The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) yesterday resumed sitting 19 days after its last adjournment with the presiding justice of the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, Mohammed Lawal Garba, as new chairman.
The pioneer chair and president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had recused herself from the panel following a petition by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar alleging likelihood of bias against him and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on account of the judge being married to an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain.
A platform that sponsored President Muhammadu Buhari for the February 23,2019 polls whose outcome the pair and others are currently contesting at the tribunal.
During the resumption of proceedings to hear the petitions of Atiku, PDP and others challenging President Buhari’s return as winner of the exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Justice Garba pledged fairness to all parties and sought the full cooperation of the litigating counsel for expeditious treatment.
He consequently fixed today for entertainment of all objections to Atiku, PDP petition.
Meanwhile, the presidency has hailed the withdrawal of one of the four petitions challenging Buhari’s victory.
In a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the president commended the Coalition for Change (C4C) for the decision at the resumed sitting.
The tribunal earlier presided by Justice Bulkachuwa had adjourned on May 22, 2019.
She, however, did not announce her replacement two weeks after, prompting the petitioners to deplore the delay and threaten to petition the National Judicial Council (NJC) on the development.
Justice Garba yesterday called the first matter on the cause list which was the petition of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Oworu.
After parties in the suit identified their various processes, the judge picked June 13 for hearing of motions against the HDP’s request.
However, counsel to President Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN); INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN); and the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), urged the tribunal to dismiss the application for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
A mild drama nonetheless ensued in court when a factional National Chairman of the HDP, one Poland Awinitabre, disowned the lawyers for the party and Oworu.
Two different attorneys, Nelson Ekwedibia and one Donald M. O., had announced appearance for the petitioners, forcing the panel to ask Awinitabre who had announced appearance for the party to identify the actual counsel for the HDP.
He stated categorically that “the party has not engaged Nelson Ekwedibia.”
Ekwedibia however told the tribunal that he was engaged by Chief Owuru, who is both the party’s National Chairman and candidate in the contested election.
He further informed the court that he was the one who filed the petition against Buhari and has been representing the two petitioners since the beginning of the case.