Buhari’s counsel, others kick as Atiku, PDP tender documents as exhibits

Candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar. PHOTO: Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP

• Nwabueze asks tribunal to unravel fault in poll
Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, and his party yesterday began move to prove their petition against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari by tendering volumes of documents at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT).

Yesterday’s proceedings also witnessed the appearance of a renowned constitutional lawyer and professor of law, Ben Nwabueze. He admonished the panel to ensure that justice is done in the matter, saying all Nigerians were deeply interested in the outcome of the hearing.

Nwabueze, who came into the courtroom in wheelchair, announced his appearance as lead counsel for the petitioners. He prayed the tribunal to allow him use his wheelchair while addressing the panel because of his age and health situation. His request was granted.

He said: “Accept my gratitude for granting me my first request. The determination of the petition will certainly impact on future elections and constitutionalism in the country.   “Notwithstanding of my age, 87, and attendant health challenges, I attended this proceedings to underscore the importance of the case. The February/March 2019 general election has come and gone but the generality of Nigerians seem agreed that something was wrong with them, particularly the February presidential election. They suspect that the later was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged. What is not known is how or by whom the rigging was done.”

The legal icon stressed that it now rests 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,” he said.

Nwabueze further reminded the tribunal that it owed the country the duty of discovering the truth which, he said, would 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.

“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, in as much as the effect of such a power given to a court is not to exonerate it from all rules of law.”

The new lead counsel for the petitioners 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.”

At the end of his speech, Nwabueze announced that Dr. Levy Uzoukwu (SAN), would take charge of the day’s proceedings.

The documents tendered at the tribunal by the petitioners were election results from polling units, wards and local governments.

The petitioners tendered the documents after chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, overruled the respondents’ initial objection on grounds that they were just served with the documents in court yesterday.

Uzoukwu had barely stood up to introduce the petition when counsel to the respondents raised an observation which prompted the tribunal chairman to stand down the matter for 30 minutes.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Igbokwe, 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 are Niger, Yobe, Kebbi and Jigawa.

Igbokwe told the tribunal that he was surprised to see documents from four states instead of the two in the schedule. He 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), said the action of the petitioners was a serious ambush. He prayed the tribunal to order parties to iron out documents to be considered.

Counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), aligned himself with the submission of INEC.

In his response, Uzoukwu expressed surprise over the reaction of the respondents, recalling that parties at the conclusion of pre-hearing agreed that hearing in the petition would start yesterday, adding that the documents before the tribunal had been listed in the petition. He urged the tribunal to go ahead with the day’s proceedings, adding that the petitioners intended to start with Niger State.

The tribunal chairman, Justice Garba, announced a stand down of the petition for 30 minutes to enable them take a decision on the matter. When the court resumed, the tribunal refused to adjourn proceedings as prayed by the respondents on the grounds that the request was unmeritorous.   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, counsel to the petitioners, 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 as exhibits. They, however, deferred argument on their objection in line with earlier agreement between parties and the court.

All the documents tendered were admitted in evidence by the tribunal as exhibits.

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