Atiku & Buhari

Tribunal Says It’ll determine petitions without fear or favor 

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, assured Nigerians that all parties would have equal opportunity to present their case before the court. The tribunal said it would hear and determine petitions challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, without fear or favour.

The five-man tribunal which is headed by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, said it would only subscribe to the dictates of the constitution, the electoral law and international best practices.

A speech she delivered at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal, the Court of Appeal President, assured that all the petitioners would be accorded equal opportunity to present their case, saying they should, however, do so in “a mature manner”.

Justice Bulkachuwa maintained that the judiciary, being the arbiter, should be allowed to enjoy its independence, with a view to ensuring the dispensation of all the petitions challenging the outcome of the February 23 presidential election.

“The independence of the judiciary is key to any vibrant democracy, especially in the resolution of Election Petitions. Therefore, an independent judiciary is a robust and indispensable requisite of a free society under the rule of law.

“As we gather in this honourable courtroom today, I wish to use this opportunity to reassure Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, that the Court of Appeal will work in accordance and within the dictates of the Constitution, the law and international best practices, to dispense justice to all, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”, Justice Bulkachuwa stated.

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Besides, she sought the cooperation of all the parties in the four separate petitions before the tribunal, even as she urged all the lawyers to conduct themselves with decorum and high sense of responsibility so as to help the court to do justice.

The tribunal Chairman further gagged lawyers representing all the parties from addressing the Press on issues that border on proceedings of the tribunal.

She said: “This is not the first time this Court has been empowered to hear and determine the outcome of a Presidential election result since the return to democracy in Nigeria and the coming into law of the 1999 Constitution. We did the same in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.

“Whenever petitions are filed against an elected President, such a Tribunal is set up and it becomes a matter of public interest to the nation.

“The judiciary being the arbiter, there are litigants, Counsel, members of the Press, and the public who are all stakeholders as the major participants.

“We, therefore, require the maximum cooperation of all the stakeholders, especially from the leaders of the Bar. We expect the proceeding to be conducted with decorum, a high sense of responsibility, dedication, and patriotism in our quest to arrive at just decisions in all the petitions before us.

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

“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.

“We pray that this time would be an exception for the benefit of the nation. We don’t expect counsel to any of the parties to hype the polity after any sitting by making a public analysis in the media as to what transpired in Court.

“These proceedings should be treated as would any other low-profile case, where proceedings in Court are not discussed publicly until a decision is pronounced by the Court. “This admonition is also extended to the parties, their respective counsel and the members of the Press.

“We on our own part will make relevant information available as at when due. Any breach will not be condoned and we will not hesitate in taking necessary action against such offenders”.

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The PCA disclosed that Imo State has the highest number of election petition cases, with six different panels constituted to hear a total of 76 petitions that emanated from the state. She noted that in all the states where elections held, only in Jigawa state that no election petition was filed.

“So far, we have empanelled 78 panels to cover the Election Tribunals in all states of the Federation, excluding Jigawa State where no election petition had been filed.

“The panels are now in place and have started hearing the petitions. They are, presently, 786 petitions, with Imo State having the highest number of 76 petitions which necessitated the posting of six panels to the state”.

Other members of the panel that will hear and determine the four petitions challenging the outcome of the 2019 presidential election, are Justices Abdul Aboki, Samuel Oseji, Joseph Ikyegh and Peter Olabisi Ige.

The Tribunal said it would after the pre-hearing sessions, sit on a day-to-day basis.

Among dignitaries that attended the proceeding included the Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP, Dr Peter Obi, as well as former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu.