Presidential poll: Tribunal gives Atiku, PDP 10 days ultimatum to call 400 witness
THE Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) has allocated 10 days to the petitioners – Atiku Abubakar and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – to call the 400 witnesses they plan to call to prove their case.
The PDP and its candidate in the last presidential election are, by their petition, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Party (APC).
Respondents to the petition – the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Buhari and the APC – have equally been allocated six days each to call their witnesses.
The allocation of days to parties in the case was agreed yesterday at the tribunal’s pre-hearing session where the scheduling of the hearing process was equally agreed.
At the beginning of yesterday’s proceedings, the petitioner’s lead lawyer Livy Uzoukwu said Atiku and the PDP planned to call 400 witnesses to prove their case.
Uzoukwu said although the petitioners proposed 400 witnesses, they would make do with the number they could call within the period prescribed by law.
At that point, the tribunal’s chairman Justice Mohammed Garba said the law, Paragraph 16(3) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010, provides 14 days for the petitioners to conduct its case.
Following the information from the tribunal’s chairman, lawyers representing all the parties, sought a break of about 30 minutes to work out how to proceed during the hearing of the petition.
When proceedings resumed later, Uzoukwu said: “We have agreed that instead of the 14 days that we have to call our witnesses, we will take 10.
“The respondents have agreed to cut their 10 days to six days for each of them. Evidence-in-chief for what we call ‘ordinary witnesses’ will take five minutes.
“Cross-examination of such ordinary witnesses will take 10 minutes; evidence-in-chief of expert/subpoenaed witnesses, 10 minutes; cross-examination of same category of witnesses, 20 minutes and re-examination of all witnesses, three minutes each.
“Objection to documents will be indicated at the point of tendering and the address on it will be reserved till final address but will be isolated from the main address.
Uzoukwu also told the tribunal that it was agreed that the respondents should file their final address within seven days of close of evidence, while the petitioners should file their final reply addresses within five days after they have been served with the respondents’ final addresses.
The petitioners’ lawyer added that it was also agreed that the respondents should, within three days of being served with petitioners’ final address, file their replies on point of law, where necessary.
INEC’s lawyer Yunus Ustaz (SAN) noted that “proper foundation” must be laid for documents for which parties have not agreed on their admission.
Lawyers to President Buhari and the APC, Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Charles Edosomwan (SAN) confirmed that what Uzoukwu said was an actual reflection of what all the parties agreed to.
Olanipekun said it was suggested that during the hearing session, proceedings should start at 9.30 a.m and end at 4 p.m, with an hour break between 1 p.m and 2 p.m.
He said parties equally agreed that trial/hearing session should begin on Thursday.
Justice Garba averred that the beginning of the hearing session would be dependent on outcome of the proceedings scheduled for Wednesday.
The tribunal scheduled ruling for Wednesday in an application by the petitioners, requesting that a motion filed by the APC to strike out of their petition, be heard afresh.
Atiku and the PDP claimed that they were not heard by the tribunal and had no opportunity to file a counter-affidavit and written address in opposition to the motion, when it was heard by the tribunal on June 11.
They added: “The petitioners/applicants desire to be heard in response to the third respondent’s motion filed on May 15, 2019, seeking to strike out the petition.”
Lawyers to the respondents, who opposed the application, argued that the petitioners, having failed to file any response to APC’s application within the time allowed by law, could no longer complain.
INEC, President Buhari and the APC argued that the fresh application by the petitioners was an abuse of court process, on the grounds that the petitioners had appealed, at the Supreme Court, the June 11 ruling of the tribunal, which they sought to be set aside by the tribunal.
They further argued that the motion by the APC, having been heard and reserved for ruling, the petitioners had lost the right to be heard on the issue again.
In the motion, which the petitioners are seeking to be heard afresh, the APC wants the tribunal to dismiss the petition or, alternatively, strike out several paragraphs that were not supported by facts and laws.
APC also wants the tribunal to remove 10 states from the list of states where Atiku alleged that electoral malpractices took place in the February 23 presidential election on the grounds that the petitioners failed to disclose the specific polling units where the alleged infractions, which they claimed, took place.
The party said the PDP and its candidate were thereby “making their claims imprecise, nebulous and vague”.
It also asked the tribunal to strike out paragraphs in the petition, where allegations of act of thuggery, arrest, intimidation and conversion were made against Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the Army, the police and several other individuals who were not joined as defendants in their petition.
The APC equally applied that the claim by Atiku and the PDP that President Buhari was not educationally qualified to stand for the presidential election be expunged from their petition because it is a pre-election matter which the tribunal has no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon.
Also, the ruling party urged the tribunal to strike out the petition on the grounds that it failed to comply with the mandatory provisions of paragraphs 4 and 7 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act 2010 and Section 134 of the 1999 Constitution.
The APC similarly faulted the petition “for being incompetent and in gross violation of sections 2 and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act”.
It urged the tribunal to strike out the petition together with the list of documents and list of witnesses to be relied upon by the petitioners.