Buhari, APC satisfied with own evidence, close defence prematurely
• ‘They have no defence to issues raised by Atiku, PDP’
• Tribunal to fix judgement date August 21
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday closed his defence in the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, seeking to upturn the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23, 2019 presidential election.
The Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal had scheduled six days for Buhari to present his defence in the contest of his qualification for the election and allegation of fraud in the conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, the president decided to use only two days, after tendering documentary evidence and calling seven witnesses.
When Buhari’s legal team, at yesterday’s sitting, was asked to call witnesses, the lead counsel, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the tribunal that they had opted to end their defence with the seven witnesses called. Olanipekun, at whose instance further hearing was adjourned earlier on Wednesday, told the tribunal that President Buhari’s legal team had studied the hardware, software, server and evidence of Atiku and PDP and decided that the defence should close.
Olanipekun told the tribunal that the evidence presented by Buhari and issues ventilated inside the court and not outside the court made the legal team reach the conclusion that it was time to restrict the legalities to the four corners of the court by those learned.
‘’We are satisfied with the evidence we have led. We are closing our defence for President Muhammadu Buhari as second respondent and we are ready to address the court on laws,” he said.The All Progressives Congress (APC) counsel, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in another dramatic turn, informed the court that the party would also close its defence.
Fagbemi said that having reviewed the position of the party in the petition and conduct of the election, there was no point in “over-killing.” He thanked the tribunal for its patience in the matter so far.He maintained that the APC was satisfied with the cross-examination of witnesses and other documents and evidence put forward by President Buhari to defend himself in the Atiku’s petition and would not call any witness to open any defence.
The INEC’s lead counsel, Yunus Usman (SAN), did not object to the position of Buhari and the APC.The Counsel for the PDP and Atiku, Dr. Levy Uzoukwu (SAN), told the tribunal that the dramatic decision of Buhari and APC to cut short their defence was a face saving grace in view of the revelations emanating from witnesses called by Buhari himself.
“We saw this coming, we predicted 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 afterwards thanked Buhari and APC for not wasting the time of the court and informed the tribunal that the petitioners had no objection to the decision of Buhari and APC.
Justice Garba, ruling on requests by parties in the petition, ordered the respondents to file their final address between Monday and Wednesday next week. He said the petitioners, upon receipt of the address, would have seven days to file theirs to the three respondents.
Justice Garba also ordered that INEC, Buhari and APC should, 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, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), a counsel on the legal team of Atiku and the PDP, said that the action of INEC and APC announcing the closure of defence they never opened was surprising. However, he said the choice was theirs to make. Ozekhome told journalists that Atiku’s petition would expand election jurisprudence in Nigeria, and would further reflect on Nigeria’s seriousness about democratic norms to the outside world.