President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday prayed the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) to strike out the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, challenging his Feb 23 re-election for being fundamentally defective. Buhari made the prayer through his Counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, (SAN), in a motion adopted and argued on Tuesday before Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man panel in Abuja.
Olanipekun submitted that the petition was fundamentally defective, adding that his client won the presidential “square and clear,” explaining that the allegations advanced by the petitioners were mere theoretical assumptions that could not stand the test of critical legal debate. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Buhari winner of the Feb. 23 Presidential Election.
Atiku and the PDP had, in their petition, which has INEC, Buhari and the APC as first to third respondents asked the tribunal to nullify Buhari’s election on the grounds of alleged malpractices and gross violation of the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended.
The tribunal also entertained the president’s motion that sought to effect amendment on the identities and addresses of counsel representing him. Another of Buhari’s application seeking to mandate the tribunal to entertain all interlocutory motions before the commencement of proper hearing of the main petition was also adopted and argued.
Similarly, asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition against a “flawless election” that Buhari won. Yunus Usman, (SAN), Counsel for INEC said the electoral umpire would standby its declaration that the second respondent (Buhari) was the winner of the Feb.23 presidential election. Usman said the petition challenging the outcome of the exercise was “misguided” adding that the allegations of fraud made against the electoral body was “mischievous.”
INEC also challenged the jurisdiction and competence of the tribunal to entertain the petition and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition as the petitioners failed to include vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, as a co-defendant in the petition. “The failure of the PDP and Atiku to include Osinbajo’s name as a party should not be overlooked because whatever affects the president affects his running mate” Usman said.
Three other interlocutory motions filed by the APC were also argued and dispensed with. Chief Lateef Fagbemi, (SAN), counsel for the APC urged the tribunal to strike out 18 paragraphs of the petition with frivolous assumptions among other prayers. He submitted that the competence of the petition was questionable, adding that it would soon become a mere “lame duck.”
Meanwhile, Levi Uzoukwu, (SAN), counsel for the petitioners prayed the tribunal to discountenance all the arguments canvassed by the respondents, describing INEC’s position in the matter as “unusual.” The presiding judge, therefore, fixed Thursday, June 13 for the petitioners’ motions to be heard. Tuesday’s resumed sitting comes 19 days after its last adjournment with the presiding justice of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, Mohammed Lawal Garba, as new chairman.
The pioneer chair and president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had recused herself from the panel following a petition by former Atiku and the PDP alleging likelihood of bias against their petition on account of Bulkachuwa’s marriage to an APC chieftain.
Huhuonline.com has learnt from PDP sources that the legal teams of Atiku and the PDP hinted it would seek accelerated hearing of their petitions. A member of Atiku’s legal team confided to Huhuonline.com about the plan to fast-track hearing of the petition to make up for the loss of time arising from the controversy over the membership of Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, which led to her recusal as chairman of the tribunal on May 22, 2019, and the delay in naming her replacement.
Statutorily, the tribunal has 180 days to determine the case, which began counting from when the petition was filed on March 18, 2019. “There is no gainsaying the fact that we need accelerated hearing and that comes without saying so. We want accelerated hearing because so many days have gone by since she recused herself and the constitution of the new panel which started today,” the source said, adding: “We have already done half of the time.”
The panel, however, announced that it would hear all the applications on Thursday. Also, the tribunal fixed June 17 for hearing of all objections to the hearing of the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM). It, however, dismissed the petition of the Coalition for Change (C4C) against the Buhari’s election. The dismissal was sequel to an application for withdrawal of the petition filed by the petitioners on June 10, 2019.
When the matter was called, counsel for C4C, Obed Aguh, informed the tribunal that an application for the withdrawal of their petition against the election of Buhari was filed yesterday but was yet to be served on the respondents. However, following the non-objection of the application, Justice Garba accordingly dismissed the suit of the C4C.