Govt planning national discourse on unity – Minister
Jonathan visits Aso Villa, ex-VP deserves rest, says aide
The Federal Government has said that in spite of Thursday’s judgment that affirmed the victory of President Bola Tinubu, he is open to working with the major contenders in the February 25 presidential election; Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.
The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said this on Friday as a sequel to Thursday’s Supreme Court judgment that affirmed Tinubu as the winner of the election while dismissing the appeals filed by Obi and Atiku.
The apex court on Thursday upheld the September 6 ruling of the Presidential Election Petitions Court.
The five-member panel of the PEPC, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, in a unanimous judgment, dismissed the petitions by Atiku, Obi and the Allied People’s Movement challenging Tinubu’s victory.
Dissatisfied by the ruling of the PEPC, the PDP and LP presidential candidates filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. They respectively asked the apex court to annul Tinubu’s victory and declare them as winners.
The seven-man panel of the Supreme Court was led by Justice Inyang Okoro, while other justices on the panel were Uwani Aji, Mohammed Garba, Ibrahim Saulawa, Adamu Jauro, Abubakar Tijjani, and Emmanuel Agim agreed with the lead judgment dismissing Atiku and Obi’s appeals.
But following the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling that brought the litigation to a conclusive end, the minister in an interview with one of our correspondents on Friday night said the President remained open to work with the opposition.
Asked if Tinubu would be ready to work with both Atiku and Obi, Idris stated, “Since the President won this election, he has always invited people to come and join him for the good of Nigeria. Mr President is not the kind of person to say ‘I have become president, everybody should go away’. No. They (Atiku and Obi) are the ones that have not heeded that call.
“Anytime any of them is willing to join hands with the President, why not? The President is open and willing to accommodate everybody, irrespective of religious, social and political affiliation so that we can all join hands for Nigeria to go forward.”
Earlier at a news conference in Abuja on Friday, he called on Nigerians to put the election matters behind them and join hands together with the government to tackle the myriads of challenges confronting the nation.
He said the President had made it clear that he would be a President for all Nigerians, irrespective of their regional, ethnic, partisan or religious affiliations. He added that Tinubu, since assuming office on May 29, had been working tirelessly to actualise the Renewed Hope Agenda that formed the basis of his campaign.
He stated further, “The courts have spoken and the President and the governing party, the All Progressives Congress, have welcomed this judicial victory as pronounced. We thank the judiciary for the painstaking work that they have done and for rising up to the occasion in fulfilment of their constitutional mandate as the final arbiters of electoral proceedings in the country.
“Now that the legal contest regarding the outcome of the presidential election is now behind us, it is time for all of us to come together and move forward, into a season of governing that is without distraction.
“These are indeed challenging economic times, not just for Nigeria, but also for many countries around the world, and all hands must be on deck to tackle the challenges confronting us.”
Govt plans discourse
In a related development, the minister said the Federal Government was planning a national discourse to address the issues of national values and unity. He stressed that the discourse would be distinct from the constitutional conference organised by previous governments, saying this had nothing to do with the constitution but national orientation.
He stated in the interview, “It’s true the Federal Government is planning a national discourse for national orientation. It’s a discourse for us to look at our nation again and decide where we want to be as a nation, and citizens and everybody would key into that.
“Everybody knows what they are expecting from Nigeria and citizens can also do a lot for their country. We need to agree on the kind of nation we want to build. What our founding fathers left for us is gradually being eroded. Trust in the leadership has waned over the years and that is clear.
“We must agree on what we want as a country, where we want to be and then work collectively towards achieving that. There would be a national discourse so that Nigerians would have the consciousness about their country and strive towards keeping that for the benefit of all.”
Asked when the discourse would hold, he said the decision had yet to be taken but that it would hold soon, noting, “The previous ones were for constitutional reforms but this one is about all the key segments of the society coming together; youth, women, elders, religious leaders, professionals. There will be representation. We will come together to agree on the set values that we want to promote as a country so that everybody will move in that direction. The difference is that this is about value orientation that all of us will collectively agree on.”
Hardship temporary – Minister
The minister also said the President had implemented reforms that would yield benefits for all and serve as the necessary foundation for economic growth and prosperity Nigerians deserve, noting that the pain being experienced would only last a short time.
He noted that the removal of petrol subsidy, envisaged by the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021 was freeing up significant resources for federal and state governments to invest in infrastructure and welfare programmes for the citizens.
He said the harmonisation of the foreign exchange regime was to close loopholes that had been exploited over the years, leading to the loss of billions of dollars.
He added, “The combined impact of these reforms, no doubt, has produced pain for many of our citizens, which the President and the administration have never shied away from acknowledging. No serious government seeks to inflict burdens on its people.
“We are very clear in explaining that these pains being felt are a short-term sacrifice to make for the kind of country that we want and that we deserve.”
He outlined some of the efforts so far made in the short and medium term, including the monthly provisional wage increment of N35,000 for six months, establishment of an Infrastructure Support Fund for states to invest in critical areas that would create an enabling environment for businesses; launch of a N100bn CNG bus rollout programme to deliver CNG-powered buses and establishment of a presidential committee to drive implementation.
APC, Onanuga speak
The Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, also said the President had never hidden his intention to work harmoniously with the opposition.
He stated, “If you read the president’s statement yesterday (Thursday), you will notice he extended out an olive branch to them, saying he will welcome their participation in his government. This has been consistent with his declaration on May 29 when he came in.
“He said he sees it as a normal thing in democracy for them to contest his victory and still regard all of them as brothers, members of the same family living in the same house but in different rooms.
“The President stands by that declaration and will always welcome them. You remember he said he was not a ‘superman’ but a human being that will always welcome alternative ideas that the opposition may also provide. The ball is now in their court to take the olive branch President Tinubu has extended to them.”
He said they observed that 24 hours after the Supreme Court judgment, both Atiku and Obi had kept mute.
When reminded that Obi was not in the country, the presidential aide said distance was not an obstacle, adding, “The world is a global village. Wherever Obi is at the moment, nothing stops him from congratulating the President. That will be his demonstration that he has forgotten all about this election matter and is ready to uphold the verdict of the Supreme Court, which we know is also final.”
Speaking on reports that Tinubu might use the reconciliation process as a smokescreen to go after his political opponents after the judgment, Onanuga dismissed the notion, saying, “President Tinubu is a democrat who won the election free and fair. He is also an accommodating president who welcomes ideas. The President is not someone who believes anybody with a contrary opinion must be alienated. No, they are Nigerians too.”
Also, the APC Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim, said Tinubu deserved to be commended for walking his talks, adding that the appointment of Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, and Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, were a testament that he was indeed running an inclusive government.
He added, “It goes without saying that the APC is a progressive party. Right from the very beginning, the President has made it very clear that he wants to carry everyone along. The idea is to renew the hope of Nigerians and give them a new sense of belonging and direction.
“Regardless of where you belong, as long as you have something to contribute to the progress of Nigeria, you will be welcome by the president and the ruling party. What Atiku and others have done by going to court instead of resorting to the use of cutlass is a welcome democratic process. But now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the legitimacy of the president, it is for them to be good sportsmen by coming on board and contributing to the progress of Nigeria.”
Jonathan visits Villa
Former President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday visited Tinubu at the Presidential Villa, saying with the elections over, past and present leaders and the electorate must work together for a better future.
“Elections are over and so we must move forward. Yes, we have challenges economically now, but we still have what it takes to lead Africa,” Jonathan affirmed while speaking to State House Correspondents after he emerged from closed-door talks with the President.
Referring to his active role in peace and diplomacy in West Africa and across the continent, the former President said he had been actively involved in regional dialogues with plans to visit Kenya and Liberia in the coming days.
Commenting on the court judgment, Jonathan said, “We need to bring all our political leaders together. If top leaders continue fighting, they might not suffer that much, but the downtrodden will.”
Diri explains visit
Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on Friday, clarified his visit to the Villa on Thursday, where he was seen felicitating with the President in his office after the Supreme Court judgment.
