•Inaugurates legal team to challenge result
•EFCC arrests son-in-law
• Former military president advises Buhari to heed cry for restructuring
Shola Oyeyipo, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Laleye Dipo in Minna
In an apparent reference to the arrest of his son-in-law by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in penultimate Saturday’s election and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has said neither intimidation nor blackmail will make him “mortgage the mandate of Nigerians as freely expressed” at the polls on February 23. Atiku stated this in a statement yesterday in Abuja by his media adviser, Mr. Paul Ibe. Alhaji Babalele Abdullahi, who is finance director of Atiku’s group of companies, was arrested in Abuja.
The former vice president’s declaration also came against the backdrop of rumours allegedly sponsored by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidency that he was prepared to back down from the legal challenge of President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the presidential election if certain conditions were met by the latter.
But Atiku’s announcement yesterday of the inauguration of a legal team to begin his challenge of the election outcome put paid to the story.
Meanwhile, a cross section of political leaders from across the country yesterday condemned the February 23 presidential election as fraught with irregularities, saying Buhari’s victory is illegitimate. The Forum of Nigerian Leaders and Elders (FNLE) commended the main opposition PDP presidential candidate for challenging the poll outcome in the court.
But in Minna yesterday, former military president Ibrahim Babangida advised Atiku to work closely with Buhari in order to defend Nigeria’s common interests, in his first public statement on the presidential election outcome and congratulatory message to Buhari. Babangida also cautioned the president against seeing his political opponents as enemies and urged him to focus on solving the problem of insecurity, particularly, the Boko Haram menace.
Atiku Vows Not to Mortgage Mandate
The former vice president, in a statement yesterday, vowed never to “mortgage the mandate of Nigerians as freely expressed on the 23rd of February, 2019.” That was as his son-in-law was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in what was widely suspected to be an intimidation plot.
Abdullahi, who is the finance director of Atiku’s group of companies, was arrested about 8.30am Saturday in Abuja by EFCC operatives, who allegedly invaded his Maitama residence. “They were, however, not given access into the house until his lawyers arrived,” the statement by the former vice president’s media aide said.
The statement alleged that the arrest was a desperate attempt to pressure Atiku into conceding defeat in the presidential election and congratulating Buhari.
It stated, “The EFCC agents numbering about two dozen came in two regular vehicles, an 18-seater Toyota bus (registration Abuja CS 522 RSH) and a Hilux van.
“They came with a search warrant to search the house and office of Babalele and found nothing incriminating.
“They then proceeded to his office at Oakland Centre in Maitama and found nothing incriminating there. However, they took away some documents of landed property.
“Not done, the EFCC officials stormed his Wuse residence where they again found nothing incriminating after the search.
“Afterwards, Babalele was taken away to the EFCC office in Wuse to make a statement alongside Mr. Lawan Ayuba.
“It was gathered that the petition relied upon to invade the residence and office of Babalele was authored by a brother of the wife of President Buhari.”
The statement added, “As a law abiding citizen, Atiku Abubakar recognises the constitutional role of the EFCC and, indeed, any other agency of the government to carry out investigations, but will not be cowed by any attempt to blackmail him into mortgaging his mandate.”
…Constitutes Legal Team
Atiku at the weekend inaugurated his legal team, headed by Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, to challenge the result of the February 23 presidential election. This was disclosed by Atiku’s media adviser in a separate news release on Saturday.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on February 27 declared Buhari as winner of the election. But Atiku on February 28 announced his rejection of the result citing malpractices, including the alleged use of the military to intimidate and suppress voters in PDP strongholds. He also alleged connivance in electoral misconducts by INEC officials, security agents, and the APC, leading to the concoction of figures for the ruling party and falsification of returns from the polling units.
“Consequently he had given notice that he will use all available legitimate means to challenge the result of the election,” Ibe stated.
The statement said the PDP presidential candidate met with members of the National Peace Committee on Thursday night. It said the meeting had prompted concerns in some quarters that Atiku might have been prevailed upon not to proceed with the challenge of the poll.
The former vice president was quoted as saying in the release, “I have just inaugurated my legal team and charged them with the responsibility of ensuring that our stolen mandate is retrieved.
“I am encouraged by the presence of fearless men and women of the Bench. The judiciary, which had in the past discharged itself ably, is once again being called upon to deliver judgement on this matter that will be untainted by lucre and uncowed by the threat of immoral power.”
Atiku assured Nigerians that “sooner than later these noble dispensers of justice will give a judgement that will represent a historic denunciation of electoral fraud and mandate bandit.”
Buhari’s Victory Illegitimate – Nigerian Leaders
Political leaders under the aegis of FNLE said the last presidential election was marred by misconduct and the winner could not boost a legitimate mandate. It commended Atiku for deciding to challenge the election in court.
The group comprises prominent Nigerians, including leader of Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), Chief E K Clark; Convener, Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi; Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; President-General, Ohaneze, Chief John Nwodo; and President, Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus.
The leaders had declared support for Atiku in the build up to the election on the grounds that he was capable of improving the Nigerian economy and bringing about the much talked about restructuring.
FNLE said in a news release on Saturday, “The forum observes that the elections have revealed massive irregularities and outright abuse of the electoral laws, the rules and regulations of INEC as well as the failure of security forces to remain neutral and operate within the highest standards of their calling.
