Open case against Buhari, APC
Nwabueze takes over as lead counsel
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his party, PDP yesterday opened their case against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari with a charge to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) to ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to be done in the case.
Some of the documents tendered at the tribunal by the petitioners are election results from polling units, wards and local governments. To prove their case, they also tendered volumes of documents during the commencement of hearing into their petition challenging the declaration of Buhari as winner of the election.
During the proceedings Thursday in Abuja, renowned constitutional lawyer and Professor of Law, Ben Nwabueze (SAN), announced his appearance as the lead counsel for Atiku and PDP, who are the petitioners in the case.
He urged the tribunal to ensure justice is done in the matter, as Nigerians are interested in the outcome of the hearing.
Nwabueze, who came in on a wheelchair, prayed the tribunal to allow him use his wheelchair while addressing the panel, due to his age and health situation.
“The February/March 2019 general election 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 it was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged. What is not known is how or by whom the rigging was done”, part of his two-page statement submitted to the court registrar read.
He stressed that it now rest on the tribunal to unravel 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”, Nwabueze added.
He told the tribunal that it owes the country the duty of discovering the truth, which will help to set the country free from the scourge of electoral malpractices.
“As the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have stated in several cases, election petitions are sui 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 the law of pleadings and evidence applicable in ordinary cases between individual persons.
“An election petition is not such ordinary case; it is sui 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 or its decisions the character of judicial decisions simply because it is empowered by statue 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’’, he added.
He urged the panel to be moderated by what is just and equitable in the interest of peace, security and good governance of the community.
“That 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,” he added.
At the end of his speech, Nwabueze informed the tribunal that Dr. Levy Uzoukwu (SAN), would take charge of yesterday’s proceedings.
In defending their petition, Atiku and PDP tendered documents showing election results from polling units, wards and local governments.
The petitioners tendered the documents after Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, had overruled the respondents’ initial objection against the documents on grounds that they were just served with the documents in court today.
Uzoukwu had barely stood up to introduce the petition when counsel to the respondents raised an observation, which prompted Justice Garba to stand down the matter for 30 minutes.
One of the defendants’ counsel, Mike Igbokwe (SAN), informed the tribunal that parties agreed to file and exchange documents to be tendered but that they were only served yesterday morning with the documents and were yet to read and know the contents.
The petitioners had brought before the tribunal, boxes of electoral materials from four states in which they intend to lead evidence. The states include Niger, Yobe, Kebbi, Jigawa.
Igbokwe said he was surprised to see documents from four states instead of the two in the schedule and urged the tribunal to suspend trial until the scheduled documents were exchanged and served.
Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Yunus Usman (SAN), also described the action of the petitioners as a serious ambush and prayed the tribunal to order parties to iron out the documents to be considered.
Counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Yakubu Maikyau(SAN), aligned himself with the submission of INEC.
But Uzoukwu expressed surprise over the reactions of the respondents, saying parties at the conclusion of pre-hearing agreed that hearing in the petition would start today and the documents before the tribunal have been listed in the petition.
He said the defendants, by their actions, wanted to compromise the time allotted to the petitioners and urged the tribunal to go ahead with the day’s proceedings.
He added that the petitioners would start with documents from Niger State.
After the arguments, Justice Garba stood down the petition for 30 minutes to enable them to take a decision on the matter.
When the court resumed, the tribunal refused to adjourned proceedings as prayed by the respondents because the request was unmeritorious.
Justice Garba held that INEC, Buhari and the APC could not feign ignorance of the documents as they were pleaded when the petition was filed in March.
Following the decision of the panel, Ozoukwu sought to tender the documents brought as evidence, starting with Niger State.
But the respondents, one after the other, objected to the tendering of the documents.
They, however, deferred argument on their objection in line with the earlier agreement between parties and the court.
All the documents tendered were admitted in evidence by the tribunal as exhibits.