By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja will on Monday, resume proceedings on the petition challenging the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The tribunal had on May 22, adjourned further hearing on the case the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar lodged against the outcome of the presidential poll, after President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, recused herself from presiding over the panel.
Justice Bulkachuwa disqualified herself following a motion the petitioners filed to challenge her decision to preside over the five-member panel tribunal.
PDP and Atiku had insisted that Justice Bulkachuwa’s involvement was prejudicial to their case against President Buhari, since her husband and son, are card-carrying members of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, which is the 3rd Respondent in the petition.
In a 19-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by its Deputy National Secretary, the PDP, noted that aside the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband is an APC Senator-elect in Bauchi State, her biological son who was APC Governorship candidate in Gombe State, equally campaigned for President Buhari.
It further noted that the presidential poll which is subject of the petition, held simultaneously in Bauchi North Senatorial District where Justice Bulkachuwa’s husband was declared winner.
Insisting that Bauchi State is one of the focal States that massive electoral infractions occurred, PDP, said it was not comfortable with Justice Bulkachuwa’s presence on the panel.
“Honourable Adamu Muhammed Bulkachuwa is not only a card carrying member of the 3rd Respondent and a Senator-elect under the sponsorship of the 3rd Respondent, he is also a staunch member and prominent stakeholder in the 3rd Respondent and has a stake in the election of the 2nd Respondent as President, having extensively campaigned for the 2nd Respondent.
“I know that as a spouse of Honourable Adamu Muhammed Bulkachuwa, the Honourable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa is so closely related to Honourable Adamu Muhammed Bulkachuwa that she cannot fairly hear and determine the instant Petition without eliciting the suspicion and anxiety of all right thinking persons, including myself.
“The Court of Appeal has more than eighty (80) Justices who are able and competent to participate in the hearing and determination of the extant Petition in the absence of Honourable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa (PCA).
“I also know that her biological son, Aliyu Haidar Abubakar is a card carrying member of the 3rd Respondent and he contested the gubernatorial primary election of the 3rd Respondent in the just concluded general election in Gombe State”, the deponent added.
Meanwhile, despite a ruling of the tribunal that dismissed PDP’s contentions, Justice Bulkachuwa, on May 22, voluntarily stepped aside, promising to appoint another Justice to head the panel.
Meanwhile, Vanguard learned on Sunday that Justice Bulkachuwa may likely be replaced by another female Justice.
A source at the appellate court told Vanguard that Justice Monica Dongban-Menssem who is currently serving under the Enugu Division of the court, may takeover from the disqualified PCA.
Other Justices on the panel are Abdu Aboki, Peter Ige, Samuel Oseji and Joseph Ikyegh.
PDP and Atiku had earlier expressed concern over delay in the appointment of Justice Bulkachuwa’s replacement.
In a letter they sent to Justice Bulkachuwa on May 31, the petitioners, decried that they were already running against time considering that the case against Buhari must be concluded and judgement delivered within 180 days.
As it stands, the petitioners have barely 92 days left to call witnesses and adduce evidence that the 2019 presidential election was manipulated.
The available days will equally be shared by all the Respondents in the matter- the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, President Buhari, and the APC- who are all expected to defend the outcome of the election.
Specifically, the petitioners, are challenging the declaration by INEC that President Buhari garnered a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat Atiku who it said polled a total of 11,262,978 votes in the disputed presidential election.
Dissatisfied with the result, Atiku had vowed to upturn it in court.
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.
Likewise, 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.