Post-election threats: Obi, Datti risk treason charges, FG warns

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The Federal Government on Tuesday said the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, and his running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed,  risked being prosecuted for treason over some of their utterances on the February 25 presidential election.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who gave the warning in Washington, United States on Tuesday, said Obi and Baba-Ahmed’s statements amounted to insurrection.

He added that Obi and his running mate were inciting people to violence over the outcome of the poll.

But the LP candidate and the Peoples Democratic Party refuted the allegations, describing them as reckless.

The PDP and the LP  warned the FG against toying with the idea of arresting the ex-governor of Anambra State.

 Since the All Progressives Congress candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, was declared as the president-elect, having polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Obi, who got 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 votes, respectively, the LP candidate and his running mate have been faulting the electoral process.

Despite filing petitions challenging the election result at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Obi and Baba-Ahmed have insisted on the cancellation of the poll which they claimed was characterised by rigging and violence.

In a recent interview on national television, Baba-Ahmed asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria not to swear in the President-elect on May 29 while some of their supporters had called for the interim national government.

But addressing some media organisations and think tanks on the election at the US capital, the minister said it was wrong for Obi to seek redress in court over the outcome of the polls and in another breath incite people to violence.

Alleged threat.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Mohammed stated, “Obi and his running mate, Datti Baba-Ahmed, cannot be threatening Nigerians that if the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress is sworn-in on May 29, it will be the end of democracy in Nigeria.

“This is treason. You cannot be inviting insurrection, and this is what they are doing. Obi’s statement is that of a desperate person, he is not the democrat that he claimed to be. A democrat should not believe in democracy only when he wins the election.”

The minister said in challenging the election result, there was no pathway to victory for either Obi or Atiku.

According to the minister, both Obi and Atiku failed to meet the constitutional requirements to be declared as president.

“The constitution has stringent criteria for anybody who wants to be president of the country. Not only must he have the plurality of votes cast in an election, but he must also have scored one-quarter of the votes cast in at least 25 states.

“Only the president-elect met the criteria by scoring 8.79m votes and having one-quarter of all the votes cast in 29 states of the federation,” he further stated.

The minister said Atiku who came second with 6.9m votes was only able to make one-quarter of the votes cast in 21 states, adding that Obi came third with 6.1m votes but won only one-quarter of votes cast in 15 states.

“You cannot win an election in a poll where you came to a distant third position and failed to meet constitutional requirements.

“Peter Obi, while complaining of fraud, has not disowned his victory in Lagos,” he said.

Elaborating on his mission to the US,  the minister said he was there to correct the negative narratives being promoted by naysayers and opposition about the election.

He said the opposition, having lost in the election, was alleging fraud, calling for its cancellation and constitution of the interim government.

“We have come here to balance that skewed narratives and to tell the world unambiguously that the just concluded general elections in Nigeria are the fairest, most transparent and authentic in the history of Nigeria.

“The election is the fairest and most credible because of the introduction of the Bimodal Voters Verification System, which I regard as a game-changer. BVAS technology had helped weed out ghost and illegal voters, eliminate multiple voting and return sanity to the elections,’’ he told his audience.

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The minister defended the BVAS, which he said functioned 97 per cent giving unparalleled credibility to the elections.

But in response to the minister’s reprimand, Obi warned the FG to desist from making false allegations against him, stating that he had never sponsored or encouraged anybody to stoke the ember of insurrection in the country.

Obi, who tweeted via his official Twitter handle, said, “In the past few days, I have observed various campaigns of calumny directed at my person, with the latest being allegations attributed to the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, from Washington DC.

“It is most unfortunate that this consistent effort to portray me quite contrary to what I am, and my core values, is coming from such high quarters. Minister Lai accusing me of stoking insurrection is totally malicious and fictitious.

“I have never discussed or encouraged anyone to undermine the Nigerian state; I have never sponsored or preached any action against the Nigerian state. Those initiating these actions have increasingly used their official positions and agents to make false allegations against me.

“I am on record as always, advocating for peace and issue-based campaigns and never campaigned based on ethnicity or religion. I am committed to due process, and presently seeking redress in court.

