Presidential election tribunal asks HDP to open trial against Buhari’s election July 22


…Dismisses party’s application to amend list of witnesses

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Thursday closed the pre-hearing session in respect of the petition filed by the Hope Democratic Party, Albert Awuru, and ordered the petitioners to open their case on July 22.

Earlier, the five-man tribunal led by Justice Mohammed Garba unanimously dismissed an application by the petitioners to amend their list of witnesses and file additional statements on oath.

The petition, challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress in the last presidential election,  is anchored on the grounds that the rescheduling of the poll from February 16, 2019 to February 23, 2019 was done “without any recognisable presence or existence and or compliance with prescribed statutory conditions to do so.”

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They contended that with the rescheduling, the presidential election was deemed “abandoned self-sabotaged and relinquished”, “giving way for the people’s controlled affirmative referendum election” which they said, by 50 million votes, validated Awuru as the elected President.

The respondents to the petition are the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress.

The tribunal on Thursday adjourned the case till July 22 after adopting the pre-hearing report which would guide the proceedings during the trial.

In the report read out at the directive of the court on Thursday, the petitioners were given two days to prove their case.

Each of the three respondents was also given two days to present their defence.

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The tribunal also ruled that parties would have 10 minutes for the examination-in-chief of their witnesses, and there would be 15 minutes for the cross-examination of the said witnesses by the adverse parties.

The tribunal gave five minutes for the re-examination of witnesses.

“Documents to be tendered shall be tendered from the bar, and any objection shall be raised at the point of tendering and the reasons for the objection shall be reserved till final addresses,” Justice Garba added.

The tribunal also gave the respondents three days from the date of close of evidence to file their final addresses, and also gave the petitioners three days from the date of being served to file their own final address.

“Respondents shall each have two days to file their replies on points of law, if any,” Justice Garba added.

He also said the court under the provision of the Electoral Act, reserved the discretion to modify the report when necessary.

‎In an earlier ruling on Thursday, the five-man tribunal unanimously held that the application by the petitioners seeking amendment of their list of witnesses and permission to file additional statements on oath lacked merit.

Delivering the lead ruling of the tribunal, Justice Garba held that the request by the petitioners, if granted, would amount to a substantial alteration and addition to their petition.

According to Justice Garba, the list of  witnesses and statements on oath were integral part of an election petition which, by virtue of paragraph 14(1) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act, could not be altered or added to after the expiration of the 21 days, within which a petition must be filed, from the date the results of the election were announced.

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He said such request by the petitioners “has reached a dead end of the law beyond which it cannot go.”

The tribunal also dismissed another application by the petitioners which was titled as ‘Notice to contend’.

In upholding the Independent INEC’s objection to the said notice, the tribunal described it was an aberration and alien to the election petition proceedings.

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