There was a drama at the Presidential Election Petition Court, PEPC, yesterday, as the factional National Chairman of the Labour Party, Lamidi Apapa, clashed with members of the party loyal to the presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi.
Apapa, currently entangled in a legal dispute with the Comrade Julius Abure-led LP national executives that conducted the primary election that produced Obi as flag-bearer of the party, stormed the court with some of his supporters.
Immediately the main door to the courtroom was opened, and Apapa made his way to the line of chairs reserved for dignitaries and petitioners.
Obi was already seated by the time Apapa attempted to take possession of one of the seats but was blocked by members of the party led by a man identified as LP’s national youth leader.
When Apapa noted that despite his spirited effort he would not be allowed to sit close to Obi, he relocated to the line of chairs reserved for members of the public.
Immediately the court commenced sitting and the case was called up, Apapa stood up and announced himself as the national chairman of LP.
However, Justice Haruna Tsammani-led’s five-member panel said it would not record his presence in view of the leadership crisis rocking the party.
The court adjourned further pre-hearing session on Obi’s petition till Friday (tomorrow).
Meanwhile, outside the court, a horde of LP supporters was already waiting for Apapa, poised for war.
As soon as they sighted him coming out of the court, they pounced on him, calling him unprintable names.
As he was being rough-handled in his overflowing agbada, (native flowing dress), some of the party supporters grabbed and threw away his cap, as security men quickly smuggled him out of the scene to make way for his escape.
If not for God, I’d have died in court — Apapa
The embattled Apapa, addressing newsmen later after being released from protective custody by security operatives, thanked God for saving his life.
Apapa said he was in court to assert himself as the acting National Chairman of the party and to confirm the state of things on the petition Obi filed to challenge the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
The factional LP chairman said he had, before the court began its proceedings, sensed trouble, after the Director-General of Obi Campaign Organizations, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, refused to vacate a chair reserved for the chairman of the party.
“I went to him and inquired to know in what capacity he was sitting on the seat. I told him that since I am in court today, I am the right person to sit on that chair,’’ he said.
On how he was mobbed, Apapa said: “They pounced on me, removed my cap and I am very sure that if not that you people (journalists) were there, I would have been dead by now.”
Obi aware I would be attacked
He accused Obi of being aware that he would be attacked, disclosing that members of the presidential campaign group of the party had at a meeting on Tuesday to broker peace among the warring factions, vowed to deal with him should he attend the court session.
I didn’t collect the N500m bribe
“They threatened that if I appear in court that something would happen,” he added, saying there was no truth in the allegation that he collected N500 million to scuttle Obi’s petition against the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
While branding Obi “a liar” for saying he didn’t know him, Apapa said he actively participated in all the campaigns the party held before the presidential election and also flew back to Abuja with him in the same aircraft on one of the occasions.
“I want to tell the whole world that he is a liar. I have been in the party for over 21 years while he is not even up to one year in the party.
“I have never taken any kobo from anybody and I have challenged anyone that has any evidence to bring it forward.”
Insisting that he had contributed more to the party than Obi, Apapa, said it was not true that he was in court to withdraw the petition against Tinubu.
“Apart from money, what else does he (Obi) have that I don’t have?,” Apapa queried.
He accused Obi of refusing to respect the court order that suspended the Julius Abure-led executives of the party.
On the issue that led to the removal of his cap by angry youths that attacked him at the court premises, he said: “As you can see, I have recovered my cap. But as for the person that removed my cap, he will suffer till the end of his life. I saw him, he is a young chap but he will never grow old.’’
INEC frustrating my petition against Tinubu, Obi tells court
At the tribunal, Obi accused the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of frustrating his petition challenging the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
At the resumed proceedings in the matter, Obi, through his team of lawyers, led by Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, told the PEPC that the electoral body refused to make available to him the documents he required to establish that Tinubu of the APC did not win the election.
Shortly after all the lawyers representing parties in the case announced their appearance, lead counsel for Obi and the LP, Dr Uzoukwu, SAN, drew the attention of the court to INEC’s alleged refusal to furnish his team with some of the sensitive materials used for the election.
He told the court that among documents INEC “has stubbornly refused to provide” included results of the presidential election from Rivers State.
“My Lords, up till now we are yet to get about 70% of all the documents we required from INEC. We have made efforts, including meeting with the Chairman of INEC, who made a commitment that the documents will be made available to us, yet nothing happened.
“We have also met the legal department of INEC which promised to intervene. Some documents were provided but not up to 30%. A typical example is that of Rivers State where the Resident Electoral Commissioner boldly told us that they do not have any Form EC8A available to give us. We required that he put it in writing but that was not done.
“INEC has stubbornly refused to provide the documents, notwithstanding that I led the team on different occasions to INEC headquarters. I have written five letters to INEC, clearly requesting documents, but they refused,” Uzoukwu told the court, insisting that his team would not be able to effectively establish its case without access to the electoral materials.
He, therefore, notified the court of his intention to apply for a subpoena to be issued against INEC and its Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu.
Obi, LP refused to pay the N1.5m certification fee — INEC
Responding, INEC’s lead lawyer, Mr A. B. Mahmood, SAN, told the court that it is not true that the petitioners were denied access to the documents they requested for.
He told the court that there were protocols involved in the process of releasing such documents, among which he said included payment for copies and certification.
Mahmood told the court that whereas Obi refused to pay the sum of N1.5m for certification of materials he requested, with respect to the results of the presidential election in Sokoto State, he also rejected some documents made available to him in Rivers State on the ground that all the documents he requested should be released to him at the same time.
He equally told the court that Obi’s legal team walked out of a meeting the parties held on May 16, where they had agreed to put heads together to sort out some of the requested documents.
“My lords, the commission is committed to cooperating with both parties and the court to ensure an expeditious hearing of this case. If there is any issue that is brought to my attention, it will be resolved. The PDP, even though they are not here, are cooperating and receiving what they request,” INEC’s lawyer added.
INEC gave us the materials we need – Tinubu
On his part, the President-elect, Tinubu, through his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, said he had no problem as INEC provided all the documents he needed to defend his election victory.
He commended INEC’s legal team for assisting to ensure the availability of the requested materials.
Tinubu blamed Obi’s inability to get the electoral materials on his refusal to pay the required fee for certification.
Olanipekun argued that Obi could not at this stage of the case apply for a subpoena to be issued against INEC and its chairman.
“On our part my lord, we are always ready,” Tinubu’s lawyer added.
The pre-hearing session ends Sunday – Tribunal chairman
Meanwhile, Justice Haruna Tsammani-led’s five-member panel told the parties that the 14 days duration allowed for the pre-hearing session to be conducted on the petition will lapse on Sunday.
Specifically, the LP candidate, Obi, in the joint petition he filed alongside his party, marked: CA/PEPC/03/2023, is praying the court to declare that the President-elect, Tinubu, was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the election.