Eschew Prejudicial Public Analysis, Tribunal Warns Lawyers

Zainab Bulkachuwa
Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa
  • Fixes Wednesday for pre-hearing session on Atiku’s petition
  • Women protest over PDP candidate

Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja Wednesday warned lawyers, the media, litigants and members of the public from analysing its proceedings in the public until it delivers its judgment.

The tribunal has also fixed May 15 for a pre-hearing session on the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate in the 2019 general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

Wednesday’s proceedings were interspersed by protest by some women who thronged the court premises complaining about alleged failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to obey the order of the Court of Appeal in Abuja allowing the PDP and Atiku to inspect materials used for the presidential election.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who leads the five-man panel, issued the warning at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal.

“Any breach will not be condoned and we will not hesitate in taking necessary action against such offenders,” she threatened.
She assured that litigants in the four pending presidential election petitions filed before the tribunal would be given equal opportunity to present their case.

But she warned that the practice of analysing court proceedings and passing a verdict before the court pronounced its judgment in many high profile cases ongoing in the regular court on the social and electronic media would not be condoned for the proceedings of the tribunal.

She said: “We assure all stakeholders that each litigant will be given equal opportunity to present his case in a mature manner before us.

“We are witnesses to what has been happening in high profile cases where such cases are being discussed and publicly decided prematurely in both the social and electronic media before the announcement of the verdict by the court.

“We pray that this time would be an exception for the benefit of the nation. We don’t expect counsel to any of the parties to hype the polity after any sitting by making a public analysis in the media as to what transpired in court.

“These proceedings should be treated as would any other low-profile case, where proceedings in court are not discussed publicly until a decision is pronounced by the court.

“This admonition is also extended to the parties, their respective counsel and the members of the press.
“We, on our own part, will make relevant information available as and when due.”

Bulkachuwa stressed that no matter how an election was conducted, there are bound to be complaints, hence the establishment of the tribunal to give speedy hearing on such complaints.

She disclosed that there are currently 786 petitions against the outcome of the 2019 general election, with Imo State having the highest number of 76 and six tribunals.

She assured that the panel would be fair to all and would give equal time to all litigants, in its efforts at ensuring that justice is done and done expeditiously in all the cases before it.

Responding, counsel in the matters promised to play by the rules and give maximum cooperation to the panel.
While Mr. Levi Ozoukwu (SAN) is leading the legal team of Atiku and the PDP, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) are leading that of Buhari and APC respectively.

Other members of the tribunal are Justices Abdul Aboki, Samuel Osiji, Joseph Ikyegh and Peter Olabisi-Igeh.

Fixes May 15 for Pre-hearing Session on Atiku’s Petition

Meanwhile, the tribunal Wednesday at its inaugural sitting, fixed May 15 for a pre-hearing session on the petition filed by the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku.

The tribunal in stating that proceedings would be on a daily basis called the first case, the petition of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and his presidential candidate, Chief Albert Owuru.
At the end of the identification and regularisation of processes filed in the HDP petition, Justice Bulkachuwa fixed May 14 for pre-hearing of the petition.

In that of Atiku and PDP against INEC, Buhari and APC, the tribunal adjourned the matter to May 15.
However, the tribunal declined to give definite date for hearing in the petition of Coalition for Change (C4C) and Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), following the inability of the two petitioners to serve processes on Buhari and other respondents.

In a related development, the tribunal has declined to hear an ex parte application filed by the C4C, praying for substituted service on President Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, following flaws in the motion.

Among others, the tribunal found that the ex parte application filed by Mr. Obed Agu, was not competent in law because it was not signed, and the seal of the counsel was not fixed as required by law.
It also added that there was no affidavit in support of the motion.

Faced with the rejection, the counsel withdrew the application and told the tribunal that a fresh one would be filed in its place.
Atiku, PDP and the others in their various petitions are seeking the nullification of Buhari’s victory at the February 23 presidential poll on allegations of widespread rigging, violations of the Electoral Act, suppression of voters, violence amongst other electoral malpractices.

The others include the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru; Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) and its presidential candidate, Pastor Aminchi Habu, and the Coalition for Change (C4C) and its presidential candidate Jeff Ojinka.

Atiku in his petition specifically asked the tribunal to disqualify Buhari, winner of the February 23 presidential election, on the grounds that he (Buhari) did not possess the requisite academic qualification to contest for the office of President.
However, Buhari, the APC and INEC in their separate replies have urged the tribunal to uphold their victory at the poll and dismiss the various petitions on the grounds that the allegations against the conduct of the election were baseless, unsubstantiated and lacking in merit.

Buhari in his reply specifically urged the tribunal to disregard Atiku’s petition on the grounds that he was not qualified to have contested the election in the first place on the grounds of his nationality.

The vice presidential candidate of the PDP, Mr. Peter Obi, attended the inaugural sitting of the tribunal.
Before announcing his representation

on behalf of Atiku, he went round to greet all lawyers involved in the petitions, including PDP and APC lawyers.

Protesting Women Invade Court Premises over Atiku

Meanwhile, some women in Abuja yesterday protested alleged failure of INEC to obey the order of the Court of Appeal in Abuja permitting the PDP and Atiku, to inspect the materials used for the February 23 poll.

The women, numbering up to 50, held their protest on the premises of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal venue of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.

The protest continued until sitting ended at 1.20 p.m.
A three-man bench of the Court of Appeal had on March 7, granted Atiku and PDP the go-ahead to inspect the electoral materials in the custody of INEC.

Atiku and his party subsequently filed their petition on March 18.
The placard-bearing protesters claimed that INEC had yet to obey the March 7 order.

The women protesters chanted: “Bring Back Our Democracy.” “People are dying.” “We can no longer go to our farms.” Lawyers, bring back our democracy.”