Tribunal: Buhari, INEC, APC Oppose HPD’s Bid To Amend Statement Of Witnesses

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Hope Democratic Party-HDP
Hope Democratic Party-HDP

The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja Tuesday adjourned till July 10 to enable President Muhammadu Buhari, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, respond to a fresh motion the Hope Democratic Party, HDP, and its candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru, filed to amend the statement on oath of witnesses they intend to call.

The HDP and Owuru are challenging the outcome of the February 23 presidential election declared in favour of President Buhari.

At the resumed proceeding, the petitioners, through Mr. Chukwunonyerem Njoku, their council, told the tribunal that they would call only two witnesses to prove their case.

The petitioners, however, filed a motion to be allowed to amend statement of the witnesses they said was already before the Court.

Njoku maintained that the application was aimed to bring the statement of the witnesses in conformity with their amended petition.

It will be recalled that the Justice Mohammed Garba led five-man panel tribunal had on June 25, granted the petitioners the permission to correct clerical errors in certain paragraphs of the petition.

The panel was in agreement that allowing the petitioners to effect the correction would not affect the substance of their case.

It noted that the approved amendment related to “a mere misnomer” that would not cause any prejudice to the Respondents.

However, the tribunal rejected the petitioners’ bid to amend their list of witnesses, stressing that the application was brought outside the statutorily prescribed period.

The tribunal held that Paragraph 14(5) (1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act specified that every election petition must be accompanied by list of witnesses to be relied upon, written statement on oath of the witnesses, as well as copies of every document to be relied upon by the petitioners.

The tribunal held that the application could not be granted outside the 21 days period the constitution provided for an election petition to be filed to challenge a declared result.

Meanwhile, in the fresh motion they filed on Monday, the petitioners said there was need to equally amend their already existing witness statements on oath, to reflect amendments that were effected on the petition.

President Buhari, through his team of lawyers led by Dr.  Alex Iziyon, SAN, requested for time to enable him to file a counter-affidavit to oppose the motion he said was bereft of merit.

Similarly, Mr.  Yunuz Usman, SAN, INEC’s lawyer, and that of the APC, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, said they would equally file processes to oppose the motion they said was served on them before the proceeding commenced.

All the respondents said they would need seven days to file their responses.

In a short ruling, the tribunal, held that each of the respondents should within three days, file and serve their counter-affidavits to the petitioners.

The panel held that the petitioners were at liberty to within two days upon receiving processes from the respondents, file their reply on points of law.

Likewise, the tribunal reserved its ruling on a motion that INEC filed to challenge the competence of a pre-hearing notice that was filed by the petitioners on June 17.

In a motion it filed on June 21, INEC, applied for an order dismissing the notice for being incompetent, meaningless, frivolous and for constituting an abuse of court process.

The electoral body argued that the petitioners failed to comply with Paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.

Both President Buhari and the APC told the tribunal that they were not opposed to INEC’s application.

The petitioners however urged the tribunal to dismiss the application.

Meantime, before the tribunal adjourned proceedings, all the parties took turns to indicate the number of witnesses they intend to call, as well as number of days they would require.

While the petitioners said they would call two witnesses within two days, President Buhari, in the pre-hearing information sheet he filed on May 7, said he would also call two witnesses and others that may be subpoenaed to appear and testify.

President Buhari said he would require seven days to defend the petition against him.

INEC, said it would require two days to call its lone witness.

On its part, the APC, said it would produce two witnesses and others that may be subpoenaed, saying it would need seven days to enter its defence to the petition.