By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Hope Democratic Party (HDP) on Tuesday asked the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Abuja to stop the swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, 2019 as president, pending the hearing and determination of its petition against the outcome of the 2019 presidential election.
The HDP, in a motion of notice filed at the tribunal, said the request is predicated on the need to preserve the subject matter of its petition and prevent President Buhari from foisting a fiat accompli and state of hopelessness on the court and render the petition before the tribunal nugatory.
The HDP and its candidate in the February 23 presidential election, Chief Albert Owuru, submitted that once there is a question on the validity of election of any person, the person is not competent to take oath of office or assume the seat of power.
The party therefore prayed the tribunal for an order stopping the president from presenting himself for inauguration on May 29 or any other date until all petitions challenging his election have been fully settled.
The party also prayed for another order stopping the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Tanko Mohammad from inaugurating or administering oath of office and oath of allegiance on Buhari until all court actions against him are determined.
In the motion signed by Mike Okoye, the two petitioners said that they are challenging the validity of Buhari’s election on grounds of non-compliance with the electoral laws.
They further averred that a petition dated March 7, 2019 had been dully served on Buhari, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) questioning the return of Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential poll, adding that parties have exchanged pleadings.
The two petitioners claimed that in spite of the pendency and scheduled hearing of their petition against Buhari’s election, the president has been making frantic efforts and preparations to be sworn in and inaugurated on May 29 by inviting the CJN and the general public.
They therefore insisted that a restraining order by the tribunal is appropriate to preserve the subject matter of their petition and prevent Buhari from foisting a fait acompli and state of hopelessness on the tribunal and render their petition nugatory.
“The law is settled that once the question of the validity of election of any person is challenged as to whether he is validly elected or not, that person is not competent to take office or assume the seat of power.
“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria prohibits and forbids that Nigeria or any part thereof be governed or taken over by any person or group of persons except in accordance with the provisions of the constitution,” they averred.
The tribunal had last Wednesday at its inaugural sitting adjourned to May 14 for a pre-hearing of the petitioners’ case, however, when the matter was called, counsel to the petitioners, Oliver Eya, sought to move the application but respondents in the matter claimed that they have not been served.
Buhari’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), that of INEC, Yunus Ustaz (SAN) and that of APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), told the tribunal that they will need time to respond to the application when served.
President of the Court of Appeal, who is also the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, after taking arguments from parties fixed May 22 for hearing of the motion.
Meanwhile, Buhari, through his counsel, Olanipekun, has filed a motion praying the tribunal to dismiss the petition of the HDP on the grounds that it was not competent in law.
Olanipekun told the five-man panel that what the party is challenging in the petition is a referendum conducted on February 23, adding that in law, what INEC conducted was an election and not a referendum.
Justice Bulkachuwa, in a short ruling, announced that all applications in respect of the HDP petition will be heard on May 22.
HDP, in his petition marked CS/PEPC/001/2019, had joined INEC and APC as second and third respondents in the petition.