By Our Reporter, With Agency Reports
THE drama in the confrontation between factions of the Labour Party at the Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) sitting in Abuja on Wednesday which started with the exchange of insults between the Lamidi Apapa faction of the party and Akin Osuntokun, the Director General of Peter Obi Presidential Campaign Council later escalated when party youths and supporters of Peter Obi almost mobbed Apapa at the court’s premises.
National Record reported how trouble started as early in the morning before court proceedings commenced when Apapa, in the company of his factional members clashed with Osuntokun and other Labour Party stalwarts and demanded that they surrender the section of seats at the court that were allocated to the party.
There was hot exchange of insults between both factions spearheaded by Apapa and Jude Umeokeke over which faction had the legal right to be present in court.
The Apapa-led faction eventually moved away from the LP designated corner and sat in the main hall of the courtroom leaving the Abure-led faction at the corner, a situation to brought temporary truce and peace to the court.
However, when the matter was called, Apapa and a member of his faction, Mrs Dudu Malunga, introduced themselves as representatives of the party, a situation which led the presiding judge, Justice Haruna Tsammani, to decline recognition of any representative for the Labour Party.
But shortly after proceedings, when news men were set to conduct an interview with the Apapa-led faction, the party’s supporters, mainly the youth, mounted guard and blocked Apapa from approaching the cameras and despite pleas from the journalists that both sides would be interviewed, the supporters remained adamant, insisting that Apapa would not speak on behalf of the Labour Party.
They heckled and attempted to mob Apapa shouting: “ole, ole, you must not talk, you are an impostor, thief, thief.
For the presence of the policemen, who struggled to restrain the crowd of protesters, Apapa would have been lynched by the irate youths. The police were able to guide Apapa out of the crowd of youths into the courtroom.
Meanwhile, legal counsel to Obi at Wednesday’s sitting, Livy Uzoukwu SAN, told the Presidential Election Petition Court of their client’s predicament in accessing electoral documents from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
At the resumed hearing of Obi’s petition on Wednesday, Uzoukwu informed the five-member panel of the court that INEC “stubbornly refused to produce 70 per cent of the electoral documents that were requested” by the Labour Party.
According to the counsel, the said electoral documents concerning the polls in Rivers and Sokoto States have been inaccessible from INEC.
He also told the court that for Sokoto State, INEC officials demanded N1.5 million fee to process the documents.
“A typical example is that of Rivers State, where the (INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioner boldly told us they do not have any form EC8 to give us,” Uzoukwu told the court, recalling two previous rulings of the court, which ordered INEC to grant access to Labour Party for the inspection of electoral documents like the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machines that were deployed for the conduct of the presidential poll.
The Court of Appeal had on March 3 and 8 directed INEC to make available certified true copies of result sheets and other data obtained from the BVAS machines to tender same to aid the petitioner’s case.
Uzoukwu further recalled that five separate letters were written to INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood, requesting that access be granted to inspect and obtain relevant electoral documents to strengthen the petitioner’s suit at the court.
After listening to Uzoukwu’s submissions, Justice Tsammani, said the petitioners would state their position documents and tender documents.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) counsel, Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN pledged to hasten the proceedings. He claimed that the petitioners refused to attend the meeting of the parties agreed on at the last sitting on May 10.
He said that he called the petitioners’ lead counsel to ask why their team was not at the meeting and he said they were not aware. Mahmoud alleged that the petitioners walked out of the meeting on Tuesday.
Counsel for Sen. Bola Tinubu and Sen. Kashim Shettima, Wole Olanipakun, SAN similarly said that after the agreement on May 10 by all parties, the 2nd and 3rd respondents set up a team. He said the team was led by Ogwu Onoja, SAN and A. A. Malik, SAN and others.
Olanipakun said he put a call across to the petitioners’ lead counsel asking how they would proceed in court today.
He added that the petitioners failed to respond to their documents filed, saying they needed up to Friday to respond.
The APC counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, aligned with the accounts of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents’ counsel.
He said there should not be a mistake of subpoena at this stage, it is whatever document produced that should be brought to the table.
He further said that the petitioners should look at the fundamental cause which is the refusal to pay the necessary fee as required by the law He added that the court officials were present when the petitioners walked out, adding, Victor Umoh, SAN and others represented the team for the 4th respondent.
He said the effect of the report was that all true certified documents will not be objected to.
Responding, the petitioners’ counsel, Uzoukwu told the court that he was concerned over the language of his colleagues.
Following the submissions, the court further adjourned pre-hearing in the petitions filed to Friday, May 19, 2023.