“I urge those engaged in this demarketing process to stop presenting Nigeria in such a bad light. Our future generations deserve a new Nigeria, where they can live a secure and decent life like their counterparts in other climes. It is possible.”

‘Minister reckless’

Also in a statement in  Awka, the Anambra State capital, Obi described Muhammed’s trip to the US and the statement as reckless.

“Such reckless behaviour, sponsored with taxpayers’ money, was among the reasons those countries often do not take Nigeria seriously,” he said.

While urging Nigerians to always remain law-abiding, Obi stated “I’m on record, as always, advocating peace and issue-based campaign, not a campaign based on ethnicity or religion.”

  In his own reaction, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, said he was disappointed with the minister’s utterances.

While pointing out that only the LP candidate’s campaign was issues-based, Abure described him as a ‘peaceful and law-abiding person.’

 According to him, the FG’s admonition which should have been directed at the ruling party and their spokespersons was done in bad taste.

 He said, “Let me state categorically that there is no basis for that admonition. Our presidential candidate is a peaceful and law-abiding person. Despite the fact that the election was provocatively rigged, he decided to be peaceful and toe the part of justice.”

Also, the PDP Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Ibrahim Abdullahi, warned the government not to flirt with the temptation of arresting the former Anambra State governor.

According to Abdullahi, arresting Obi “will be detrimental to national peace and development. That line of thought (possible arrest) is as senseless as it is ill-advised.”

But speaking with our correspondent, the APC Director of Media, Bala Ibrahim, remarked that the LP standard bearer could not be bigger than the law of the land, saying he should be cautioned by the security agencies over his incendiary statements.

Ibrahim warned that if the United States, which is seen as the beacon of democracy could prosecute former president Donald Trump, “Why do people fear that Nigeria would burn if Obi is apprehended by security agencies?

He said, “I don’t subscribe to this idea of not touching certain persons simply because of the situation or the circumstances on the ground. Nobody is above the law.

“If you are wrong, you must be called to order regardless of your position in society. If it means getting the security agencies to invite him, it should be done.

 “We shouldn’t allow things to get out of hand simply because we don’t want to be seen as intimidating the opposition. No, that should not be the case. As we talk, former American president, Donald Trump, is in court.”

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Ibrahim, however, wondered why Obi and his horde of supporters were finding it hard to accept defeat when it was obvious Tinubu won the contest.”

Speaking further, the APC publicity director noted, “People have been contesting and losing elections in this country, they didn’t call for fire and brimstone. Why should Obi’s case be different?’’

On its part, the New Nigeria People’s Party noted that Obi had the right to freedom of expression even as it challenged the Federal Government to charge him to court if they had sufficient evidence to support their allegation.

Speaking with our correspondent, NNPP National Publicity Secretary, Major Agbo, said in a democracy, people shouldn’t be scared of expressing themselves at any time.

“We are in a democracy. Peter Obi has the right to say whatever he wants to say. Even if what he said is wrong, is that sufficient to call it treason and call for his arrest?”

Reps condemn ING

Weighing on the issue, the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, condemned the calls for an interim national government after the exit of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), from power on May 29, 2023.

 After an intense debate over a motion of urgent public importance on the matter, the House unanimously “condemned in strong terms the call for an interim government,” while mandating security agencies to “be on alert to forestall the possible breakdown of law and order.”

 The House also warned “aggrieved parties to desist from heating the polity and believe in the rule of law while awaiting the outcome of litigation before the court of law.”

It also urged the Department of State Services to arrest people plotting interim government

The resolutions were sequel to the unanimous adoption of the motion titled ‘An Urgent Need to Condemn the Call for Interim Government in Nigeria.’

Moving the motion, Unyime Idem, a member of the PDP from Akwa Ibom State, cited part 1, section 132 of the 1999 Constitution which he said allows for change of leadership through the ballots.

 The lawmaker noted that the Constitution allows for a four-year tenure for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria after each election cycle.

 He said, “The House notes that an interim government is undemocratic, unconstitutional and unknown to our laws, as a court of competent jurisdiction had in time past so declared.”

 Idem recalled how the Department of State Services on March 29 issued a warning about some individuals who were allegedly plotting to install an interim government.

