President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as well as other agencies involved in the 2019 presidential election case spent billions of naira pursuing and defending the case at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal (PEPT), checks by Daily Trust revealed.
The tribunal had on Wednesday last week dismissed the petition filed by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku, challenging the election of President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 23 presidential election. The judgement came after 177 days of legal battle in which Atiku, PDP, Buhari, APC and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) deployed dozens of lawyers.
A lawyer who participated in the tribunal’s proceedings said he was aware the legal fees for all the parties could be up to N5bn.
Findings by the Daily Trust revealed that PDP had 20 SANs and 11 other lawyers on its team. APC had about 20 SANs and 50 other lawyers while INEC alongside some interested parties assembled 60 lawyers.
Cost of filing a case at the tribunal was at a minimum of N5,000 and in some instances, it might cost up to N25,000 each, our findings showed.
Similarly, it was learnt that INEC also spent a substantial size of its budget on getting competent and adequate lawyers to defend and prosecute their cases at national and state levels.
INEC’s 2019 Election Project Plan showed that the electoral empire budgeted over N1.2bn for legal fees and other related matters, part of which would be expended on handling election cases by SANs and other lawyers apart from their in-house personnel who cannot handle one tenth of the cases involving the commission.
The sum covered duty tour allowance and transport costs for the monitors at the hearing of election petitions and appeals, as well as the compilation and printing of reports of petitions and appeals.
The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said six lawyers were used in prosecuting the petition.
“It is common knowledge that INEC has several cases in court arising from the various elections it conducted. We have over 800 cases in courts at the moment,” Oyekanmi said.
But another source said some interested parties had hired over 50 lawyers who teamed up with those commissioned by INEC in order to strengthened their arguments.
Daily Trust reports that more than 15 applications and motions were filed at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, while 62 witnesses were invited. In most instances, petitioners that invited the witnesses shouldered their cost of transport, accommodation and feeding.
More than 50, 000 documents were also tendered as exhibits of materials used for the election and paid for. These included ballot papers, Form EC8 series, INEC manuals, newspapers etc. They were gathered and tendered from across 36 states.
However, some lawyers who represented Atiku and PDP denied receiving huge fees, saying they offered their services almost free of charge.
When contacted, Special Adviser to Atiku on Media Paul Ibe told our correspondent that a lot of money was spent at the tribunal. He however, could not be specific about the figures, saying he has no such information. “Well, I wouldn’t know that. I know much would have been spent but I don’t know exactly how much was spent. But I know it wouldn’t come cheap. The battle for democracy doesn’t come cheap; we know that. But I don’t have figures,” he said. At the time of filing this report, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, did not answer his calls or respond to a text message sent to him by our correspondent to establish how much the party spent on the case.
Also reacting, the ruling APC said it can defend the source of the money spent at the tribunal “no matter the amount.” APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Malam Lanre Issa-Onilu, told Daily Trust on telephone that the party was running its activities from its based internally generated revenue. On the specific amount APC spent at the tribunal, Issa-Onilu said, “I don’t work in the finance department. So, I don’t have an idea. Whatever we spend, on which I don’t know the figures, it is our money. It is internally generated revenue. Unlike the PDP, we didn’t go to any government agency or cover to get it. We can say that anywhere. Whatever the figure is, it’s our money.”
•Excerpted from a Daily Trust report.