A motion by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in the February 23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, will be heard on May 22, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) said yesterday.
The motion is seeking the withdrawal of the tribunal’s Chairman Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, from hearing the petition filed against the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari at the election.
The PEPT had scheduled a pre-hearing session for yesterday, but when the case was mentioned, the petitioners’ lawyer, Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), told the five-man tribunal that he had an application, which he would prefer to move in chambers.
He sought the understanding of the lawyers to the other parties in the case, after which it was agreed to suspend sitting and listen to the issue PDP and Atiku’s counsel had.
After few minutes of arguments, it was agreed by the lawyers, that each party be represented, at the chambers meeting, by three lawyers each.
Justice Bulkachuwa, who doubles as the President of the Court of Appeal stood down proceedings to consider the petitioners’ application in chambers.
When proceedings resumed about one and half hours later, Justice Bulkachuwa disclosed what transpired in chambers.
She said Uzoukwu demanded that she recuse herself from the case in the face of a petition authored and addressed to her by the National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus (who was equally in court).
Justice Bulkachuwa said that since the issues contained in the petition and the petitioners’ request were already in public domain, it was better a decision be taken in the open court after a formal application by the petitioners.
Uzoukwu said he would file a formal application to enable the respondents file their responses on time.
Lawyers to the respondents – Wole Olanipekun (SAN), for Buhari; Yunus Usman (SAN), for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) for the APC – later agreed with Uzoukwu to return on May 22 for the hearing of the application by the petitioners.
The respondents’ lawyers promised to file their responses before the next adjourned date.
Also yesterday, the PEPT granted leave to another set of petitioners – the Coalition for Change and its presidential candidate, Geff Chizee Ojinika – permission to serve their petition on President Buhari and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo through substituted means.
By the permission, the petitioners are to serve the two respondents through any national officer of the APC at the party’s headquarters in Abuja.
At the proceedings, PDP’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, (represented his party), a former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu Chairman, represented President Buhari.
Former member, Lagos State House of Assembly and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Babatunde Ogala, appeared for the APC and Mrs. Oluwatoyin Babalola, INEC’s Director, Legal Services, represented the commission.
There was heavy security presence restriction on vehicular movement at the tribunal’s sitting yesterday, as armed policemen took positions in and around the Court of Appeal premises.