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Election Petition: Buhari shocks Tribunal, closes defence after seven witnesses…

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Jude Johnson

In a dramatic turn of event on Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari abruptly terminated his defense in the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party seeking to upturn the declaration of Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.

Although the tribunal headed by Justice Mohammed Garba allotted six days to the president to present his defense in the challenge to his qualification for the election and the general conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Buhari however chose to spend only two days after calling seven witnesses and tendered some documents.

When the matter came up yesterday, Buhari’s legal team was ordered to call their witnesses, leader of the team Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, told the tribunal that they have opted to end their defence with the seven witnesses and documents tendered so far.

Olanipekun, at whose instance further hearing was adjourned on Wednesday informed the tribunal that Buhari’s legal team had studied the hardwares, softwares, server and evidence of Atiku and PDP and decided that the defence must end there.

The senior lawyer said that the evidence adduced by Buhari and issues ventilated inside the court and not outside the court have made the legal team to come to the conclusion that it was time to restrict the legal dual to the four corners of the court by those who are learned.

We are satisfied with the evidence we have led. We are closing our defence for President Muhammadu Buhari as second respondents and we are ready to address the court on laws”, he said.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) represented by Lateef Fagbemi SAN in another dramatic turn announced that the party will also close its defence.

Fagbemi told the tribunal that having reviewed the position of the party in the petition and conduct of the election, there was no point in over killing and thanked the tribunal for the patience.

The senior counsel disclosed that APC was satisfied with the cross examination of witnesses and other documents and evidence put forward by President Muhammadu Buhari to defend himself in the Atiku’s petition, adding that the APC is satisfied and will not call any witness to open any defence.

Lead counsel to INEC, Yunus Usman SAN, did not object to the position canvassed by Buhari and APC.

However, Atiku and PDP’s counsel, Dr Levy Uzoukwu SAN, told the tribunal that the dramatic decision of Buhari and APC to cut short their defense was a face saving grace in view of the revelations emanating from witnesses called by Buhari himself.

Uzoukwu thereafter thanked Buhari and APC for not wasting the precious time of the court and informed the tribunal that the petitioners have no objection to the decision of Buhari and APC.

Tribunal Chairman, Justice Garba, while ruling on request made by parties in the matter ordered the respondents to file their final address between Monday and Wednesday next week and the petitioners upon receipt of the address shall have seven days to file their own to the three respondents.

Justice Garba also ordered that INEC, Buhari and APC shall 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, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, a lawyer in the legal team of Atiku and PDP, said that the action of INEC and APC was a big surprise by announcing closing of defence they never opened but however said that the choice belong to them.

Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer, told journalists that Atiku’s petition will expand election jurisprudence in Nigeria and that it will further show Nigeria’s seriousness to democratic norms to the outside world.

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