By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, fixed July 1, to hear a fresh application the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, filed to quash the proceeding it held on June 11.
Specifically, Atiku and his party are praying the tribunal to review the proceeding of that date, pertaining to a motion the All Progressives Congress, APC, filed to strike out certain paragraphs of the petition they lodged to challenge the outcome of the February 23 presidential election that was won by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had on June 11, struck out a motion the APC filed on May 14, which applied for some paragraphs of the petition to be struck out.
The five-member panel tribunal headed by Justice Mohammed Garba, struck out the motion after it was withdrawn by counsel to the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN.
However, shortly after the motion was struck out, Fagbemi, SAN, drew attention of the tribunal to another similar application the party also filed on May 14.
He urged the tribunal to grant the application, noting that the petitioners failed to file any counter-affidavit to oppose it.
Reacting, lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, said he had actually filed a counter-affidavit in opposition to the first motion that was withdrawn by the APC which was cited as the 3rd Respondent in the petition.
Uzoukwu argued that since the APC filed two similar motions on the same subject matter, he rather filed a preliminary objection for the tribunal to dismiss them for constituting an abuse of court process, instead of filing a second counter-affidavit.
Meanwhile, at the resumed hearing on Wednesday, the petitioners, who were represented by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the tribunal that they brought a motion to set-aside the entire proceeding where the 3rd Respondent (APC) was allowed to withdraw the motion they said was filed in abuse of the judicial process.
It is the position of the petitioners that the tribunal ought to have heard their preliminary objection before it struck out APC’s first motion.
Uche, SAN, who noted that the matter was originally adjourned for continuation of pre-hearing session on the petition, however prayed the tribunal to grant him a short adjournment to enable him to file a reply to counter-affidavits that both President Buhari and the APC filed to oppose the fresh motion.
“Unfortunately, we were just served this morning in court with a counter-affidavit and written address of the 2nd Respondent, while the 3rd Respondent served us yesterday.
“It is our desire to file our reply on points of law to these two processes.
“We will be requiring time to react, since we are still within a day or two to do so”, Uche, SAN, submitted.
Nevertheless, he urged the tribunal to proceed with other aspects of the pre-hearing session owing to the exigency of time within which the petition must be heard and determined.
“This is a very time sensitive matter. Rather than spending the entire day on adjournment, we can take an hour to streamline other aspects of the pre-hearing session.
“My lord can see how many witnesses we intend to call. So much time has already been spent and we want to maximise what he have left.
“The matter of this nature is one of utmost urgency”, Uche added.
He argued that paragraph 18 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010, did not stipulate that the pre-hearing session should not continue until all pending applications are decided.
On their part, INEC’s lawyer, Mr. Yunus Usman Uztaz, SAN, that of President Buhari, Yusuf Alli, SAN, as well as that of APC, Prince Fagbemi, SAN, maintained that the petitioners had no right to complain over a self-inflicted predicament.
“The only way for us to move forward is for the petitioners to withdraw the application. We have also suggested to counsel to the petitioners that if the court will agree, we will not oppose his oral submissions on points of law”, Alli, SAN, submitted.
“My lords they brought all these upon themselves, so they cannot complain”, INEC’s lawyer, Uztaz, SAN, added.
After it had listened to all the parties, the Justice Garba-led panel said it was minded to grant the adjournment request that was made by the petitioners.
The tribunal thereafter fixed July 1 for continuation of pre-hearing session on the petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019.