The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has petitioned the Court of Appeal over what he described as a deliberate ploy to truncate the legal deadline for the hearing of his petition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the last presidential election.
Backstory: President of the Court of Appeal and erstwhile Chairperson of the 2019 Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, disqualified herself from the tribunal, following the petition of the PDP and the Atiku/Obi’s legal team.
PDP’s allegations: The PDP and Atiku had based their application, among other things, on the ground that Bulkachuwa is the wife of Mr. Adamu Bulkachuwa, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and senator-elect for Bauchi North senatorial district, which is a political party involved in the suit.
But since Bulkachuwa’s recusal from the tribunal, a replacement has not been appointed, and the challenge is that election petitions, by law, have a timeline after which they automatically elapse.
What Atiku wants: In his petition, the former vice-president urged the President of the Court of Appeal to appoint a replacement forthwith, since it knows the tribunal has a timeline to prosecute the petitions, adding that 76 days have been expended out of the 180 days allowed by law, as stipulated in Section 134 (2) and (3) of the Electoral Act (2010 as amended).
- “My Lord, it is nine days since the date My Lord recused herself 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.”
Bottom line: Atiku makes an important point. There’s no reason why a replacement cannot be made urgently from the pool of justices of the Appeal Court. Considering the strict provisions of the law on the number of days a petition can take, delays like this could give voice to claims of injustice by the petitioner.