Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Chucks Okocha in Abuja
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the last presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has written to President of the Court of Appeal on the need not to allow his petition at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to be caught by constitutional timeline.
THISDAY gathered Thursday that response to the letter, which was received at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, was still being awaited.
The tribunal had on August 21 reserved judgment in the petition filed by Atiku against the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the 2019 presidential election.
The five-member panel of the tribunal, led by Justice Mohammed Garba, reserved judgment after the petitioners and respondents adopted their final written addresses.
The respondents in the petition are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Justice Garba while reserving judgment on the petition had informed parties that the tribunal would communicate to them the date the verdict would be delivered.
Sequel to Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the hearing and judgment in petitions at the tribunal of first instance are supposed to be concluded within 180 days.
A senior member of the Atiku/PDP legal team, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), confirmed to THISDAY yesterday that they dispatched the letter to the tribunal on Wednesday.
On what prompted the letter, Ozekhome said such a significant petition, which has caught the attention of Nigerians and members of the international community, should not be allowed to be truncated by constitutional timeline at the tribunal.
The PDP and Atiku had on March 8 petitioned the tribunal over the February 23 election in which INEC returned Buhari as duly elected.
However, following what he considered as perceived foot-dragging by the tribunal in hearing his petition, Atiku had on June 2 first petitioned the Court of Appeal, alleging a deliberate ploy to truncate the constitutional timeline of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
The petition came 11 days after the President of the Court of Appeal and erstwhile Chairperson of the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, recused herself from the tribunal following the petition of the PDP and Atiku/Obi legal team.
The PDP and Atiku, among other things, had said Justice Bulkachuwa, being the wife of Adamu Bulkachuwa, a prominent card-carrying member of the APC and senator-elect for Bauchi North senatorial district, which is a political party involved in the suit, would be biased in deciding the case.
After Justice Bulkachuwa recused herself from the case, it took her over two weeks to appoint a replacement, which made Atiku to express concerns over the delay in her finding a replacement for herself on the tribunal.
The PDP candidate in a letter through his counsel, dated May 31, 2019, urged the President of the Court of Appeal to appoint a replacement forthwith.
According to him, the tribunal has a timeline to prosecute the petitions, adding that 76 days have already been expended out of the 180 days allowed by law, as seen in Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act (2010 as amended).
The petition stated: “I am one (Silas Joseph) of the counsel in the legal team prosecuting the above petition on behalf of the petitioners.
“I have the authority of the lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), to write this letter. My Lord will recall that on 22nd May 2019, the above mentioned petition came up for a motion requesting that My Lord to recuse herself from further presiding or participating in this petition. At the end of the proceedings, My Lord graciously recused herself on personal grounds and promised to appoint another Justice to continue with the petition.”
With Justice Bulkachuwa naming her replacement, the tribunal had resumed sitting during which Atiku and PDP had called 62 witnesses to prove their case.
Among the petitioners’ witnesses were seven presiding officers and five assistant presiding officers.
They were six each from Borno and Yobe who swore they were recruited and trained by the commission ahead of the election.
During the trial, PDP and Atiku also showed video clips of INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, to prove their claim that INEC transmitted election results electronically.
While INEC did not call any witness, Buhari and APC called seven witnesses before abruptly ending their defence.
But while adopting final addresses, INEC counsel, Yunus Usman, said the commission worked in compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 as amended and that the petitioners could never disown that.
Usman, therefore, asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition and award cost against the petitioners.
“We humbly both in written addresses as arguments in that respect and humbly submit that if our objections are sustained, all pieces of documentary evidence and written evidence led in consonance be struck out,” he said.
“There will not be a petition and we humbly ask your lordships to strike them out with costs. The first respondent’s written address was filed on 7th day of August 2019 upon being served the petitioner’s reply we filed our reply on points of law on the 16th day of August 2019.
“We adopt both processes as arguments. We humbly urge your lordships to dismiss the petition.”
On his part, counsel to Buhari, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said there was “nothing in law” that would make the tribunal grant the reliefs of the petitioners.
“In regarding the qualification of the second respondent, the law is very clear on the point that, the second respondent cannot go outside section 131 of the Constitution, we cannot change jurisprudence, neither can we amend the law,” he said.
“The constitution and case law do not expect any certificate to be tendered or attached. We cited many cases of this court and the Supreme Court.”
Citing a judgment of the Appeal Court on PDP governorship candidate in Osun State, Senator Ademola Adeleke, and Olanipekun argued that an individual is only required to have secondary school education but not necessarily have to present the result to hold office.
Olanipekun accused the petitioners of calling witnesses from Katsina State against their bidding.