The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi, will call about 150 witnesses to prove their cases against the conduct and outcome of the February 25 presidential election. The President-elect and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu; his deputy, Kashim Shettima; the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission have proposed 39, 21, 25 and two witnesses, respectively.
The number of witnesses was made known on Saturday during the resumed pre-hearing of the petition at the Presidential Election Petition Court.
Atiku and Obi are challenging the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the election by INEC.
During Saturday’s proceedings, the parties made their proposals regarding the number of witnesses to be admitted, their examination and re-examination, among others.
Atiku, through his lead counsel, informed the court that about 100 witnesses would be called to prove the case against the respondents.
He further said that because the issues were getting narrower, his team intended to take only three weeks against the statutory seven weeks.
Counsel for Obi and the LP, Prof Awa Kalu, SAN, said his client would call 50 witnesses.
“We still have a few hiccups at the Independent National Electoral Commission because of the order of this court made on March 8, directing the commission to allow us to carry out forensic investigation of the BVAs, which we have not been able to do.”
To this end, Kalu said that his clients would require seven weeks within which to present their petitions in court.
He told the court that with regard to timing, his team was suggesting that 30 minutes be allotted to the witnesses classified as “star witnesses” to demonstrate any electronic evidence.
He, however, said the 30 minutes should exclude the time that would be used to demonstrate video evidence or any other electronic evidence.
Kalu stated, “For this class of witnesses, they will be cross-examined for 30 minutes by each respondent and re-examination will be for five minutes.
“In respect of other witnesses, we suggest 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 10 minutes for cross-examination by each respondent and five minutes for re-examination.
“For the respondents, we suggest 20 minutes for the evidence-in-chief of their star witnesses, 30 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination.
“For their other witnesses, we suggest 20 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination.”
He also suggested that where a respondent called a witness and other respondents wanted to cross-examine such a witness, they would have to do so first before the petitioners would take their turn.
Counsel for INEC, Mr Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, said his client planned to call five witnesses to defend the election.
Mahmoud told the court that his team would require seven days to argue the case of their client.
He said the commission was proposing 30 minutes for its star witness to give the evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination.
“For the regular witnesses, we propose 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination,” Mahmoud stated.
He opposed the suggestion by the petitioners that a separate time be given to their expert witnesses for demonstration.
He also said he was not aware of any hiccups between the petitioner and the commission as was alleged by the counsel for the petitioner.
Mr Roland Otaru, SAN, arguing for Tinubu and Shettima, said he would call 21 witnesses to defend his clients, excluding expert witnesses.
He requested that all expert reports be front-loaded to the respondents within 48 hours.
On timing, he suggested that 20 minutes be allotted to the expert witnesses for their evidence-in-chief, 30 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination.
“For regular witnesses, we suggest 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross-examination and five minutes for re-examination,” he said.
Otaru prayed the court to make an order that the schedule of documents to be tendered should be exchanged between the parties before the hearing.
On his part, Mr Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, counsel for the APC, said his client needed only nine days to call its seven witnesses, excluding subpoenaed witnesses.
He agreed with the report of Otaru with regard to the timing for each witness.
He, however, said the petitioners had front-loaded only three witness statements and wondered why they would need 49 days to call three witnesses from only three polling units.
Justice Haruna Tsammani, having heard all arguments urged the lawyers to meet and reach an agreement on the issue of consolidating the petition.
He adjourned the matter Monday for the continuation of pre-hearing.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that earlier, INEC’s counsel had among others, moved an application for the court to strike out ground two of the petition.
NAN also reports that ground two of the petition states that the election of Tinubu was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
Counsel for the petitioners prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.
The tribunal directed parties that filed the three surviving petitions before it to consult on their possible consolidation.
In one of the petitions marked CA/PEPC/05/2023, the PDP and Atiku are challenging the outcome of the presidential election.
The other petitions challenging the outcome of the election are those filed by the LP and its presidential candidate, Obi, and the one filed by the Allied Peoples Movement.
The PEPC panel gave the directive on consolidation of the petitions in Abuja after parties involved gave their proposals on modalities to adopt for proceedings.
Tsammani directed the parties to consult and examine if the petitions could be consolidated in consonance with Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act.
Paragraph 50 of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act states, “Where two or more petitions are presented in relation to the same election or return, all the petitions shall be consolidated, considered and be dealt with as one petition unless the Tribunal or Court shall otherwise direct in order to do justice or an objection against one or more of the petitions has been upheld by the Tribunal or Court.”
The court adjourned proceedings till Monday for the parties to revert to it on the consolidation of the three surviving petitions.
Earlier, Mr Chris Uche (SAN), counsel for the PDP and Atiku, informed the court that parties had agreed on number of witnesses to call, time to be allotted for examination-in-chief, cross-examination and re-examination.
He added that the agreement reached was subject to ratification by the court, however.