*As Atiku calls additional eight witnesses
Alex Enumah in Abuja
The hearing of the petition filed by Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 23 presidential election was brought to a halt on Friday following a report of a violent attack by suspected bandits on their witnesses.
The witnesses, billed to give evidence in support of alleged irregularities, rigging and sponsored violence, were said to have been attacked at a location on Zamfara road on their way to Abuja to give evidence in Atiku and PDP’s petition.
At Friday’s proceedings, the petitioners had called in eight witnesses in the morning session, who all testified in one way or another of various forms and degrees of malpractices they witnessed during the conduct of the February 23 presidential election that returned President Buhari for a second term in office.
But as the tribunal was about to proceed on its usual one hour break between 1 an 2pm, the lead counsel to the petitioners, Dr Levy Uzoukwu (SAN), informed the tribunal that he received several phone calls from the witnesses that they were attacked on their way to Abuja.
Uzoukwu said with the development, it would be difficult to continue with the day’s proceedings.
He therefore prayed the tribunal to adjourn the hearing till Monday to enable them call more witnesses.
The petitioners had said they would be calling about 400 witnesses to prove their claims that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with the All Progressives Congress (APC) rigged the election in favour of President Buhari.
Following an agreement by all parties in the petition, the five-man panel, headed by Justice Mohammed Garba had allotted 10 days to the petitioners to call in their witnesses to testify in the petition.
Before Friday’s hearing, the petitioners had already called in 28 witnesses from six states in addition to the plethora of documents tendered as exhibits in support of their case.
At Friday’s hearing, eight witnesses mainly from Borno and Yobe States gave evidence of how election results were transmitted into the server of INEC through a sort code provided by the electoral body.
They further highlighted incidents of electoral malpractices which they claimed marred the February 23 poll.
They specifically alleged that civil servants and farmers were threatened and intimidated to either vote for the APC or lose their jobs and farmlands.
In his own evidence, Olufemi Ogunride, who was an ad hoc staff of INEC during the election, confirmed that he along with other Assistant Presiding Officers transmitted election results into the server of INEC using smart card reader.
Under cross-examination by the counsel to APC, Dr Muiz Banire (SAN), the witness confirmed that INEC guidelines and regulations were released to him and others.
In his own evidence, Peter Sabo from Yobe State told the tribunal that both Buhari and APC used the security challenges in the state to perpetrate election fraud.
The witness alleged that voters were mobilized to selected areas to cast their votes instead of their polling units and under the guise by APC of securing their lives.
Sabo further alleged that PDP agents were chased away at the selected voting points after which ballot papers were freely handed over to APC agents to cast unlawful votes.
Meanwhile, further hearing in the petition continues on Monday.