Nigeria: Buhari Seeks to Dismiss Atiku's Petition As Tribunal Begins Hearing

Atiku Abubakar and President-elect Muhammadu Buhari

The case against the reelection of President Muhammadu Buhari began in Abuja yesterday.

The case was filed by Buhari's main challenger in the election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP.

The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal is headed by President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.

Atiku, and his party, the PDP in their petitions are seeking the nullification of Buhari's victory at the Feb. 23 presidential poll over allegations of widespread rigging, violations of the Electoral Act, suppression of voters, violence amongst other electoral malpractices.

There are also four other petitions before the tribunal filed by Ambrose Owuru of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP); Geff Chizee Ojinka of the Coalition for Change (CC); and Aminchi Habu of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) all challenging Buhari's reelection.

However, Buhari's lead counsel, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), asked the tribunal to first determine his preliminary objection seeking to dismiss the petition by PDP and its candidate at the prehearing stage.

"We filed our reply on 16h April 2019 and we also filed our motion including preliminary objections. We argued that the preliminary objection be set down for hearing during the pre-trial," he said.

Buhari in the objection asked the court to dismiss Atiku's claim that he lacked the qualification to be president on the grounds that by virtue of Section 31(5) and (6) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), "it is the Federal High Court or of a State that has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the grounds/complaints contained therein."

Justice Bulkachuwa warns against media trial

In her opening remarks, Justice Bulkachuwa warned against public comments which would publicly decide presidential petitions in the court and overheat the polity.

"We therefore require the maximum cooperation of all the stakeholders, especially from the leaders of the Bar.

"We expect the proceedings to be conducted with decorum, a high sense of responsibility, dedication, and patriotism in our quest to arrive at just decisions in all petitions before us.

"We assure all stakeholders that each litigant will be given equal opportunity to present his case in a mature manner before us," she stressed.

The president also called on counsels to all the parties not to hype the polity after sittings by making a public analysis in the media as to what transpired in the court room.

"We are witnesses to what has been happening in high profile cases where such cases are being discussed and publicly decided prematurely in both the social and electronic media before the announcement of the verdict by the court," she said.

"We are witnesses to what has been happening in high profile cases where such cases are being openly discussed and publicly debated upon with different and divergent opinions being given or proffered by contenders, and interested persons in both the social, print and electronic Media before the Tribunal or Court concludes the hearing and determination on such Election Petitions disputes.

"More often than not, such debates have the tendencies to mislead the unsuspecting public and even parties in the Election Petition disputes."

Justice Bulkachuwa also harped on the independence of the judiciary, which she said is "key to any vibrant democracy, especially in the resolution of Election Petitions."

The inaugural sitting was attended by Peter Obi, Atiku's running mate.

Meanwhile, the five-member panel has fixed May 14 for prehearing on the petition by HDP candidate and May 15 and 16 for the petition by the PDP.

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