The Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, have appealed to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to appoint her replacement on the five-man panel of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
They stated in a letter sent to Bulkachuwa on Friday (May 31), a copy of which was obtained by The PUNCH on Sunday, that they were already running against time due to the “strict requirement of keeping to the constitutional calendar for a petition.”
The petitioners’ lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), had mentioned the letter to SUNDAY PUNCH, expressing worry about the delay in the appointment of a replacement for Justice Bulkachuwa, who withdrew as a member and head of the five-man panel on May 22, following the petitioners’ allegation of likelihood of bias leveled against her.
The petitioner’s letter signed on behalf of Uzoukwu by a lawyer in the legal team, Mr Silas Onu, read in part, “My Lord, it is 9 (nine) days since the date my Lord recused himself and nothing has been heard regarding the replacement that was to be made thereafter.
“Considering the strict requirement of keeping to the constitutional calendar for a petition and the obvious fact that time is also running fast against the petitioners, we pray my Lord to act timeously in appointing a replacement so that we will get a hearing notice and continue with the petition in the interest of justice.”
The petitioners, in their joint petition filed on March 18, 2019, challenged the victory of the All Progressives Congress and its presidential candidate in the February 23, 2019 election, President Muhammadu Buhari.
Justice Bulkachuwa on May 22, 2019 withdrew as a member and head of the panel following allegations of likelihood of bias leveled against her by both the PDP and Atiku.
The petitioners had alleged in their earlier application filed on May 16, 2019 alleging that with Bulkachuwa remaining as a member and head of the five-man tribunal, their petition would not be handled impartially by the tribunal.
The application was based on the fact that Bulkachuwa’s husband, Adamu Bulkachuwa, is a senator-elect on the platform of the APC, the party whose victory at the February 23 presidential election they are challenging at the tribunal; and her son, Aliyu Abubakar, was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the same party in Gombe State.
By Monday, Atiku and his party would have lost 77 out of the 180 days within which their petition is required to be heard and determined by the presidential election petition tribunal.
The petitioners who filed their petition on March 18, 2019, now have from today (Monday) 103 days for the hearing of their case.
The petitioners and the three respondents to the petition – the Independent National Electoral Commission, Buhari and the APC – are required to call their witnesses in the remaining 104 days, about three and a half months left.
Within the remaining 103 days, about 14 days will still be set aside to address preliminary applications and other issues before the calling of witnesses will commence.