 The lawmaker said, “The House is worried that if the plots are allowed to see the light of the day, it will result in anarchy, with a price many generations after us will continue to pay for. The judiciary is the only institution empowered by law to adjudicate over post-election matters.

 “The House is concerned that some politicians have made comments that indicate their grievance over the last elections. The House is saddened that if this development is left unchecked, we might be sliding into irredeemable anarchy.”

 During the debate, several ranking members, including Sergius Ogun (PDP/Edo) and Nicholas Ossai (PDP/Delta) alleged that the security agencies, especially the DSS, speculated by failing to disclose the identities of the persons allegedly working towards an ING.

Ogun partly said, “I think the security agencies should do their work. If you are asking for a different government not known to the law, it is a treasonable felony. Year in, and year out in this House we budget billions of naira to the Office of the National Security Adviser and other security arms.

“Is it not a shame that the security agents would come out and say they have the names of people that have mooted this type of government in this country and you will not arrest and prosecute them?’’

Contributing to the debate, Sa’ad Abubakar (APC/Bauchi), alleged that some “undemocratic forces” were calling for an interim government to truncate the nation’s democracy.

This, he said, was through their opposition to the inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, whom he argued was validly elected.

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Abubakar said, “It is on record that one of the vice-presidential candidates was on the air, asking that the president-elect should not be inaugurated. So, if we have this kind of character in this country calling for the non-inauguration of the validly elected president of this country, I don’t know how somebody will come and say that it is mere speculation. It is never a speculation.

 “Department of State Services came out and gave us a number of advisories. The DSS should name them so that they can be punished.”

 Another member, Ademorin Kuye (APC/Lagos), recalled how June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled by the military regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida and the acclaimed winner, Chief MKO Abiola,  was prevented from becoming president, while an interim government was constituted instead based on a court order.

Kuye warned against a repeat of Nigeria’s 1993 history, saying, “Before the security agencies came up with the report, erstwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo condemned the 2023 election, asking Mr President to find a way of cancelling (the poll) without going to court.

‘’Who would have thought that somebody who had the benefit of a free and fair election would not allow for due process? He should have allowed the process to be concluded. It ends with litigation, which ends at the Supreme Court.’’

 Kuye also urged security agencies to investigate the “people sponsoring protesters to come to the National Assembly to attack parliamentarians, the bastion of democracy; to come and attack members for defending this democracy.”

 In his contribution, Sada Soli (APC/Katsina), stated, “One of the renowned lawyers in this country – whose view cannot be wished away –  was the first person who mooted the idea of an interim government. He is a lawyer of reckoning; he is somebody that we must not push away his weight when he speaks in this country.

 “So, this issue has been going around in different circles from those who have lost out. Nigerians have the characteristics: when they lose out, they want things taken back into the melting pot so that everybody would put their spoon and this will not happen.’’

Reacting to the treason allegation against the LP standard bearer, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said the statement was wrong.

According to him, saying Tinubu should not be sworn in as president did not amount to treason.

Agbakoba argued that Obi and Baba-Ahmed had the right to express their opinion, as they were just saying what they thought.

“Treason has to be accompanied by some very violent act. I don’t see how people can just make a statement about what they think should be done with Peter Obi, committing treason, it’s not treason at all. Treason is defined in a criminal code with a specific element and just to make a speech is not treason,” he submitted.

Speaking in the same vein, human rights activist, Femi Falana, SAN, said it was not treasonable for one to express their personal opinion.

Falana said Obi and Baba-Ahmed had approached the court to challenge the results of the presidential election in line with the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

According to him, the law provides that the persons declared by INEC to have won the elections shall be sworn in pending the determination of the election petitions.

He explained that the law prescribes 180 days for hearing of election petitions and 60 days for appeals arising from the decisions of trial courts or tribunals.

“All elected candidates including Labour Party elected members are going to be sworn in on May 29. Whoever says the inauguration will not hold is merely expressing his or her opinion. It is not treason to express one’s personal opinion.

“Treason occurs when any person levies war against the state in order to intimidate or overawe the President or the governor of a state. Any person found guilty of treason is liable to the punishment of death,” he said.(Punch)

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