The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, is expected to issue the notice for the pre-hearing session on the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its Presidential Candidate in the 2019 general elections, Atiku Abubakar.
The Tribunal will during the pre-hearing session, which the Electoral Act provides must be completed within 14 days, fix “clear dates” for the hearing of the petition.
The 5-man Tribunal, has 180 days period from the date of filing of the petition, on March 18, to hear and deliver its judgment in the case in which the Petitioners said that they have assembled about 400 witnesses to testify.
Recall, that the PDP and Atiku had on March 18, filed their petition to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress’ victory at the February 23, Presidential election.
Sources at the Tribunal revealed that the Petitioners have fulfilled all the conditions necessary for the pre-hearing session to begin.
Paragraph 18 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, provides for the Petitioners to within 7 days after filing and serving their reply to the responses of the Respondents to the petition, apply for the issuance of a pre-hearing notice, via a form in the format tagged as Form TF 007.
The provision reads: “Within 7 days after the filing and service of the Petitioner’s reply on the Respondent, or 7 days after the filing and service of the Respondent’s reply, whichever is the case, the Petitioner shall apply for the issuance of pre-hearing notice as in Form TF 007.”
Paragraph 18 (4) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, provides that the failure of any of the Petitioners or the Respondents to a Petitioner to apply for the issuance of the notice for the pre-hearing session within the required period, earns a summary dismissal of the Petition.
It was learnt that the Petitioners have since filed their replies to the responses to all the three Respondents, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Buhari, and the APC, the 1st to the 3rd Respondents, respectively.
Atiku and his party filed their reply to INEC’s response, on April 15, to that of Buhari, on April 26, and to that of the APC, on April 18.
In line with the Paragraph 18 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, the Petitioners were said to have since applied for the issuance of the pre-hearing notice within the period stipulated by the Electoral Act.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who is defending the APC in the case, Lateef Fagbemi, has confirmed the report.
“We have not got a date for the pre-hearing session. But we are expecting that we will get it this week”, he said.
Asked if he was aware that the Petitioners have through their Lawyers, applied for the issuance of the pre-hearing notice, the Senior Lawyer said: “I am aware”.
The Petitioners’ Lead Counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, SAN, while speaking with Reporters, said that his clients have done everything needed to be done, and are only waiting for the Tribunal to issue the hearing notice.
“We are still waiting for them to issue us with the hearing notice. That has not happened yet, but we have filed all the necessary papers. We have made the necessary application”, he said.
Asked what is expected to happen at the pre-hearing Conference, another Senior Lawyer in the Petitioners’ Team, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, referred to Paragraph 18 (2) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act, which provides for among others, “the disposal of all matters which can be dealt with on interlocutory application”, during the pre-hearing session.
The Tribunal is also expected to give “directions on order of witnesses to be called, and such documents to be tendered by each party, to prove their cases, having in view the need for the expeditious disposal of the petition”, and fix “clear dates for hearing of the petition”.