BY ANDREW OROLUA
The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP) have raised the alarm over yesterday’s fire which gutted the Supreme Court, Abuja, stoking public suspicion of a possible arson to delay hearing high-profile electoral appeal cases now pending before the nation’s apex court.
Both the PDP and LP presidential candidates, Alhaji Atiku Abubalar and Mr. Peter Obi respectively, who lost at the just-concluded Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC), have headed to the Supreme Court to further challenge Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s declaration of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) flagbearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as winner of the hotly-contested February 25, 2023 presidential poll.
Apparently smelling a rat, PDP warned that findings into the cause of the fire, extent of damage and other sensitive information should be put in the public domain and not consigned into secrecy ”unlike those of previous fire incidents in various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies which were characteristically swept under the carpet by the All Progressives Congress (APC) @OfficialAPCNg administrations.”
On its part, LP wondered why such fire should come ”at this time” given that the appeal proceedings have to be disposed off within just about two months.
Detectives from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command of Nigeria Police Force (NPF) are presently piecing bits of information regarding the inferno.
Fire gutted some part of the Supreme Court building and damaged some of the Justices’ chambers.
Spokesperson of the Supreme Court, Dr Festus Akande, said after the fire incident, that contrary to social media reports early yesterday morning the fire outbreak was not a serious incident
He attributed the fire incident to electrical fault, revealing that the fire was effectively put out by the court’s Fire Service department, thus preventing it from spreading to other offices .
The fire destroyed the chamber of Justice Mohammed Saulawa before it was put off, he added.
Akande said no life was lost in the incident.
As of the time The Daily Times got to the apex court around 8.40am, the fire had already been put out.
Dr. Akande in a telephone conversation restated that the fire was due to an electrical fault, reiterating that staff members of the particular office in one of the Justices’ chambers ”quickly used fire extinguishers in the office to put it off” even as Fire Service personnel at the premises quickly joined in the efforts.
He dismissed insinuation that the outbreak has anything to do with arson.
Dr. Akande said: “What was destroyed in that chamber were books, stationery, and other computer gadgets. The books are replaceable because we have an e-library.
“We have the soft copy of the books and also the hard copy which can be procured and supplied to the chamber. So it has nothing to do with the Presidential Election Petition, as people are saying outside. Such issues as presidential election matters are not discussed in the chamber, inside the court.”
However, PDP was not sold on the explanations–apparently.
In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, the party said the development was suspicious, pointing at the appeal of electoral matters pending in the apex court.
Its statement read: “The PDP is worried over the fire outbreak, especially given heightened public apprehension of possible arsonist attack, with the intent to cripple and frustrate the Supreme Court from effectively discharging its constitutional duties, especially with regard to high-profile electoral cases, including the Presidential Election Appeals pending before it.
“Our party demands an immediate full-scale investigation into the fire outbreak with the view to unravelling the circumstances or possible sabotage in the incident.
“The PDP insists that the outcome of the investigation should be made public unlike those of previous fire incidents in various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies which were characteristically swept under the carpet by the All Progressives Congress (APC) @OfficialAPCNg administrations.
“While calling on the Federal Government to beef up security around the Supreme Court, the PDP also demands that Nigerians be assured of the safety of sensitive documents and equipment at the court, especially at this critical time.”
Labour Party reacts
Speaking to The Daily Times on the telephone, National Publicity Secretary, LP, Mr. Obiorah Ifoh, described the fire as ”unfortunate.”
Ifoh added: ”We do not know why it should be coming at this time. We hope the extent of damage should not affect Supreme Court proceedings.”
According to him, the apex court has just about two months to decide on the party’s appeal, hence any delay will not be in the interest of Nigerians.