The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar, and the legal team of President Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Saturday clashed over an inscription by the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT) on the widely circulated copies of the judgment of the Presidential Elections Petition Court (PEPC), which was delivered on Wednesday.
While Tinubu’s legal team clarified that the inscription was a ‘watermark’ it made on its own copies of the court judgment, Atiku argued that it was a ‘header,’ which showed that Tinubu’s legal team might be the originator of the document unless otherwise proved.
Atiku stated that all the 798 pages of the Certified True Copies (CTC) of the judgment given to Tinubu’s lawyers bore the inscription ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT)’ as if the Tinubu presidential legal team provided clerical services to the PEPC.
The former vice president called on the PEPC to explain to Nigerians and the world the ambiguities around why copies of the judgment bore the header of the TPLT.
But in a swift reaction, the Tinubu legal team berated critics insinuating the watermark was a result of pre-determined manipulations, explaining that it watermarked its copies of the judgment with the inscription ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team ‘TPLT’ before circulating the scanned soft copies to the lawyers in its legal team.
In a statement by Atiku’s Special Assistant on Communications, Phrank Shaibu, the former vice president said: “It is not our intention to stir up controversy on the matter, but it is very important that the PEPC should tell Nigerians why they chose to affix the header of the respondents on the CTC copy of their judgment, whereas the copies that went to the petitioners did not have the same.
“Was that because the Tinubu legal team is deemed to be accorded special privileges? The court must explain! It is very clear that many questions are begging for answers, including why the PEPC decided to avail the respondents, especially the Tinubu legal team, to have a first receipt of the CTC of the judgment before the plaintiffs.”
According to Atiku, “the curiosity is more confounding based on the fact that the lead counsel to Atiku and the PDP had pleaded in the open court to have express receipt of the judgment, to which Justice Haruna Tsammani agreed to and promised to make the document available the following day, which was Thursday.
“Nigerians want to know why the PEPC confers special privileges to the Tinubu legal team by making them have first custody of copies of the PEPC judgment, even though it was more urgent for the petitioners who needed the document to cause an appeal to the Supreme Court within 14 days, including weekends,” Atiku stated.
According to the statement, the PEPC made a “discretionary decision of having the respondents have a custody of the judgment earlier in the day on Friday while only making the same available to the petitioners later in the day, and only after the lead counsel to Atiku and PDP had written a second letter.”
“In the course of delivering its judgment, the PEPC had spoken of the petition it was ruling upon in a vexatious and denigrating language as if it was a crime to bring a case of electoral banditry before the court.
“However, unfolding developments after the court’s ruling elicit suspicions about whether or not the Tinubu legal team provided clerical services to the PEPC. Otherwise, how and when did the ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team’ creep into a document that was supposed to be the official document of the Court of Appeal of Nigeria?
“We need to restate that the ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team’ on the top left-hand corner of all the 798 pages is neither a monochrome nor a metadata. It is actually a header, meaning that except for a valid explanation, the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team is the originator of the document. For clarity, a header is text that is placed at the top of a page, while a footer is placed at the bottom of a page.
“Typically, these areas are used for inserting information such as the name of the document, the chapter heading, page numbers, creation date, and the like. On the other hand, a watermark is a ‘faint design made in some paper during manufacture that is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker of the document,” Atiku explained.
The statement alleged that when the PEPC was informed that the CTC copies of the judgment given to the respondents were already circulating in the public domain with the header of TPLT on it, “a further delay was necessitated by the need for it to undertake a laundry of the documents by removing the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team header before handing over same to the lawyers of Atiku”.
“Whereas the legal team of the PDP and Atiku have statutory 14 days to prepare its appeal to the Supreme Court, the PEPC had erased two days out of 14 days, no thanks to the PEPC whose Chairman, Justice Tsamani had promised to make available the CTC copy of the judgment to Atiku a day after its judgment was rendered, which ought to have been on Thursday.”
Atiku urged the PEPC to provide answers to this poser so as not to “validate suspicions that there were external factors involved in the formulation of the judgment and bring the entire judiciary of Nigeria into disrepute.”
We Watermarked Our Copies of Court Judgment, Tinubu’s Lawyers Clarify
However, Tinubu’s legal team has offered explanations over what it described as its “watermark” on the widely circulated copies of the judgment of the PEPC, and berated critics insinuating the watermark was a result of pre-determined manipulations.
A statement issued Saturday by the Coordinator of the TPLT, Mr. Babatunde Ogala (SAN), said there was nothing untoward with the watermark.
He explained: “Following some mischievous insinuations being made in certain quarters regarding the innocuous water-mark of copies of the consolidated judgment of the Court of Appeal with the inscription –‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT),’ it has become necessary to offer this clarification.
“After the delivery of judgment in the three election petitions by the Court of Appeal on September 6, 2023, the court directed its registry to make physical copies of the same available on September 7, 2023.
“Accordingly, the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team applied for a certified true copy of the said judgment and paid the prescribed fee. Lawyers for PDP were present at the registry at the same time to collect the same judgment.
“In fact, the representative of the PDP collected the first copy that was made available by the registry.
“On collecting our own copy, we immediately scanned and water-marked it with the inscription- ‘Tinubu Presidential Legal Team (TPLT’ before circulating the scanned soft copies to the lawyers in our team.
“The certified true copies issued to us and other parties in the petitions by the registry do not contain the said inscription and any insinuation to the contrary is untrue.
“Counsel to the petitioners will also appreciate the fact that the insinuations being circulated in some quarters are untrue, unkind, unfair, and unfortunate, as they have the same certified copies of the judgment as we have,” Ogala added
Chuks Okocha in Abuja