Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal has fixed May 22 for hearing in an application by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, asking the withdrawal of tribunal chairman, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, from the panel.
The tribunal fixed the date after its chairman and president of the Court of Appeal, Bulkachuwa refused to withdraw from the panel hearing the appeals filed by the PDP and Atiku.
The proceedings were conducted amidst heavy security presence, resulting into a blockade of all the roads leading to the venue of the tribunal by armed police and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.
At the resumed proceeding on the petition marked, CA/PEPC/002/2019, yesterday through his lead counsel, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), applied for a private audience with the five-man panel tribunal headed by Bulkachuwa.
The oral application was not opposed by neither counsel to President Muhammadu Buhari, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), nor that of the APC, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN).
Following the overwhelming support the said application received, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which initially challenged the request through its lawyer, Mr. Yunus Uztaz (SAN), later conceded to the application.
Consequently, the panel okayed a stand-down on the matter even as it allowed all the parties to nominate two lawyers each to attend the meeting.
At the said meeting, the president of the Court of Appeal was prevailed upon by counsel to the petitioners to rescue herself from the hearing of the appeals.
After emerging from the meeting, Bulkachuwa said that the petitioners’ legal team led by Uzochukwu had at asked her to recuse herself from the panel.
Bulkachuwa said the request by the Uzochukwu followed an earlier letter she received from the PDP’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, also demanding she rescued herself from further participation in the panel.
She said since the matter is already in public domain, it would be proper that the petitioners file a formal application to that effect in open court so that the court can rule on it.
Responding, Uzoukwu told the panel that the petitioners will unfailingly file their application today, May 16, and sought for a short adjournment.
While Ustaz said they were not opposed to the application, Olanipekun said he was ready to respond to the application if the petitioners were ready to move the application orally.
He said if the petitioners prefer a formal application, then they will be asking for the normal seven days provided by the law to respond.
Lateef Fagbemi said he aligned with Olanipekun’s position. Consequently, Bulkachuwa said: “Application yet to be filed is adjourned to May 22 for hearing.”
Meanwhile, the tribunal has ordered the service of the petition of the Coalition for Change (C4C) on Buhari through substituted service.
The court ordered that the petition on Buhari be served through any of the national officers of the APC at the party’s national headquarters at No. 40 Blantyre street, Wuse 2, Abuja.
The order was sequel to an application moved by lawyer of the C4C, Obed Aguh.