Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Proceedings at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja came to an abrupt end on Friday following allegations by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019 polls, Atiku Abubakar, that some of their witnesses scheduled to testify had been attacked by gunmen.
The petitioners are challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the February 23 polls. Counsels to the petitioners informed the Justice Mohammed Garba-led five-member tribunal that their witnesses were waylaid by gunmen on their way to Abuja from Zamfara State.
Before the information, the petitioners had called eight witnesses on Friday, to bring to a total of 36, witnesses who have already testified. The information came from one of the senior lawyers in the petitioners’ legal team, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), just before the tribunal embarked on its routine one-hour break at about 1 pm.
Uche said the witnesses attacked were those scheduled for the second half of Friday’s proceedings.
“I am not sure if the next set of witnesses would be available,” he said, “We got information that they were waylaid by armed men while on their way from Zamfara State to Abuja.”
Lead counsel for the petitioners, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), who walked into the courtroom while Uche was addressing the panel, corroborated the information. “I was the one that was called on the phone. I kept having the repeated calls and had to go out to answer. I was told that while the witnesses were on their way from Zamfara State, they were attacked by armed men. Some of them jumped into the bush and some of them were gravely injured. Up till now, they are still looking for some of them in the bush,” the court heard from him.
He, therefore, noted that there would be no need for the sitting to resume at the end of the one-hour break. Uzuokwu did not, however, specify the number of persons involved in the incident or the exact location of the attack. He requested that the matter be adjourned till Monday.
Counsel for the respondents—the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) legal team, led by Yunus Usman (SAN); President Muhammadu Buhari’s legal team led by Yusuf Ali (SAN), and the APC team led by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN)––did not oppose the request for adjournment.
Buhari’s lawyer, Ali, specifically expressed sympathy with the petitioners’ side. Zamfara is one of the 11 states where the petitioners are challenging the outcome of the February 23 polls.