Eighty-eight-year-old erudite Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Ben Nwabueze, on Thursday, took over as head of the legal team representing the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja.
Ben Nwabueze announced his appearance for the petitioners who are challenging the outcome of the February 23 presidential election that was declared in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He took over from Dr Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, on a day the five-member tribunal headed by Justice Mohammed Garba, okayed for the commencement of full-blown hearing on the petition challenging President Buhari’s re-election.
Ben Nwabueze who was granted permission to address the tribunal on a wheelchair, said his presence was to underscore the importance of the case to the constitution development of the nation.
“I have chosen to appear on this auspicious day of commencement of hearing on this epoch day.
“I had to travel to attend, notwithstanding my age and attendant health challenges. This is to underscore the importance of this case to the constitutional development of this country, a matter that I have been passionate about all these years”.
Thereafter, Prof Ben Nwabueze prayed to be excused by the tribunal, but not after he dropped with the Registry, a copy of the speech he said he would have delivered at the inaugural sitting on the tribunal that held on May 15.
“I wish your lordships more grace and Nigeria well,” he added.
Shortly after he handed over a copy of his speech to the Registry, Ben Nwabueze left the tribunal, even as Dr. Uzoukwu took over and announced that the petitioners would commence with presenting witnesses and evidence with respect to the conduct of the presidential election in Niger State.
Meanwhile, before the petitioners could kick-start the hearing process, all the Respondents- the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Buhari, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, opposed the continuation of the proceeding.
Counsel to President Buhari, Chief Mike Igbokwe, SAN, decried that despite the order of the tribunal that all documents that would be tendered from the Bar, should be filed and exchange by parties, he said the petitioners only served him two schedules of documents to be tendered with respect to Jigawa and Niger States, before the proceeding commenced.
“I urge this court to suspend the trial until they comply with an order of the court made yesterday by consent of parties that schedule of documents to be tendered must be filed and exchanged between parties”, Igbokwe added.
Similarly, counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman, SAN, and that of APC, Yakubu Mekyau, SAN, accused the petitioners of attempting to ambush them.
All the respondents said they were not ready to go on with the hearing.
Nevertheless, Uzoukwu urged the court to ignore the objections he said was deliberately aimed to frustrate the hearing.
“Seriously our time of presenting our petition is being compromised by the Respondents. Bearing in mind that this petition has a timeline that is fast approaching”, he added.
The petitioners’ counsel noted that all the documents to be tendered were originally listed in the petition, saying there was, therefore, nothing the respondents could be surprised about.
Owing to the development, the tribunal stood down the proceeding for 30 minutes to enable it to take a decision.
It will be recalled PDP and Atiku had in their joint petition, maintained that data they independently secured from INEC’s back-end server, revealed that they defeated President Buhari at the poll with over 1.6million votes.
They alleged that INEC had at various stages of the presidential election, unlawful allocated votes to President Buhari, saying they would adduce oral and documentary evidence to show that result of the election as announced by the electoral body, did not represent the lawful valid votes cast
Atiku and PDP alleged that in some states, INEC deducted lawful votes that accrued to him, in its bid to ensure that Buhari was returned back to the office.
The petitioners said they would call evidence of statisticians, forensic examiners and finger-print experts at the hearing of the petition to establish that the scores credited to Buhari were not the product of actual votes validly cast at the polling units.
The petitioners said to intend to call 400 witnesses, “or as many as possible within the prescribed time,” to prove their case.
However, all the respondents had since filed processes to challenge the competence of the petition they said should be dismissed.
The tribunal had given the petitioners 10 days to present their case, while the respondents would take six days each to enter their defence.