By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – There is heavy security presence at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, begins pre-hearing session on petition the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, lodged to challenge the outcome of the February 23 presidential election.
At the resumed proceeding on the petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, Atiku, through his lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, applied to meet the five-man panel tribunal headed by the Court of Appeal President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in chambers.
Even though Uzoukwu did not disclose reason behind his application to have a private meeting with the panel, however, a lawyer in his team who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that the essence of the meeting was to urge the tribunal Chairman, Justice Bulkachuwa to recuse herself from the matter.
It will be recalled that the PDP had opposed Justice Bulkachuwa’s presence on the panel, noting that her husband is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which is a respondent in the matter.
PDP had urged Justice Bulkachuwa to in the interest of justice, disqualify herself in the matter.
Meantime, neither counsel to President Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, nor that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, opposed Atiku’s application.
Similarly, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which initially challenged the request through its lawyer, Mr. Yunus Uztaz, SAN, later conceded to the application.
Consequently, the panel okayed a stand-down on the matter, even as it allowed all the parties to nominate two lawyers each to attend the meeting.
Meanwhile, armed security operatives blocked every route to the Court of Appeal premises, though they allowed journalists access upon proper identification.
It will be recalled that INEC had on February 27, declared that Buhari garnered a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the opposition PDP, who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes in the disputed presidential election.
Dissatisfied with the result, Atiku, vowed to upturn it in court.
Specifically, in their joint petition, Atiku and his party, insisted that data they secured from INEC’s server, revealed that they clearly defeated President Buhari with over 1.6million votes.
The petitioners alleged that INEC had at various stages of the presidential election, unlawful allocated votes to President Buhari, saying they would adduce oral and documentary evidence to show that result of the election as announced by the electoral body, did not represent the lawful valid votes cast
Atiku alleged that in some states, INEC, deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to office.
The petitioners said they would call evidence of statisticians, forensic examiners and finger-print experts at the hearing of the petition to establish that the scores credited to Buhari were not the product of actual votes validly cast at the polling units.
More so, in one of the five grounds of the petition, Atiku and the PDP maintained that Buhari was not qualified to run for the office of the President, contending that he does not possess the constitutional minimum qualification of a school certificate.
Aside asking the Tribunal to declare that he was duly and validly elected and ought to be returned as President of Nigeria, having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast at the presidential election, Atiku, in the alternative, urged the tribunal to nullify the February 23 presidential election and order a fresh poll.