The Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on Thursday opened the trial at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja by tendering the results of the polls in Niger and Yobe states.
Atiku and his party had petitioned the tribunal challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Party at the February 23, 2019 election.
A renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), made what turned out to be a solidarity appearance at the tribunal on Thursday. Nwabueze arrived the courtroom in a wheelchair, and was wheeled out shortly thereafter.
In his remarks before taking his leave, the 87-year-old noted that the generality of Nigerians believed that the presidential election was rigged but yet to find who perpetrated the rigging.
He urged the tribunal “to rise above the self-imposed shackles” in order to “find out the truth about what happened during that election”.
The trial commenced, shortly after Nwabueze left with Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), resuming as the lead counsel for the petitioners.
Uzoukwu tendered Forms EC8A, EC8B and EC8C – the polling units, wards, and local government result sheets for Niger and Yobe states.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, along with the two other respondents, Buhari and the APC, objected to the tendering of the result sheets which were all certified by the electoral body.
The respondents, through their respective lawyers, also objected to the tendering of the receipt of certification issued on June 7, 2019 by INEC in respect of the Niger State result sheets.
While opposing the admissibility of the receipt, Buhari’s lead counsel, Mike Igbokwe (SAN), said, “If INEC objected to the admissibility, who am I not to object? It’s their document but they are objecting to it.”
In response to the comment which ignited laughter in the courtroom, INEC’s lawyer, Yunus Usman (SAN), who being the counsel for the 1st respondent, was the first to object to the document. He quickly rose to say “it’s not our document.”
The courtroom further burst into laughter.
The APC’s lawyer, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), also objected to the tendering of the receipt.
But the respondents’ lawyers did not object to the tendering of the certification receipt issued by INEC on May 9, 2019 in respect of the result sheets of Yobe State.
In line with the agreement reached among the parties at the pre-hearing session which ended on Wednesday, the respondents all indicated their objection to the documents tendered by the petitioners but would only give their reasons at the final address stage.
Also, as part of the agreement, the tribunal admitted all the documents as exhibits, but subject to the consideration of the reasons for the objection to be given by the respondents at the end of trial.
A total of 3,464 result sheets from the 25 local government areas of Niger State and one receipt of certification of the result sheets were admitted as exhibits.
The documents, including the receipts were admitted as P1 to P3465.
As for Yobe State, a total of 1,731 result sheets from 17 local governments, and one receipt of certification were admitted as exhibits.
The exhibits were admitted as Exhibits PY1 to PY1732.
Two result sheets for a Yobe LG
In the course of tendering the result sheets for Nangere Local Government Area of Yobe State, Justice Garba observed that Form EC8C, the local government result sheet, which ought to be one turned to be two.
He asked the petitioners’ lawyer which one should be recorded as the tendered exhibit.
Responding, Uzoukwu said, “We got the two documents from INEC. So we are tendering the two.”
The tribunal went on to admit one of the Forms EC8C as Exhibit PYB 1101 and the other as Exhibit PYB 1101A.
Shortly after the Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal began sitting at about 9.40am, Nwabueze announced appearance as the lead counsel for the petitioners.
He was barely audible while announcing the names of other lawyers appearing with him.
He eventually had to hand over the role to Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), who had since the commencement of the case, been leading the petitioners’ team.
Subsequently, Yunus Usman (SAN) announced appearance as the lead counsel for the Independent National Electoral Commission; Mike Igbokwe (SAN) for President Muhammadu Buhari, and Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), for the APC.
After the bar closed the appearances announcement, Nwabueze expressed “gratitude” to the tribunal for granting his “first request”.
In what he described as his “short remark,” which he sought to be allowed to deliver, Nwabueze urged the tribunal to find the truth about the election which he said many Nigerians believed to be rigged.
He said finding the truth about the polls would help to liberate Nigerians from the scourge of electoral fraud.
He said notwithstanding his age and attendant health challenges, he attended the proceedings “to underscore the importance” of the case.
He said, “The February/March 2019 general elections have come and gone, but the generality of Nigerians believe that something was wrong with them, particularly the February presidential election.
“They suspect that the latter was manipulated or, in more familiar, language, rigged.
“What is not known is how or by whom the rigging was done.
“An election tribunal/court is now saddled with the task, an intractable task, of finding out the truth about what happened.
“The task before it is made intractable by what Justice Kishna Iyer of the Indian Supreme Court referred to as the ‘tyranny of procedure, the horror of the doctrine of precedent, with its stifling and deadening insistence on uniformity, and the boobytraps of pleadings’.
“The decided election cases show the election tribunal/court has succumbed all too readily to these containing factors, but Nigerians still expect it to rise above the self-imposed shackles in order to find out the truth about what happened during that election.
“The tribunal/court owes it as a duty to the country to do, so as the discovery of the truth will set us free from the scourge of electoral malpractices.”
It turned out to be a solidarity appearance as he sought and obtained the tribunal’s permission to leave the courtroom shortly after his remarks.
Earlier, the tribunal dismissed the respondents’ earlier request for the suspension of the trial on Thursday.
The respondents had called for suspension of the proceedings on the grounds of alleged late filing and serving of the petitioners’ schedule of documents on them shortly before sitting began on Thursday.
But ruling, the five-man bench led by Justice Mohammed Garba, dismissed the respondents’ request, saying that the agreements reached among the parties at the pre-hearing session concluded earlier on Wednesday, had stipulated that trial would commence on Thursday.
Justice Garba who delivered the ruling of the tribunal added that the agreement reached and adopted as the tribunal’s directive on Wednesday, did also not make the service of the schedule of documents a condition-precedent for the commencement of trial.
He added that the respondents could also not validly claimed to have been ambushed by the alleged late filing of the schedule since the documents listed in it had been referenced in the petition filed and served on the respondents months ago.
Some PDP chiefs, including the party’s vice-president candidate, Peter Obi, were present at the proceedings.
The Thursday’s proceedings closed at 6pm.
Further hearing was adjourned till Friday.