INEC, Tinubu oppose Atiku Abubakar’s application for live television coverage of petition

By Wandoo Sombo and Edith Nwapi

All Progressives Congress (APC), the President-elect, Sen. Bola Tinubu and INEC on Thursday opposed an application for live television coverage of proceedings in a petition filed by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Alhaji Abubakar, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the presidential election of Feb. 25 filed the petition to challenge the declaration of Tinubu of the APC as winner by INEC.

Abubakar, the first runner-up at the election filed his petition at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC).

The Vice-President-elect, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, another respondent, also opposed the application for live television coverage of the proceedings.

Arguing separately when the matter was called at the PEPC, the respondents said live telecast of proceedings could ridicule the traditional solemn nature of court proceedings.

Opposing Abubakar’s motion, counsel for INEC, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), said the court proceedings were already open to the public.

“There is an implicit suggestion in the application that unless the proceeding is televised, it is not public.

“This is not true as the courtroom is a public place and it is accessible to all, subject to availability of space,’’ he submitted.

On Abubakar’s submission in the motion that there was no statutory legislation preventing live television coverage, Mahmoud said live streaming was different from televising live.

He added that live streaming was controlled by the court and no live cameras were allowed into the court room.

He also argued that live telecast would make nonsense of the court proceedings since the courtroom was not a market place for theatrics.

He submitted that lawyers did not need to be under any more pressure than they already were with cameras in their faces.

The INEC counsel prayed the court to refuse the application as it was unnecessary, uncalled for and would defeat the essence of the administration of justice.

Arguing on behalf of Tinubu and Shettima, their counsel, Mr Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who described the application as a peculiar one said Abubakar’s request was not only surprising, but dangerous.

Olanipekun prayed the court not to allow Abubakar to turn the court into a film house, a stadium, a crusade ground or a theatre where live telecasts were allowed.

The senior lawyer wondered whether even an Area Court could grant such order since it could not be enforced or supervised.

He also wondered why the petitioner, rather than ask for expeditious hearing of the petition was wasting time on application for live television coverage.

He prayed the court to not only dismiss the application but to impose a heavy cost on the petitioner.

Arguing on behalf of the APC, Mr Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) opposed the application and faulted the request arguing that the facility and policy documents were not there for the application to be granted.

Fagbemi held that the application was baseless as there was no allegation that there was no adequate coverage of proceedings.

“There is no allegation anywhere that the proceedings are not adequately covered.

“There is a distinction between trial for the public and trial in public; I have adopted trial in public.

“There is a special gallery outside the courtroom and special provision has been made for the public to use it.

“It will be like opening the floodgates to accede to such request as a precedent would have been set even for governorship election petition tribunals and the others,’’ he said,

Fagbemi added that the petitioner had failed to disclose what injury would be done to the petition if the application was not granted.

He prayed the court to dismiss the application as granting it would be synonymous to turning the court’s proceedings into a semblance of the “Big Brother Naija’’ show.

Arguing earlier in support of the application, Mr Chris Uche (SAN), counsel to Abubakar, said that there was no legislative or statutory provision against the application.

According to Uche, the fact that it has not been done before does not mean that it cannot be done.

“The respondents have decided to trivialise it by likening it to Big Brother Naija, but there was an Oputa Panel which had live coverage and the nation benefitted from it.

“Nobody will be prejudiced by the live coverage, but the nation will benefit greatly from the live coverage.

“Moreover, if the results, as we contend were not transmitted live, let the proceedings be transmitted,’’ he submitted.

Uche said the petitioner was not asking that the cameras should show the judges live, but to show only the lawyers and the proceedings.

Having listened to all arguments, Chairman of the Court, Justice Haruna Tsammani, reserved ruling on whether to grant the request or not.

The News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN) reports that Abubakar had approached the PEPC seeking an order allowing live broadcast of the day-to-day proceedings on his petition.

He said the petition was of monumental importance to the nation.

In the application, Abubakar and the PDP specifically prayed the court for an order directing the court’s registry and parties on modalities for admission of media practitioners and their equipment into the courtroom.

They contended that being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar Constitutional dimension, it was a matter of public interest where millions of Nigerians and voters were stakeholders with Constitutional rights. (NAN)