The Independent National Electoral Commission and President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday lost their bid to have the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal dismiss the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Movement and its presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019, Pastor Haminchi Habu.
Habu and the PDM are by their petition challenging the victory of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress at the poll.
Urging the tribunal to nullify Buhari’s election and order INEC to conduct a fresh poll, the petitioners contended that the President was not duly returned on the grounds that the electoral body unlawfully excluded them from participating in the election.
INEC and Buhari had through their respective lawyers, filed separate motions seeking the dismissal of the petition.
They anchored their motions on the grounds that the petitioners failed to comply with the provisions of paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, which requires them to apply for the issuance of pre-hearing notice within seven days of the close of pleadings.
But dismissing the applications in separate rulings on Thursday, the Justice Mohammed Garba-led tribunal unanimously held that the petitioners filed their application for the issuance of the pre-hearing notice within the time as stipulated by law.
Justice Garba, who read the lead ruling, held that the pleadings were closed on April 20, 2019 when the petitioners filed their reply to the last-received reply to the petition filed by the 2nd respondent (Buhari) to the petition.
He held that therefore, the application for the issuance of pre-hearing notice by the petitioners on April 30 was filed within the seven days period stipulated by law and deemed to be proper.
He dismissed the applications by INEC and Buhari for lacking in merit.
The petitioners urged the tribunal to evoke the provision of paragraph 18(11)(b) of the First Schedule to the Electoral by delivering judgment in their favour.
The five-man panel adjourned till July 10 for “the presentation of the pre-hearing report”.
The tribunal would rule on how to proceed with the substantive hearing – how parties would present their cases in terms of calling witnesses and tendering exhibits.
Justice Garba announced the new date after lawyers representing the various parties to the petition said they no longer had any pending interlocutory application meant for hearing during the pre-hearing session.
Earlier on Thursday, the tribunal dismissed an application by a faction of the Hope Democratic Party to withdraw the petition filed in the name of the party and its presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019 poll, Albert Owuru.
Owuru and the HDP had jointly filed a petition before the tribunal to challenge the victory of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress at the poll.
But a faction of the party led by Poland Tapre subsequently filed an application before the tribunal praying for the withdrawal of the party as a co-petitioner in the case on the grounds that the petition was filed in the name of the party without its consent.
The faction claimed that Owuru had been suspended from the party in August 2018, and his stead, Tapre had snce been the National Chairman of the party.
The application was opposed by Owuru’s legal team.
Ruling on Thursday, the five-man bench of the tribunal led by Justice Mohammed Garba, dismissed the application on the grounds that the faction of the party opposing the petition filed in its name failed to offer any rebuttal to the claim by Owuru that he remained the National Chairman and leader of the party.
The tribunal adjourned further pre-hearing session in respect of the petition till July 2.
The tribunal will, that day hear an application by INEC seeking the dismissal of the HDP’s petition.
The HDP’s petition is anchored on the grounds that the rescheduling of the presidential election from February 16, 2019 to February 23, 2019 was done “without any recognisable presence or existence and or compliance with prescribed statutory conditions to do so.”