There was heavy security presence at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal begins pre-hearing session on the petition the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar, lodged to challenge the outcome of the February 23 presidential election.
Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, also, yesterday, secured leave to lodge a formal petition to disqualify the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, from presiding over the suit challenging President Muhammadu Buhari's re-election.
Atiku and his party said they were not comfortable with Justice Bulkachuwa's decision to head the five-man presidential election petition panel, noting that her husband is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, which is a respondent in the matter.
The petitioners who are challenging the declaration of President Buhari as the winner of the February 23 presidential poll, noted that Justice Bulkachuwa's husband, Adamu, is an APC senator-elect in Bauchi State.
At the resumed proceeding, yesterday, the petitioners, through their lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, applied to have a private meeting with members of the tribunal panel.
Uzoukwu said it was better to discuss the position of his clients with the panel in chambers.
However, neither counsel to President Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, nor that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, opposed the application.
Similarly, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which initially challenged the request through its lawyer, Mr Yunus Uztaz, SAN, later conceded to the application.
Consequently, the panel okayed a stand-down on the matter, even as it allowed all the parties to nominate two lawyers each to attend the meeting.
When the panel reconvened at exactly noon, Bulkachuwa said there was no need to shroud the essence of the meeting in secrecy since the petition PDP lodged against her was already in the public domain.
She disclosed that the PDP had through its National Chairman, Chief Uche Secondus, wrote a letter to her on May 8, asking her to disqualify herself from the case.
"We believe that this has been brought in the public domain. Therefore, we will take the application and deliver a ruling on it," Justice Bulkachuwa held.
Consequently, counsel to the petitioners sought a short adjournment to enable him to file a formal application.
"In the light of what my Lord has said, we have decided to bring a formal application tomorrow (today)", Uzoukwu, SAN, submitted.
All the Respondents in the matter said they were not opposed to the request for adjournment, though they insisted that they would require seven days to respond to the application to disqualify Justice Bulkachuwa from presiding over the case.
Based on the consent of all the parties, the tribunal adjourned the matter until May 22 to hear the application.
Heavy security presence
There was heavy security presence at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal where the tribunal is conducting its sitting.
Armed security operatives blocked every route to the court premises, though they allowed journalists access upon proper identification.
A handful of placard-wielding protesters camped at a distance, chanting in support of the PDP candidate, Atiku.
Meanwhile, the tribunal, yesterday, ordered substituted service of another petition challenging the outcome of the presidential election on President Buhari.
The panel directed that processes in the petition marked CA/PEPC/003/2019, filed by the Coalition For Change, C4C, and its presidential candidate, Geff Chizee Ojinka, should be served on President Buhari through any national officer at the APC secretariat in Abuja.