With barely 48 hours to the deadline for submission of petitions before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar formally files his petition against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The disputed presidential election was conducted on Saturday, February 23 and the winner declared in the early hours of Wednesday, February 27, 2019. Atiku Abubakar and his party had up to 12 midnight of Wednesday, March 20, 2019 to file their petition or lose the opportunity to challenge the election which they allege was rigged in favour of President Buhari.
Going by Section 133 of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), candidates and political parties with election petitions have the right to file them at the relevant tribunal within 21 days after the date of the declaration of the results of the elections. Any of the other 77 presidential candidates who contested the 2019 polls also has up to midnight of Wednesday to formally file any petition against the February 23 elections.
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal is set up and will be sitting in the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal. This is in accordance with Section 239 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides that “the Court of Appeal shall, to the exclusion of any other court of law in Nigeria, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of President or Vice President under this Constitution”.
The Constitution further provides that the Court shall be dully constituted if it consists of at least three justices. The President of the Court of Appeal is Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa who in exercising her constitutional powers in Section 285 (1) and (2) also appointed 250 Justices and Judges for the National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly election petition tribunals in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. Members of the respective tribunals were sworn-in by the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad on Saturday, January 25.
The election tribunals have up to 180 days or six months from the date of submission of petition to deliver judgement. With the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal mentioned in Section 133 of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), it has up to September 18, 2019 to deliver judgement in the petition by the PDP presidential candidate.
The Court of Appeal presided over by Justice Abdu Aboki had on March 6 granted an order in the pre-election request by the PDP candidate to inspect election materials used for the conduct of the February 23 polls by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Atiku Abubakar had approached the court seeking for the order to enable him prepare his petition for submission to the Tribunal.
The Commission has however denied him access to the said electoral materials insisting that it is yet to be served a copy of the said court order. Counsel to the plaintiff, Chris Uche and the PDP alleged sabotage by INEC to prevent Atiku Abubakar from filing his petition before the deadline of midnight Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Appeal Court had also granted a similar order for the President-Elect Buhari and his party to inspect some election materials. Counsels to Buhari and the APC, Adelani Ajibade and Olusola Dare had told the Court that their clients needed to inspect the materials to prepare their defence against the petition to be filed by the PDP candidate and his party.
The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal will fix a date for its inaugural sitting and commencement of proceedings for determination of the petition before it with the PDP presidential candidate assembling over 400 witnesses to testify during the hearing of his petition. It will recalled that there was no petition against the outcome of the presidential election in 2015. The incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan had called his opponent, then Candidate Buhari to concede defeat.