Despite stiff opposition from the President- elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) on Tuesday in Abuja consolidated the petitions of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and the Allied People’s Movement (APM) both challenging the outcome of the February 25 Presidential election outcome.
Presiding Justice of the 5-member panel hearing the various petitions against the declaration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress (APC) as joint winner of the presidential election, Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani said that the consolidation which was aimed at speedy hearing of the petitions was adopted.
Justice Tsammani held that the three petitions are related to the same election and the return of Tinubu as the winner in addition to the effect that issues raised by the parties are similar.
Accordingly, the Court fixed Tuesday May 30 for full blown hearing into the merged petition.
APC and its presidential candidate in the February 25 presidential election, Tinubu had vehemently kicked against the proposal for the consolidation of the petitions challenging their return as joint winners of the election.
The Court at the sitting on Monday had proposed to consolidate the three petitions to engender quick determination of all issues raised against the conduct of the election and the subsequent return of the winner.
The proposal made by the Chairman of the Court, Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani was predicated on the grounds that the petitions are relating to the same election and the returns and to ensure expeditious hearing of the petitions.
However, in fierce opposition to the proposal, APC and Tinubu insisted that they would be greatly jeopardized and that the interest of justice would not be served if the petitions are consolidated.
APC through its counsel, Charles Edosomwen SAN argued that it would not be able to defend its victory perfectly if the petitions are consolidated.
Specifically, the party said that it would not be able to engage the huge number of witnesses already lined up to testify against it and its presidential candidate in the election especially on the myriad of allegations against them.
On his part, Tinubu represented by Chief Akin Olujimi SAN faulted paragraph 50 of the 5th Schedule of the Electoral Act 2022 which empowers Election Petition Court to consolidate petitions if they are against same election and same declaration of winner.
Tinubu warned that the law should not be invoked in the hearing of the petitions adding that it is not mandatory for the three petitions to be merged for effective hearing.
He argued that different issues were raised in the petitions against him and would require that the petitions be heard differently.
Kabir Masari who is the 5th defendant in the petition instituted against Tinubu by the Allied People’s Movement APM also vehemently objected to the consolidation claiming that the proposal would cause confusion, chaos and embarrassment.
Masari through his lawyer, Roland Otaru SAN maintained that even though the Electoral Act permits consolidation of petitions, but that the interest of justice would not be served in the instant petitions.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and the APM supported the proposal and pleaded with the Court to discontenance the objections and consolidate the three petitions for quick hearing.
The Court threw out the vehement objection of Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress APC to the consolidation.
The Court agreed with lawyers to Atiku that given the time bound nature of the petitions especially for expeditious hearing purposes, it was proper and appropriate to merge them in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
Atiku and PDP who saw the objection to consolidation as a ploy to delay quick disposal of the three petitions, had prayed the Court to adopt the move so as to be able to do substantial justice to their respective grievances against Tinubu’s election.
The Court held that consolidation was upheld because the three petitions are related to the same election and same declaration of results.
Meanwhile, the Court has ordered Atiku and Obi and their parties to present their joint petitions against the presidential election within three weeks.
They are also within the period present their objections against the qualifications of Tinubu for the election and his subsequent return as winner of the 2023 presidential poll.
The Court also ordered the President elect who is the target of the petition, Tinubu to defend his victory at the election along with the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC within five days.
While Atiku through his lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche SAN had asked for just three weeks to argue his case, Obi through his own counsel, Professor Awa Kalu SAN had requested for seven weeks to establish allegations against the disputed election that produced Tinubu.
Justice Tsammani issued the order on Tuesday while presenting the pre- hearing sessions report of the Court.
Among others, Justice Tsammani ordered that Atiku and Obi must open their petition for hearing on May 30.
The Court said that it arrived at the decision because of the limited time within which the petitions must be disposed off.
Immediately after the order of the Court was handed down, Obi who was in court to witness the proceedings took permission from the court and hurriedly left with his lawyers on the ground that they were going to prepare for the full blown hearing of the petition
The three petitioners anchored their petitions on grounds such as irregularities, substantial non-compliance as well as corrupt practices upon which they are asking the court to set aside the declaration of Tinubu as winner of the election.
Besides, while the petitioners are seeking the disqualification of Tinubu over alleged perjury and drug related offences, the APM is particularly urging the court to hold that the “place holder” introduced by Tinubu in respect of his Vice President nominee was unknown to law and as such the court should void the participation of the APC, Tinubu and his Vice President-elect, Senator kashim Shettima in the February 25 presidential election.
In addition, both LP and PDP are faulting INEC’s return of Tinubu on the grounds that Tinubu did not score 25% of lawful votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In another development, the Tinubu legal team has barred its members from media interview on proceedings of the Court and ordered that any lawyer that flouts the ban, no matter his rank or how highly placed, would be kicked out of the defense team.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, Adeniyi Akintola conveyed the decision of the team to the court at the Tuesday’s proceedings.
Akintola did not adduce any reason on why the ban was adopted.
He said that the same ban has been extended to their client and President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The senior lawyer said that the ban on media interview by the legal team would be strictly observed and enforced
According to Akintola, the 38 SANs representing Tinubu and the APC took the decision in one of their meetings not to talk to the media alongside Tinubu on the proceedings at the Court.
The Court had on Monday refused to grant Atiku and Obi’s request for live streaming of the proceedings regarding their petitions.
Chairman of the Court, Justice Haruna Simon Tsammani however did not react to the decision when presented in the open court.