*PEPC moves to consolidate all petitions against president-elect
Alex Enumah in Abuja
In a bid to prove their petitions challenging the declaration of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 presidential election, the presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, and that of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, yesterday disclosed that they would present no fewer than 150 witnesses at the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) sitting in Abuja to give evidence of the irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws during the conduct of the election.
This is as the PEPC disclosed its intention to consolidate the three different petitions that are seeking to nullify the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
While Atiku and the PDP listed 100 witnesses to prove their petitions, Obi and the Labour Party would present 50.
In the same vein, Tinubu on his part said he would call 39 witnesses to defend his victory at the poll.
Tinubu’s witnesses will also include those to be subpoenaed.
However, the electoral umpire on its part planned to call just two witnesses to disprove the allegations of the petitioners against the declaration of Tinubu as President-elect.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) on whose platform Tinubu won the presidential poll, also said that it would call 25 witnesses to establish the victory in addition to those to be subpoenaed.
Atiku and PDP disclosed this through their lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), at yesterday’s pre-hearing session.
Atiku requested three weeks to call 100 witnesses to prove his case against Tinubu.
According to him, the witnesses will include those already listed before the court and those to be subpoenaed.
The former vice president and his party, at the resumed proceedings before the PEPC, disclosed that among those he has lined up to testify in the matter, are expert witnesses and those he would ask the court to compel to mount the witness box.
“We may not even exhaust the three weeks because the issues are getting narrower, “Atiku’s lawyer, Uche added.
On his part, Obi said he would require seven weeks to present his case before the court.
Addressing the court through his team of lawyers led by Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN), Obi said he was constrained to demand for the seven weeks, owing to “a few hiccups” he encountered at INEC.
“My lords, we still have a few hiccups at INEC because of the order that was made by this court on March 8, directing them to allow us to carry out a forensic examination of the BVAS. They have not allowed us.
“We are also waiting for some documents we requested from them,” Kalu added.
He told the court that the parties agreed to give 30 minutes for star witnesses in the matter to present their evidence-in-chief, excluding the time for possible demonstration of any electronic evidence.
Whereas Obi’s lawyer disclosed that parties agreed to use 20 minutes each to cross-examine the witnesses, another five minutes would be used for their re-examination.
Responding to Atiku, the electoral body, through its lawyer, Abubakar Mahmood (SAN), told the court that it would only call two witnesses.
On his part, the President-elect, Tinubu, said he would only need two days to deflate Atiku’s case.
Tinubu’s lead counsel at the proceedings, Mr. Roland Otaru (SAN), further disclosed that his client would call 39 witnesses to testify before the court, not excluding other persons he may apply to be subpoenaed to appear before the court.
On its part, counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Solomon Umoh (SAN), said it would also need two days to call 39 witnesses before the court.
Also, in responding to Obi, INEC, through its lawyer, Mahmood, said it had no agreement with either Obi or the LP on time to be allocated to the witnesses.
The electoral body equally denied being aware of any hiccups being faced by the petitioners.
“I have no knowledge of such hiccups. I had earlier assured the lead counsel for the petitioners, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), that I would be available to assist him in any way that I can, should he encounter any difficulty.
“So far, I have not received such a complaint from him”.
INEC, which is the first respondent in the matter, said it would need three days to present its two witnesses.
The President-elect, Tinubu, through his lawyer, Otaru, said he would require nine days to call a total of 21 witnesses, excluding expert witnesses, to defend his election victory.
Likewise, counsel for the APC, Mr Niyi Akintola, (SAN), said the party would call only seven witnesses, excluding those to be subpoenaed, to testify in the matter.
The APC said it would require only nine days to defend Tinubu’s election, adding that Obi and the LP only frontloaded statements of only three witnesses.
Meanwhile, all the respondents said they must be given 48 hours’ notice before any expert witness would be brought to testify in the matter.
PEPC Moves to Consolidate Atiku, Obi, APM’s petitions against Tinubu
Meanwhile, the PEPC has disclosed its intention to consolidate the three different petitions that are seeking to nullify the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
The petitions are those filed by the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku, the PDP; the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Obi, and LP and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).
Consequently, the court, at its resumed proceedings yesterday, said it was empowered by Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, to merge all the petitions and determine them together.
However, Uche (SAN), who is the lead counsel for Atiku, pleaded to the court for time to consult his client.
“My lords, we will not say that we have not looked at it, but perhaps it may require consultation with the other petitioners.
“We, therefore, ask for a stand down or an adjournment so that we can explore the modalities since this is like a marriage which is a union between two consenting adults,” Uche added.
On its part, INEC threw its weight behind the planned consolidation of the petitions.
“My lords, my personal conviction is that the provision is mandatory. It clearly stated that if there are two petitions or more that are filed to nullify the same election or return, it must be consolidated, unless the court directs otherwise.
“We are happy with the provision of the law and we are also happy with whatever position your lordships will take with respect to this matter,” INEC’s lead counsel, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood (SAN), told the court.
However, Otaru (SAN), who appeared on behalf of the President-elect, Tinubu, and the Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, said he would need time to consult.
“My lords, I will need to consult Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who is the lead counsel in this matter,” he pleaded.
The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel subsequently adjourned till Monday for the parties to report the outcome of their consultations on the issue of consolidation of all the petitions.
It will be recalled that INEC had on March 1, announced Tinubu of the APC as the winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
It declared that Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat the two major contenders, Atiku of the PDP, who came second with a total of 6,984,520 votes, and Obi of LP, who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.
However, dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Atiku, Obi, and APM lodged petitions before the court.
They maintained that Tinubu was not duly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election.