Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Parties in the presidential election petition tribunal, have reached an agreement on the modalities and structure for the hearing of the petition filed by the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) in the February 23 presidential election, Atiku Abubakar and his party, the PDP.
The development came as the PDP and its Alhaji Abubakar, told the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on Monday that they had lined up 400 witnesses to prove their petition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari, and his All Progressives Congress (APC).
But they have been given 14 days within which to call their witnesses and tender all relevant documents to prove their case.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-man tribunal explained that the 14 days period is covered by paragraph 16 (3) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
However, lead counsel for the petitioners, Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), said as much as his clients had proposed 400 witnesses, they “intend to call as many witnesses as possible within the prescribed time.”
Uzoukwu also informed the tribunal that counsel representing the various parties in the case had also agreed that “we will tender and reserve objection till final addresses.”
He added: “What we have not agreed on yet is whether we will be given an opportunity or isolate the preliminary objection from the main address.
“We are also not too sure on the length of time of cross-examination.”
Justice Garba said, the length of time for cross-examination “will be dependent on the circumstances and facts,” particularly the number of witnesses parties to the case intended to call.
He added, “but we shall set a template for cross-examination which will not be sacrosanct.
“As I said, it will be dependent on the circumstances.”
Meantime, among some of the proposition made by parties, which is subject to the approval of the panel, is that hearing in the substantive matter commences on Thursday, July 4.
Abubakar and PDP are among three other petitioners challenging the outcome of the presidential poll that handed a second term to President Muhammadu Buhari.
They predicated their petition on some legal grounds including substantive non-compliance with the electoral laws, intimidation, suppression of voters in strongholds of opposition among others.
Abubakar specifically claimed he won the presidential poll going by results obtained from a controversial central server of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and as such the five-man presidential panel should nullify the election of Buhari and declare him the winner in his stead.
However, at Monday’s proceedings following a request which was granted by chairman of the tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba, parties agreed on how the tribunal should go about the conduct of the proceedings.
Uzuokwu, who spoke on behalf of all lawyers in the matter, gave a summary of decisions reached by parties.
Uzoukwu told the tribunal that all parties agreed that the petitioners, instead of the 14 days allowed by law for them to call witnesses in the case, would spend ten days while the respondents would use six days.
On the time to be allotted to each witness to be called, parties agreed on five minutes for ordinary witnesses and ten minutes for their cross-examination, while ten minutes were agreed for star/expert/ subpoenaed witnesses, 20 minutes for their cross-examination and three minutes for their re-examination.
On the issue of documents, it was agreed that parties should indicate their objection if at the point of tendering but address on the objection should be isolated from the main address.
They also agreed that all documents should be tendered from the bar, and that parties should list and exchange schedule of documents they intend to rely on in the petition.
With respect to final addresses, parties agreed that respondents should file their final addresses seven days after the close of addresses, petitioners five days, while three days is for reply on point of law.