“The Peace Accord was ridiculed by deliberate and open abuse of organs of the state, the denial of rights of many citizens to vote and blatant abuse of all the commitments made by the administration. To decline to challenge obviously fictional figures, failures to respect key elements of the electoral process such as use of Smart Card Readers and preventing agents and observers’ access to all processes is to condone the massive setback which this election represents for the country.”
The group said, “The outcome of the elections was clearly premeditated in the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and the orchestrated suspension of Justice Walter Onoghen as the CJN shortly before the composition of Electoral Tribunals.”
It said its position was based on a review of the poll before, during, and after the election.
FNLE said Atiku’s decision to go to court was “patriotic, responsible and ultimately the highest contribution to the democratic system. Some other person would by now be soaking ‘baboons and dogs in blood.’
“The forum calls on the judiciary to uphold the highest standards of integrity and commitment to its hallowed role by doing justice to the appeals that will come before it knowing that the eyes of the world would be on them. We are aware that attempts are being made to demoralise and intimidate the judiciary to remove a conducive context for litigations. We remind the judiciary that it is the last defence of our democratic process.
“We appeal to all Nigerians to continue to show faith in the democratic process and remain law-abiding as we await the decisions of the judiciary on a matter that will ultimately determine the quality of our democratic process and the nature of the nation we all call our own.”
Reiterating their decision to back Atiku’s presidential ambition, the body stated, “In endorsing the candidature of Atiku for the election, we did anchor our support on identifying a candidate among many good candidates we interacted with who can retool Nigeria to move on the path of development as a true federal entity. The pattern of voting in areas where there were semi-free elections showed an overwhelming endorsements of our position by popular votes. And the polls results have shown further a badly divided polity that needs a unifier and not a divisive person as a leader.
“We insist Nigerians must stand firm and ensure they are governed by a legitimate leadership.”
Babangida Congratulates Buhari, Urges Atiku to Work with Him
The former military president, commenting for the first time on the outcome of the February 23 presidential election, urged unity between the winner and the runner-up.
Babangida said in a statement, “I call on the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to close ranks and work with the winner of the election in an objective and constructive manner so that democracy will continue to thrive in our country at this crucial period of renaissance.
“I urged him also to endeavour and prevail on his admirers to eschew bitterness and violence. They must be prevailed upon to understand that politics is a game in which there must be only one winner.”
Congratulating Buhari on his victory, Babangida observed that the “electioneering campaign was very strenuous and the contest very keen. That despite the turbulent terrain of politics, the President submitted and subjected himself to this process. Indeed, it is a clear testimony that he believes in the democratic process and ideals.”
He charged the re-elected president to “heal the wounds of the heated campaign exchanges by embracing those who contested with him.
“The President must resist the temptation to see them as enemies; not even opponents, but fellow compatriots who merely disagreed with him on how best to move our country forward.”
He further advised, “Now that the President has won his re-election bid, he should confront with renewed vigour the most urgent problem confronting Nigeria: ‘insecurity of lives and property’”.
According to him, “The Boko Haram insurgency remains a threat to many Nigerians particularly in the North-east sub region, while the twin evils of kidnapping and armed robbery/armed banditry also remains a major national menace.
“The president must pay priority attention to these security issues.”
Babangida advised Buhari to be more creative in formulating policies that would improve the economy, create employment opportunities and give hope to the youth.
“The President may wish to heed to the yearnings of reasonable Nigerians for restructuring and seek all constitutional means to devolve some powers presently exercised by the Federal Government to the other tiers of government,” Babangida said.
PDP: Our Presidential Candidate Made No Demands on Buhari
In the meantime, PDP has described a fabrication the story that Atiku was making some demands on Buhari.
The party in statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the presidency and the APC knew that their electoral robbery could not stand before any noble justices and are now attempting to use all sorts of blackmail and shenanigans to derail the quest by Nigerians to reclaim the stolen mandate at the tribunal.
He stated, “Without mincing words, Atiku Abubakar had not, and will never, make or accept any condition from President Buhari regarding the rigged February 23, 2019 presidential election, which he (Atiku) clearly won.
“However, let it be known to President Buhari and the APC that Atiku Abubakar and the PDP are standing shoulder to shoulder with Nigerians in this collective determination to take back the stolen mandate and we are not ready for any form of negotiation with anybody on this matter.
“Our party and candidate remain committed to the huge sacrifices made by Nigerians in ensuring our collective victory as delivered at the polling units across the country; we are mindful of the pains that Nigerians are passing through since the subversion of their will at the polls; we are sensitive to the expectations that millions of compatriots place on our shoulders in this struggle and we will never let Nigerians down.”
The party claimed to have all the authentic results from all the polling units as well as forensic evidence of manipulations by the APC and INEC, adding that it would bare them all at the tribunal and the court would give justice to Nigerians.
Ologbondiyan noted that the party shall devote every energy necessary to reclaim its mandate and have Atiku declared President, in line with the will of the people as delivered at the polling units on February 23, 2019.
He stressed that anything short of this was not acceptable and no amount of false reports, connivance, contrivance, intimidation, harassment and fresh attacks on its leaders, including the Director General of its Presidential Campaign, Senate President Bukola Saraki, whose residence was besieged by security agents last night, can alter this resolve.
“On that note, the PDP states unequivocally that nothing will change its resolve to pursue this despicable electoral fraud unknown in our political history, to its end,” the statement said.