…Hearings begin afresh
…Tribunal dismisses Coalition for Change’s petition
…Hears objections to Atiku, PDP petition today
Andrew Orolua, Abuja
Justice Mohammed Garba, the third in hierarchy in order of seniority at the Court of Appeal, has replaced the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which resumed sitting on Monday in Abuja.
Justice Garba, who heads the Court of Appeal Lagos division, took over from Justice Bulkachuwa who on May 22 recused herself from the panel after she was asked by Atiku and Peoples Democratic Party to excuse herself for fear of likelihood of bias.
The tribunal began afresh on Monday the hearing of all petitions filed by four political parties and their presidential candidates challenging the February 23 election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, the tribunal on Monday dismissed the petition filed by Coalition for Change (C4C), leaving three other petitions pending.
Presiding justice of the five man panel, Justice Garba dismissed the petition following the withdrawal of the petition by counsel representing Coalition for Change, Mr. Obed Agwu.
The counsel said he had instruction from the petitioner, C4C, to withdraw the petition and he accordingly complied by filing the withdrawal notice.
Justice Garba said that haven gone through a three paragraphs affidavit attached to the application for withdrawal and having heard Agwu who moved the application and the fact that counsel to the respondents did not oppose it,
“We are mindful to grant it. Leave is hereby granted to the petitioner to withdraw the petition. Petition is hereby dismissed and no order as to cost”.
Other members of the panel, Justices Abdu Aboki, Peter Ige, Samuel Oseji and Joseph Ikyegh agreed with the ruling.
The tribunal on Monday gave counsel representing the petitioners- Atiku, Muhammadu Buhari, All Progressives Congress (APC), and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) time to identify all processes and documents they have filed on behalf of their clients.
Livy Uzoukwu, counsel to PDP and Atiku, said he filed five applications praying the tribunal to strike out all respondents’ applications and to hear the petition on its merit.
Yunus Usman (SAN), who represented INEC, said he has filed four petitions, precisely asking the tribunal to dismiss Atiku, PDP for failure to join the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, as respondent.
Usman asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition challenging the electoral victory of Buhari on the ground that it failed to comply with paragraph 18 (1) first schedule of the Electoral Act.
He also wanted the tribunal to dismiss the petitions filed by Hope Democratic party, and Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), who are representing President Muhammadu Buhari and APC respectively, filed three applications each asking the tribunal to dismiss all the petitions. They also told the tribunal some of the applications seek to strike out some paragraphs of the petition.
All identified applications relating to Atiku and PDP petition were set down for hearing today. The tribunal also set down for hearing on June 13 all pending applications relating to Hope Democratic Party.
Justice Garba said however, that the party should resolve who represents it among the two contending lawyers who announced appearance for the party on Monday.
Earlier in his remark at the resumption of sitting, he sought the cooperation of all parties and counsels in the petitions for a speedy determination of the petitions and reminded the parties, and counsels of the constraints placed by the Electoral Act and the constitution which gave timeline for the hearing and determination of election petitions.
He assured the parties and their counsel that the tribunal will apply the available limited time prudently in hearing and determination of the petitions in line with the provisions of Electoral Act and constitution.
He therefore, pleaded with the counsels for their fullest cooperation.
Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), the lead counsel to PDP and Atiku, pledged to give the tribunal necessary cooperation to ensure judicious determination.
Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to Muhammadu Buhari, also welcomed the panel and pledged full cooperation.
Counsel representing the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) and Yunus Usman (SAN) respectively, also pledged to cooperate.