*APC closes own case without opening defence, calling witnesses
In a dramatic turn of event on Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari abruptly terminated his defense in the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party seeking to upturn the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
Although the tribunal headed by Justice Mohammed Garba allotted six days to Buhari to present his defense in the challenge to his qualification for the election and the general conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Buhari however chose to spend only two days after calling seven witnesses and tendered some documents.
When the matter came up on Thursday and Buhari’s legal team was asked to call their witnesses, leader of the team Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) told the tribunal that they have opted to end their defence with the seven witnesses and documents tendered so far.
Olanipekun, at whose instance further hearing was adjourned on Wednesday, informed the tribunal that Buhari’s legal team had opted to close its case.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) represented by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) in another dramatic turn announced that the party will also close its defence without calling any witness.
Lead counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman (SAN) did not object to the position canvassed by Buhari and APC.
However, Atiku and PDP’s counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) told the tribunal that the dramatic decision of Buhari and APC to cut short their defense was a face saving grace in view of the revelations emanating from witnesses called by Buhari himself.
Zzted it and it has come to pass that they have no defence to the issues raised by the petitioners in the petition”, he said.
Uzoukwu thereafter thanked Buhari and APC for not wasting the precious time of the court and informed the tribunal that the petitioners have no objection to the decision of Buhari and APC.
Tribunal Chairman, Justice Garba, while ruling on request made by parties in the matter ordered the respondents to file their final address between Monday and Wednesday next week and the petitioners upon receipt of the address shall have seven days to file their own to the three respondents.
Justice Garba also ordered that INEC, Buhari and APC shall thereafter have two days to respond on point of law to issues that may be raised by Atiku and PDP and that filing and exchange of processes must come to an end on August 16, 2019.
The tribunal chairman subsequently fixed August 21, 2019, for all parties in the petition to adopt their final addresses after which judgment date will be fixed.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the proceedings, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), a lawyer in the legal team of Atiku and PDP, said that the action of INEC and APC was a big surprise by announcing closing of defence they never opened but however said that the choice belong to them.
Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer, told journalists that Atiku’s petition will expand election jurisprudence in Nigeria and that it will further show Nigeria’s seriousness to democratic norms to the outside world.