The 5-member tribunal panel began its sitting by 10:00am with Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba presiding.
The Registrar called the case on the order of the chairman.
Mr. Peter Obi announced his appearance for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Peoples Democratic (PDP) as the two petitioners.
Mr. Dare Oketade, a legal officer with the All Progressive Congress (APC) stood as representative of his party.
At this stage, legal luminary and Professor of Law, Chief Ben Nwabueze, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN announced his appearance as leader of the Atiku/PDP legal team. He came to the tribunal on wheel chair with a retinue of lawyers.
Nwabueze SAN directed Dr. Livy Uzoukwu SAN, to name other lawyers in the Atiku’s legal team who include Dr. Tanimu Turaki SAN, Chief Chris Uche SAN, Eyitayo Jegede SAN, Gordy Uche SAN, Mrs. B. J. O Azinge SAN and Mr. A. K. Ajibade.
Yunus Ustaz Usman SAN with Augustine Omonuwa SAN, Professor Phabian Ajogu SAN and Tanimu Inuwa announced appearance for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the first respondents.
Mr. Mike Ogbokwe SAN with Dayo Akinlaja SAN announced appearance for President Muhammadu Buhari as the second respondent.
Yakubu Maikyau SAN represented APC.
Conspicuously absent were star lawyers of the Respondents including Buhari’s lead counsel, Wole Olanipekun; APC lead counsel, Lateef Fagbemi; Festus Keyamo & co and the President’s regular representative, Nuhu Ribadu.
PROF BEN NWABUEZE ADDRESSES THE COURT
Shortly after Justice Garba called on Atiku and PDP to open their petitions for hearing, Professor Nwabueze SAN responded that he has a brief remark to make.
He pleaded with the tribunal to allow him be on the wheel chair because of his health situation and old age.
The request was expressly granted by the tribunal chairman.
He read out a 2-page statement with the following as contents.
“The February/March 2019 General Election have come and gone, but the generality of Nigerians seem agreed that something was wrong with them, particularly the February Presidential Election.
They suspect that the later was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged.
What is not known is how or by whom the rigging wad done. An Election Tribunal/Court is now saddled with the task, an intractable task, of finding out the truth about what happened.
The task before it is made intractable by what Justice Kishna Iyer of the Indian Supreme Court referred to as “the tyranny of procedure, the horror of the doctrine of precedent, with its stifling and deadening insistence on uniformity, and the booby traps of pleadings.”
The decided election cases show the Election Tribunal/Court to have succumbed all too readily to these constraining factors, but Nigerians still expect it to rise above the self-imposed shackles in order to find out the truth about what happened during that election.
The Tribunal/Court owes it as a duty to the country to do so, as the discovery of the truth will help to set us free from the scourge of electoral malpractices.
As the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have stated in several cases, see e.g. Buhari V. Obasanjo (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 241, 415 (CA); All Progressive Congress V. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) & Ors (2015) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1481) 1 pages 73 and 81 (SC) election petitions are sui generis proceedings, established, not for the purpose of adjudicating disputes arising in dealings or transactions between individual persons, but for the purpose of enabling the political community to choose, in free and fair election, persons to manage public affairs on its behalf and for the benefit of all its members, which makes largely inappropriate the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence applicable in ordinary cases between individual persons. An election petition is not such ordinary case; it is sui generis, to which the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence may not be appropriate.
And the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has said that a tribunal is not deprived of the character of a court or its decisions the character of judicial decisions simply because of it is empowered by statue to decide as it thinks just and equitable or according to equity and good conscience, inasmuch as the effect of such a power given to a court is not to exonerate it from all rules of law: Peacock V. Newton Marrickville and General Co-operative Building Society No. 4 Ltd (1943) 67 CLR 25.
An approach based on law but moderated by what is just and equitable in the interest of peace, security and good governance of the community is what is needed in election cases, not a rigid adherence to the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence and the doctrine of precedent.
He then informed the tribunal that Dr. Livy Uzoukwu will lead the legal team for the day. He subsequently left the tribunal.
UZOUKWU TENDERS DOCUMENTS FOR ATIKU/PDP
At this point, Uzoukwu sought to tender the contents in the several boxes brought before the tribunal.
INEC lead counsel, Yunus Usman however, objected to the action on the ground that the list of the scheduled documents sought to be tendered has just been served on him and that he needed time to study them.
Igbokwe SAN for Buhari and Maikyau for APC associated themselves with the INEC lawyer and also sought for suspension of hearing the petition until conditions precedent are strictly followed.
Atiku and PDP lawyer countered the argument. He said that the list of the scheduled documents was filed on Wednesday when pre-hearing session was officially concluded and served today.
Tribunal chairman stood down proceeding for almost an hour to enable them prepare ruling.
In his ruling, Justice Garba agreed with Atiku’s lawyer that the arguments of the respondents lacked merit. He ordered Atiku’s lawyer to proceed with the petition.
Uzoukwu kick-started hearing of the petition with tendering of result sheets in the polling units, wards and local government areas of Niger State. He said that he will follow up with those of Jigawa, Yobe etc.
The result sheets from the polling units, wards and local government in Niger State for the February 23, 2019 were tendered and admitted as exhibits for the two petitioners.
Counsel to INEC, Buhari and APC announced their objections to admissibility of the result sheets and that reasons for their objection will be made known at the address stage.
Also yesterday, result sheets for polling units, wards and local government areas of Yobe State were also tendered and admitted as exhibits by the tribunal.
As usual counsel to INEC, Buhari and APC announced their objections to admissibility of the result sheets and that reasons for their objection will be made known at the address stage.