ABUJA – Full-blown legal fireworks commenced before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Thursday, as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, ` Abubakar, opened their case against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The petitioners, in a bid to prove their allegation that the outcome of the February 23 presidential poll was not the true reflection of voting patterns across the 36 States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, adduced result sheets from Polling Units, Wards and Local Government levels.
While the result sheets from the Polling Units were captured in Forms EC8As, those from Wards and LGAs were recorded in Forms EC8Bs and EC8C series.
Meanwhile, the five-member panel tribunal headed by Justice Mohammed Garba, admitted a total of 5197 electoral materials, comprising of the three set of presidential result sheets from Niger and Yobe States, into evidence as exhibits.
While the result sheets from Niger were admitted under Exhibit P series, that of Yobe were marked under Exhibit PYB series.
The tribunal equally admitted and marked as Exhibit P3465, the Certified True Copy of a receipt dated June 7, which the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, issued to the petitioners following a payment they made to procure the entire forms.
Whereas a total of 3465 exhibits from 25 LGA in Niger State were admitted, a total of 1732 exhibits were tendered from 17 LGAs in Yobe State.
Remarkably, INEC, through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Yunus Usman, SAN, opposed the admissibility of all the exhibits, including the receipt.
All the respondents, including INEC, said they were however not opposed to the CTC of the presidential election result from Yobe State, which was issued to the petitioners on May 9 and admitted in evidence as Exhibit PYB-1732.
However, in line with an agreement the parties reached during the pre-hearing session, the electoral body, said it would adduce its reasons for objecting to all the evidence that were tendered by the petitioners, in an address it will file later.
Similarly, President Buhari’s lawyer, Mr. Mike Igbokwe, SAN, and that of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Yakubu Mekyau, SAN, said they were vehemently opposed to all the documents that were admitted and marked as exhibits by the tribunal.
Buhari and APC who are 2nd and 3rd Respondents in the petition marked CA/PEPC/002/2019, said they would also reserve their reasons till an address they would file subsequently.
Attempt by counsel to the petitioners to tender exhibits from Kebbi State was resisted by the respondents who noted that the day was far spent.
The tribunal subsequently adjourned the proceedings till Friday.
The development came on a day that 88-year old erudite Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Ben Nwabueze, took over as head of the legal team of (Atiku) the petitioners.
Though Nwabueze announced his appearance, he later handed over to Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, who tendered all the exhibits into evidence.
Shortly after he was granted permission to address the tribunal on wheelchair, Nwabueze, said his presence was to underscore the importance of the case to the constitutional development of the nation.
“I have chosen to appear on this auspicious day of commencement of hearing on this epoch day.
“I had to travel to attend, not withstanding my age and attendant health challenges. This is to underscore the importance of this case to the constitutional development of this country, a matter that I have been passionate about all these years”, he stated.
Thereafter, Prof. Nwabueze prayed to be excused by the tribunal, but not after he dropped with the Registry, a copy of speech he said he would have delivered at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal that held on May 15.
“I wish your lordships more grace and Nigeria well”, he added.
Shortly after he handed over a copy of his speech to the Registry, Nwabueze left the tribunal, even as Dr. Uzoukwu took over and announced thatAtiku’s petitioners would commence with presenting witnesses and evidence with respect to the conduct of the presidential election in Niger State.
Meanwhile, before the petitioners could kick-start the hearing process, all the Respondents opposed the continuation of the proceeding.
Counsel to President Buhari decried that despite the order of the tribunal that all documents that would be tendered from the Bar, should be filed and exchanged by parties, he said the petitioners only served him two schedules of documents to be tendered with respect to Jigawa and Niger States, before the proceeding commenced.
“I urge this court to suspend trial until they comply with order of the court made yesterday by consent of parties that schedule of documents to be tendered must be filed and exchanged between parties”, Igbokwe added.
Similarly, counsel to INEC and that of APC accused the petitioners of attempting to ambush them.
All the respondents said they were not ready to go on with the hearing.
Nevertheless, Uzoukwu, urged the court to ignore the objections he said was deliberately aimed to frustrate the hearing.
“Seriously our time of presenting our petition is being compromised by the Respondents. Bearing in mind that this petition has a timeline that is fast approaching”, he added.
The petitioners counsel noted that all the documents to be tendered were originally listed in the petition, saying there was therefore nothing the respondents could be surprised about.
Owing to the development, the tribunal stood down the proceeding for 30 minutes to enable it to take a decision.
In a ruling after it reconvened, the tribunal held that the parties were bound by their earlier agreement to commence the hearing.
It therefore gave the petitioners the nod to proceed with presentation of their case.
Among PDP stalwarts at the commencement of the hearing included its Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, Chief Tom Ikimi, Chief Ben Obi, as well as High Chief Raymond Dokpesi.
No notable APC chieftain attended the proceeding.
It will be recalled PDP and Atiku had in their joint petition, maintained that data they independently secured from INEC’s back-end server, revealed that they defeated President Buhari at the poll with over 1.6million votes.
They 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 and PDP 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.
The petitioners said they intend to call 400 witnesses, “or as many as possible within the prescribed time”, to prove their case.
How we’ll tackle Miyetti Allah’s vigilante in S-East – Anambra vigilante(Opens in a new browser tab)
All the respondents had since filed processes to challenge the competence of the petition they said should be dismissed.
The tribunal had given the petitioners 10 days to present their case, while the respondents would take six days each to enter their defence.
Meanwhile, the speech by Prof. Nwabueze, a copy of which was obtained by Vanguard, read: “The February/March 2019 General Elections have come and gone, but the generality of Nigerians seem agreed that something was wrong with them, particularly the February presidential election. They suspect that the latter was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged.
“What is not know is how or by whom the rigging was done. An Election Tribunal/Court is now saddled with the task, an intractable task, of finding out the truth about what happened.
“The task before it is made intractable by what Justice Kishna Iyer of the Indian Supreme Court referred to as “the tyranny of procedure, the horror of the doctrine of precedent, with its stifling and deadening insistence on uniformity, and the booby traps of pleadings”.
“The decided election cases show the Election Tribunal/ Court to have succumbed all too readily to these constraining factors, but Nigerians still expect it to rise above the self-imposed shackles in order to find out the truth about what happened during that election.
“The Tribunal/Court owes it as a duty to the country to do so, as the discovery of the truth will help to set us free from the scourge of electoral malpractices.
As the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have stated in several cases, see e.g. Buhari v. Obasanjo (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt 910) 241, 415 (CA); All Progressive Congress v. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) & Ors (2015) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1481) 1 pages 73 and 81 (SC) election petitions are suis generis proceedings, established, not for the purpose of adjudicating disputes arising in dealings or transactions between individual persons, but for the purpose of enabling the political community to choose, in free and fair election, persons to manage public affairs on its behalf and for the benefit of all its members, which makes largely inappropriate the technicalities of law of pleadings and evidence applicable in ordinary case; it is suis generis, to which the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence may not be appropriate.
“And the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has said that a tribunal is not deprived of the character of a court nor its decisions the character of judicial decisions simply because it is empowered by statute to decide as it thinks just and equitable or according to equity and good conscience, inasmuch as the effect of such a power given to a court is not to exonerate it from all rules of law: Peacock v Newton Marrickville and General Cooperative Building Society No. 4 Ltd (1943) 67 CLR 25.
“An approach based on law but moderated by what is just and equitable in the interest of peace, security and good governance of the community is what is needed in election cases, not a rigid adherence to the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence and the doctrine of precedent”.