The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Wednesday fixed Thursday (today) for commencement of trial in the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to challenge the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the February 23, 2019 election.
The tribunal also, in a unanimous ruling, dismissed an application filed by Atiku and the PDP on June 18, 2019, requesting the re-hearing of a motion filed by the All Progressives Congress, which sought an order striking out the petitioners’ petition.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal of five judges gave the directive for commencement of trial on Wednesday after announcing the close of the pre-hearing session which started on the petition on June 10.
With the Wednesday’s directive of the tribunal for commencement of trial, it is expected that the petitioners will start presenting their first set of witnesses who will testify and be cross-examined by the respondents’ lawyers at the Thursday’s proceedings.
Atiku and the PDP, had on Monday, through their lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), informed the tribunal that his team intended to call 400 witnesses.
The respondents, comprising the Independent National Electoral Commission, Buhari, and his party, the APC, had yet to indicate the number of their proposed witnesses.
On Wednesday, the tribunal adopted as part of its directive, the proposal by the petitioners to call their witnesses within 10 days, and the respondents’ to call theirs within six days.
The number of days within which all the parties are to conduct their cases total 28 days, excluding weekends and the days the tribunal may not sit on the PDP’s petition.
While Uzoukwu led the petitioners’ legal team, on Wednesday, Yunus Usman (SAN) led that of INEC, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN) led Buhari’s team and Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN) led the APC’s.
Presenting the tribunal’s report marking the end of the pre-hearing session on Wednesday, Justice Garba said, “You will recall on Monday that you indicated that trial should begin on Thursday.
“In line with that, the pre-hearing session for this petition will have to end today (Wednesday) to enable us to commence trial in respect of this petition from Thursday, July 4, 2019.
“It is on that basis that I will now present the report of the pre-hearing session.”
Atiku and the PDP had filed their petition on April 18.
They joined INEC, Buhari and the APC as the respondents.
The tribunal had held its inaugural sitting on May 8, but the pre-hearing session could not commence until June 10 due to the petitioners’ protest that saw the withdrawal of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, whom they accused of likelihood of bias against them, as the head and a member of the panel.
She was subsequently replaced by Justice Garba, the Presiding Justice of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, who has since June 10, been presiding over the five-man panel of the tribunal.