so its amazing when we sit down here and hear these kinds of things,” he said.
“If the cooperation is on the table why won’t you just walk to your colleague and say we are having issues with your client and get it sorted out? But you people go bureaucratic and when things don’t work, you come and make complaints here.
Monsurat Bolaji-Yusuf, the only female on the panel, said: “This allegation is becoming a recurring issue.”
“I think you should realise that sentiments, playing to the gallery, blackmail or whatever from anybody will not help in the determination of this case. What will help is cooperating in the interest of this nation.
“If truly, you are having problems accessing documents, approach your learned friends and let them know. I am sure Olanipekun, Mahmoud and other very senior counsels have the interest of this nation at heart and will not do anything that would distract the integrity and standing of this nation in the committee of nations.
“You don’t want people outside to hear that you are being denied documents and the right to present your case. Therefore we do not want a display of an attempt to blackmail or an attempt of the other side to frustrate the case of anybody.
“This is a serious business and counsel on all sides should take it seriously. We do not want a repeat of this,” she warned.