For ease and speedy conclusion, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT), on Tuesday, dismissed the arguments of both Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress (APC), and went ahead to consolidate the petitions of Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), challenging his victory as winner of the February 25 presidential election.
The tribunal headed by Justice Haruna Tsammani, had while stating on Monday that it was empowered by Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, to merge all the petitions and determine them together, had given counsel for all the petitioners the permission to consult their clients and report back to it with the outcome of the meeting.
But, Akin Olujinmi (SAN), leading Tinubu’s team, had argued against the court’s move to consolidate the cases, saying: “My lords, the issue of justice should be a restraint on the power of this court to exercise its discretion in granting the order for consolidation.”
Maintaining that the petitioners did not only raise various issues against Tinubu, but were equally seeking different reliefs, he argued that provisions of the Electoral Act the court referred to, was not absolute, referred to in seeking to consolidate the cases, he said it was not mandatory to do so.
Hear him: “My lords, when the exercise of power is subject to limitation of some conditions, then it cannot be said that the exercise is mandatory. There are issues raised in one petition that are not there in others. The issues vary. The same goes for evidential issues that are based on pleadings that have been exchanged by parties in this case. We want to make it clear at this stage that it will be absolutely difficult for us to consent to consolidation of the petitions. I most humbly urge your lordships not to grant the consolidation.”
Echoing the arguments of Olujimi, lawyer to the APC, Charles Edosomwam (SAN), equally argued that consolidating the petitions would be against the interest justice, adding: “The justice factor is a major issue for consideration before your lordships can arrive at a just conclusion of these matters.
His words: “The grounds are different and the wide range of issues raised by parties are also different. The trial will be unwieldy and major issues before this court would be lost like a pin in a haystack. Moreover, it will be pragmatically impossible for the respondent to effectively defend the case. It is our position that the issue of justice cannot be sacrificed at the alter of convenience.”
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), stated that it had no position on the matter, neither proposing nor opposing, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), the third party, also challenging Tinubu’s election, said it was not opposing the consolidation as well.
Three out of the five petitioners who had initially gone to court to challenge the victory of Tinune, whom INEC declared winner on March 1, are still in court, while the Action Alliance (AA), on May 8, withdrew its case, followed by the Action Peoples Party (APP), two days later on May 10.
The tribunal, which had earlier adjourned sitting till Tuesday, resumed with a pronouncement on the matter, saying that the petitions would be consolidated and heard side by side given the time constraint to hear and determine the petitions, and went ahead to fix May 30 to commence definite hearing of the petitions.
In its schedule, the tribunal, which is restricted to 180 days from the day of the announcement of results to conclude the case, which expires on September 16, 2023, said it would conclude all the cases, including that of the APM on August 8 with adoption of final written addresses.
To achieve this, it gave both Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the LP, three weeks each to conclude their cases, with the former Governor of Anambra State, given August 5 deadline and Atiku, former Vice President, was handed down August 8 deadline for final adoption after which the judgment day will be announced.