The Presidential Election Petition Court on Tuesday released the timetable for the hearing of petitions filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and Allied Peoples Movement seeking to invalidate the victory of the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, in the February 25 election.
The court announced that the hearing of the petitions would commence on May 30.
The development followed the conclusion of the pre-hearing sessions in which the court allocated time for the litigants and also consolidated the three petitions which would be heard as one despite opposition by the All Progressives Congress and Tinubu.
The Chairman of the five-man panel, Justice Haruna Tsammani, who delivered the ruling during the proceedings on Tuesday, dismissed the objections raised against the merger by the president-elect, the APC, the vice-president-elect, Kashim Shettima and Kabir Masari, the APC place-holder.
The Independent National Electoral Commission left the consolidation decision to the panel and did not oppose the idea.
In its ruling, the court maintained that the demand for justice supported the consolidation to aid the speedy dispensation of justice.
It held that the three petitions were about the same subject matter – the 2023 election and the return of the president-elect.
The court further noted that consolidation of the three petitions would ensure justice in the matter, adding that the parties would adopt their final briefs of argument to enable it to fix a date for judgment.
On the subject of time to present their case, the panel directed Obi and the LP to do so within three weeks against their proposed seven weeks within which they planned to present 50 witnesses to prove their case against Tinubu.
Obi, through his counsel, Awa Kalu, SAN, had requested seven weeks to establish his case against the disputed election.
However, Justice Tsammani ordered Obi to open his petition for hearing on Tuesday, May 30, and end the same on June 23.
Furthermore, he stated that Obi’s camp would adopt its final briefs of argument on August 5 after which the court would deliver judgment on his petition.
Whereas the court gave INEC two days to present its defence, it gave Tinubu and the APC five days each to defend the petitions.
Likewise, the court gave the 4th respondent in the case, Kabiru Masari, three days to also defend himself.
The panel noted that a total of 166 witnesses would be called to testify in the matter.
It stressed that the star witnesses in the petition would only be allowed to adopt their written depositions, make oral submissions and identify documents where it is required.
In addition, the panel emphasised that examination and cross-examination in all cases would be strictly monitored and enforced without an intention to extend the dates.
Following the presentation of the schedule for Obi’s petition, the court in a similar fashion fixed May 30 as day one in the hearing of the petitions by the Allied Peoples Movement and the Peoples Democratic Party, now consolidated.
Aside from Atiku who came second in the election, and Obi of the LP who came third in the election, the APM equally lodged a petition to challenge the outcome of the presidential election.
Though five petitions were initially filed to challenge the return of Tinubu as the winner of the election, however, the Action Alliance, on May 8 withdrew its case while the Action Peoples Party discontinued its own petition a few days later.
As in the case of LP and Obi, the PDP and the APM did not object to the duly signed and certified documents by INEC but reserved the right to object to other documents.
However, they both disagreed with an out-of-court settlement agreement and subscribed to the hearing of the petitions.
The APM which has one witness was directed to present its case within a day.
According to the pre-hearing report by the court, the PDP and Atiku have 10 interlocutory applications with nine preliminary objections by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents.
Court fixes dates
While the APM will adopt its brief of argument on July 3, the PDP and Atiku are to adopt theirs on August 8.
The PDP and Atiku had informed the court of their plan to prove their case through 100 witnesses, but the court granted them three weeks to do so.
Atiku had in his joint petition with the PDP, marked: CA/PEPC/05/2023, applied for the withdrawal of the certificate of return that was issued to Tinubu by INEC.
He maintained that the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the presidential election was “invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022”.
The ex-vice president further argued that Tinubu’s election was invalid because of corrupt practices and prayed the court to nullify his election and declare him the winner of the presidential election, having secured the second-highest number of lawful votes cast at the election.
He insisted that the APC candidate did not meet the constitutional threshold and “is constitutionally disabled from contesting for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
However, in a reply he filed through his team of lawyers led by Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Tinubu, queried the legal competence of the petition.
Tinubu described Atiku as a consistent serial loser that had since 1993, crisscrossed different political parties, in search of power.
With the presentation of the pre-hearing report and disclosure of the schedule, the court sessions had entered a more critical period counting down from May 30 and extending to Saturdays.
Meanwhile, the PEPC hinted it may subsequently disallow phones in the courtroom.
The court stressed that it is acting with reason, adding that the “security of everyone is important,” among other justifications.
In a related development, a Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed a ruling for Friday on an ex-parte application filed by some individuals seeking to restrain the president-elect from being inaugurated on May 29 until the determination of petitions before the PEPC.
Justice James Omotosho adjourned the case on Tuesday after listening to arguments from the counsel for the applicants, Oliver Eya.
Before adjourning the case, Omotosho ordered the applicants’ lawyer to be prepared to address the court on the jurisdiction, whether the plaintiffs have the locus standi to file the suit and whether they have any legal right they seek to protect with the suit.
The applicants – Praise Ilemona Isaiah, Pastor Paul Isaac Audu and Anongu Moses – who claimed to be Nigerian electorate, want the court to stop the inauguration pending the determination of their motion for interlocutory injunctions.
They urged the court to issue “an order of interim injunction restraining the 2nd respondent (Tinubu) from being sworn in as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice already filed.”
They claimed, among others, that Tinubu gave false information about his citizenship status and his date of birth.
Listed as defendants in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/ 657/2023 are the President, the President-elect, APC, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Director-General, the Department of State Services, the Inspector-General of Police and INEC.
In the affidavit in support of the motion ex parte, the plaintiffs urged that their prayer be granted because “the 2nd defendant/respondent (Tinubu) is billed to be sworn in as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May, 29th, 2023.”