Speaking at Igbedi community in Constituency 2 of Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of the state during the visit of the PDP governorship campaign on Friday, Diri said he was at liberty to congratulate the President following the Supreme Court verdict on the presidential election.
A statement by his spokesperson and member of the Publicity Directorate of the Bayelsa PDP Governorship Campaign Council, Mr Daniel Alabrah, quoted the governor as saying he was at the presidential villa to discuss serious state matters with the president, whom he said attended to the issues positively.
He stated, “Yesterday (Thursday), I was in Abuja and most of you saw the video trending. The opposition is now jittery and is telling lies. Of course, that is in their character. As a sitting governor, there is a sitting President and I do not owe them any explanation about my visit to the president.
“If the Supreme Court affirms the president of the country, as a sitting governor, I reserve all the rights to visit him. But beyond that, I went for very serious state business and I can tell you that Mr President attended to all the issues I raised. Those whose names have been delisted by amendment number one of INEC can no longer sleep. They will continue to have sleepless nights.”
SANs hail judgment
Some senior lawyers on Friday hailed the Supreme Court judgment, as some of them also demanded accountability from the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the judgment of the apex court was in tandem with the law of the land, adding, “I think the judgment generally represents the position of the law in accordance with electoral jurisprudence, which is quite a technical aspect of the law that is difficult to assail. Even if the lawyers of the petitioners were changed to represent the respondents, the result would have been the same.
“The problem with this is that the people who are challenging the elections don’t have access to the election materials because they are in the hands of the electoral umpire.”
He added that the statement made by one of the Justices that INEC’s failure to upload election results affected confidence in the system was a weighty one, noting that the declaration showed a lack of capacity and failure on the part of INEC. He said there should be a penalty for such an infraction.
He said, “This is such a serious thing that affected a good number of Nigerians who came out to vote because they believed the process would be credible and transparent. It would be devoid of manipulation by human agents. By this, the head of INEC should not be allowed to conduct elections.”
Another senior lawyer, Mr Isiaka Olagunju (SAN), corroborating Adegboruwa’s stance, said the judgment was simply a restatement of the position of the law.
He added, “There is nothing novel about what the apex court said. Even the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal restated that position, which is the position of the law. It is very unfortunate if a lawyer who has been involved in election petition cases says that a judge or justice who made such a decision has been compromised.
“Thursday’s judgment was clearly the position of the law. There are several cases which followed that precedence. If you read the Oyetola Vs Adeleke judgment, you would see that there is really nothing different from what the Supreme Court said. How can you confer special status on the FCT? The Supreme Court did justice to the law, and its decision should put everyone to rest,” he said.
Another senior lawyer, Mr Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), said the judgment had been able to settle a lot of issues regarding the electoral process, noting that the verdict was unassailable.
He added, “They established that the IReV is not a collation centre and that the FCT is not special in Nigeria. All votes are equal and so there is nothing like a special voting requirement for Abuja. They have also demonstrated that we need to do much more in order to show that there is non-compliance in an election.
“You have to give particulars and see how it can substantially affect the outcome of the result. More particularly, they have been able to hold the key point that you must also show your own scores as an alternative to the one INEC announced. The petitioners’ cases are abysmally poor and so it was quite expected that the outcome could not be other than what the Supreme Court decided.”
Falana faults INEC
Meanwhile, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) said the failure of INEC to conduct credible elections created the avenue for the judiciary to be part of the process.
Falana who stated this during a Friday interview on a programme on Channels TV, said, “It is very clear that Nigerians have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that credible elections are conducted. Nigerians need elections that will be devoid of acrimony, one that everyone would be proud of.
“We are still a long way from there even with the Thursday judgement. For now, the presidential election is concluded. It should have been concluded in February but it has just been concluded by the Supreme Court and it shouldn’t be so.
“The judiciary should not determine the winners of elections. Judges are not suited to determine the winners of elections. That is a job reserved for INEC if things are done properly. That is why we must put an end to the shame that becomes our law in terms of conducting elections.”
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