The Presidential Election Petition Court, sitting in Abuja, has disclosed its intention to consolidate the three different petitions that are seeking to nullify the outcome of the 2023 presidential election.
Consequently, the court, at its resumed proceedings on Saturday, said it was empowered by Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, to merge all the petitions and determine them together.
However, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, who is the lead counsel for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, pleaded the court for time to consult his client.
“My lords, we will not say that we have not looked at it, but perhaps it may require consultation with the other petitioners.
“We, therefore, ask for a stand down or an adjournment so that we can explore the modalities since this is like a marriage which is a union between two consenting adults,” Uche, SAN, added.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, threw its weight behind the planned consolidation of the petitions.
“My lords, my personal conviction is that the provision is mandatory. It clearly stated that if there are two petitions or more that are filed to nullify the same election or return, it must be consolidated, unless the court directs otherwise.
“We are happy with the provision of the law and we are also happy with whatever position your lordships will take with respect to this matter,” INEC’s lead counsel, Mr. Abubakar Mahmood, SAN, told the court.
However, Mr. Roland Otaru, SAN, who appeared on behalf of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the Vice President-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, said he would need time to consult.
My lords, I will need to consult Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, who is the lead counsel in this matter,” he pleaded.
The Justice Haruna Tsammani-led five-member panel subsequently adjourned till Monday for the parties to report the outcome of their consultations on the issue of consolidation of all the petitions.
It will be recalled that INEC had on March 1, announced Tinubu of the APC as winner of the presidential poll, ahead of 17 other candidates that contested the election.
It declared that Tinubu scored a total of 8,794,726 votes to defeat the two major contenders, Atiku of the PDP, who came second with a total of 6,984,520 votes and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, who came third with a total of 6,101,533 votes.
However, dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, both. Atiku and Obi, while separately claiming that they won the contest, lodged petitions before the court.
They maintained that Tinubu was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
Aside from praying the court to disqualify the President-elect on the basis of his alleged indictment in the United States of America, USA, on a drug-related case, the petitioners, among other things, sought the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to him by INEC.
While Atiku’s joint petition with the PDP, was marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, that of Obi and the LP was registered as CA/PEPC/03/2023.
However, aside from Atiku and Obi, another petition by the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, is still pending before the court.
The APM, in its petition marked: CA/PEPC/04/2023, that the withdrawal of Mr. Ibrahim Masari who was initially nominated as the Vice-Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, invalidated Tinubu’s candidacy in view of Section 131(c) and 142 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The party argued that there was a gap of about three weeks between the period that Masari, who was listed as the 5th Respondent in the petition, expressed intention to withdraw, the actual withdrawal of his purported nomination, and the time Tinubu purportedly replaced him with Senator Kashim Shettima.
It further argued that Tinubu’s candidature had elapsed as at the time he nominated Shettima as Masari’s replacement.
Even though five petitions were initially filed to challenge the return of Tinubu as winner of the election, however, the Action Alliance, AA, on May 8, withdrew its case, even as the Action Peoples Party, APP, followed suit two days later by also discontinuing further proceedings on its own petition.
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri