Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Chairmanship of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mamud Yakubu, has failed to appear before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, holding at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
The tribunal had on Wednesday ordered the INEC boss to appear before it unfailingly on Thursday July 18, at noon.
Specifically, Yakubu was to appear along with the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Zamfara State, having been subpoenaed by the tribunal to present some documents used in the conduct of the February 23 presidential election.
Although they did not appear before the tribunal, the said documents were brought and tendered at the tribunal by counsel for the commission, Yunus Usman.
However, at about 11.50am on Thursday morning when the tribunal stood down the People’s Democratic Movement’s (PDM’s) proceedings to prepare ruling in an application, neither Yakubu nor the Zamfara REC was in court.
Counsel to the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and the PDP, Chief Chris Uche (SAN) in their separate petitions against President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the presidential poll, drew the court’s attention to the directive made on Wednesday regarding the subpoena order on the INEC boss.
“Is the chairman here now? Justice Garba asked counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman in response to Uche’s request.
Usman, however, assured the tribunal that they were working round the clock and that before 12 noon they would comply with the court’s order.
However, at the end of proceedings in the PDM’s petition, Uche again reminded the tribunal that the INEC boss was yet to appear in court.
Responding, Usman told the tribunal that the order of the court was to the “effect that documents should be produced, not that any person should appear before the tribunal.”
Usman further told Justice Garba that the order of the tribunal had fully complied with the tendering of the said subpoenaed documents.
The documents which were brought to court were accompanied by a written letter to that effect to the chairman of the tribunal.
Uche while commending Usman for the efforts, however, requested for a copy of the letter to enable him ascertain if the documents were complete and same as the ones requested for.
Justice Garba, had on Wednesday, issued the order following complains by Atiku Abubakar that his petition against the election of President Muhammadu Buhari was been sabotaged by the INEC chief following his refusal to appear before the tribunal to tender some unnamed documents.
Atiku had through his counsel, Chief Uche, complained bitterly to the tribunal that Mahmoud Yakubu and INEC commissioner in Zamfara had been frustrating him in the 10-day hearing notice given to him by the tribunal to substantiate his allegations and claims in his petition jointly filed with the PDP.
The petitioners had filed two applications on July 9 seeking an order of the court to compel the INEC chairman to physically appear before the tribunal and present certain documents listed by the petitioners and the Zamfara REC to produce the election results for Zamfara State in the presidential poll.
While that of the chairman was served on him on July 15, that of the Zamfara REC was served on him on July 12.
Counsel to the petitioners, Chief Uche, had on resumption of proceedings on Wednesday, lamented that the commission was yet to respond to the tribunal’s subpoena served on the chairman and the Zamfara REC.
Responding, counsel to INEC, Usman, told the tribunal that he was not aware of the subpoena on Yakubu but that of the Zamfara REC had been complied with, adding that they were waiting for the petitioners to pay the normal fee and collect the said documents.
But in a short ruling, presiding justice of the five-man panel, held that orders of court were sacrosanct and must be obeyed.
“Since the record of the court shows that the chairman of the 1st respondents, INEC and Zamfara REC were duly served to produce documents named therein, the chairman and Zamfara REC as the legal team representing them in this matter are to comply with the order”, the tribunal held.
According to the chairman, the record of the court showed that Yakubu was served on July 15 and the Zamfara REC on July 12, but were yet to respond to the subpoena.
“They have not done so and there is no document to show.
“We note that the INEC chairman and REC were asked to produce documents on the day they were served, that is impossible.
“They have been directed to produce documents in the subpoena by noon tomorrow,” he said.
Meanwhile, the court has fixed Monday July 22, for the commencement of hearing and trial of the petition challenging the election of President Muhammadu Buhari by the Hope Democratic Party (HDP).
Chairman of the five-man panel, Justice Mohammed Garba, announced the date at the end of the pre-hearing session in the HDP’s petition.
The court, while stating the rules for the hearing of the substantive petition said petitioners shall have two days to present their case as well as the respondents.
The tribunal also allotted ten minutes for examination, 15 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination of witnesses, respectively.
The respondents shall have three days after the close of evidence to file their final addresses.
The petitioners shall have three days after the service of the respective final addresses to file their own final presentations.
The respondents shall also each have two days after the petitioners file their final address to their replies on points of law.
Meanwhile, the panel also on Thursday in a unanimous ruling dismissed two applications filed by the HDP for being incompetent, lacking in merit and an abuse of court processes.
The first was an application filed by the petitioners seeking to amend their motion to reflect the statement of oath of the original witnesses to be called in support of their petition.
The tribunal in dismissing the application agreed with the respondents that the motion lacked merit and constitute an abuse of court processes.
The court had on June 25 granted request of the petitioners to carry out clerical correction in their processes before the tribunal but declined to allow them amend their witnesses statement on oath as well as call additional witnesses on the grounds that such amendment would affect the petition already filed before the tribunal.
Justice Garba said it was a misconception on the part of the petitioners that it granted their earlier application for the amendment to call additional witnesses.
While holding that no additional list of witnesses can be allowed to be brought in at this stage, the tribunal described the new application as a “surreptitious attempt to circumvent the earlier ruling of the court”.
“The current application is an abuse of court processes, it is lacking in merit, constitute an abuse of court processes and it is hereby dismissed”, the panel held.
The court also dismissed another application titled: Notice to Contend, filed by the petitioners on the grounds that the application was alien to the law.
The petitioners had in the application urged the tribunal to declare them winner of the presidential election on the basis of a referendum held on February 16, 2019 wherein they claimed over 50m Nigerians voted in favour of the HDP and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru.
The HDP is asking the court to nullify the 2019 Presidential elections on the grounds that the federal government’s decision to postpone the election was “unconstitutional”.
Delivering ruling on the application, Justice Garba agreed with the submission of counsel to INEC, Usman that the application is unknown to law and ought to be dismissed.
The panel stated that its task as defined by Section 239(1) A of the constitution is election-related and does not include referendum.
Accordingly, the panel held that the application falls short of election matter so the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to entertain the notice to contend.
The panel in addition said the subject matter of the application constitute a pre election, which is outside the jurisdiction of the panel.
“Having regard to the defect of the notice to contend it ought to be dismissed. It appears to be alien to the law. It is not supported by any of the laws.
“The court will not engage in matters outside election issues.
“Process filed is an aberration, it is an abuse of court processes and it is hereby dismissed”.