On May 23, 2023, a Twitter user posted a tweet that “No phones, No live broadcast.
Has the Nigerian Presidential Election Tribunal turned into a secret trial?”
As of the time of this fact-check, the tweet has garnered over 34,000 views and 7000 retweets.
Claim I: Is the use of phones disallowed at the Tribunal?
On May 20, 2023, CDD Election War Room attended the pre-hearing proceedings at the Presidential Election Tribunal Court. We can confirm that the secretary of the tribunal issued a circular, pasted at every section of the court, including the entrance, prohibiting the use of phones and other gadgets in the courtroom.
However, from the beginning to the end of the sitting, the rule was not enforced. From the lawyers to the media personnel and other observers, everyone used their phones at intervals and when there was the need for it, albeit, with caution. Some others had their phones and other gadgets conspicuously displayed on the table.
Since the circular was publicized, the CDD Election War Room observers have attended several sittings and in all, the rule has not been enforced.
Claim II: Will there be no live broadcast of the tribunal?
On March 23, 2023, the president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Yakubu Maikyau, alongside the general secretary, Adesina Adegbite, issued a communique at the end of its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting held in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State. The NEC unanimously passed the resolution calling for the live broadcast of the proceedings of the election petition courts and tribunals, particularly for the presidential election, by volunteering media houses.
On May 7, 2023, the counsel to Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chris Uche, moved the motion to televise the proceedings of the presidential election tribunal.
The counsel to the Labour Party (LP) and Peter Obi also filed an application seeking to televise the proceedings of the court.
However, Abubakar Mahmoud, counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) opposed the motion. He said a live broadcast “will only defeat the solemn atmosphere of the court”.
Similarly, Wole Olanipekun, the counsel to the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, said he was surprised by the application. He added, “the court is not a stadium or a crusade ground. It is not a theatre or circus”
On May 22, 2023, the five-member panel of the court led by Haruna Tsammani dismissed the applications filed by counsels to Atiku Abubakar, the Labour Party, and Peter Obi. In their various submissions, they unanimously held that the application to televise the court proceedings lacked merit.
The five-member panel of the Presidential Election Petition Court unanimously dismissed the application to televise court proceedings as lacking merit.
Claim III: Has the Nigerian presidential election turned into a secret trial?
According to the Encyclopaedia of World Problems and Human Potential, a secret trial is a trial that is not open to the public or generally reported in the news, especially any in-trial proceedings. Generally, no official record of the case or the judge’s verdict is made available.
Based on this definition, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal is not holding a secret trial. The courtroom is open to the public, after due accreditation and is generally reported in the news. At every sitting, there are journalists from various media organizations observing the proceedings and releasing timely reports to the public.
An example of a secret trial in Nigeria is that of Nnamdi Kanu, the embattled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In this trial, journalists and the public were barred from witnessing and accessing the courtroom.
The CDD Election War Room can confirm that the Court of Appeal in Abuja, venue for the presidential election tribunal, is open to journalists and public to attend the court proceedings.