The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal will on Monday resume sitting on the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate in February 23 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
There were indications on Friday that the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had appointed another judge appointed as her replacement on the five-man panel to hear the case.
Justice Bulkachuwa withdrew as a member and head of the five-man panel on May 22, following the allegation of the likelihood of bias levelled against her by the PDP and Atiku.
The tribunal was said to have issued and served the notice for the Monday’s hearing on all parties to the petition on Friday.
The leader of the legal team of the PDP and Atiku, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), confirmed the development on Friday.
“We were served the notice today that the court will resume hearing on Monday,” he said.
Asked if he was sure that Justice Bulkachuwa’s replacement on the panel had been named, Uzoukwu said, “It is the presumption that we arrived at when we received the hearing notice on Friday. But we do not have any information about it.”
The development came barely a week after Atiku and his party wrote to Bulkachuwa, reminding her of her promise to appoint her replacement on the panel to enable the hearing of their petition to resume.
They said in their letter sent to Bulkachuwa on May 31 that they were already running against time due to the “strict requirement of keeping to the constitutional calendar for a petition”.
The petitioner’s letter signed on behalf of Uzoukwu by a lawyer in their legal team, Silas Onu, stated that as of May 31 when the letter was delivered at Bulkachuwa’s chambers, it was nine days since she recused herself from the tribunal yet nothing had been heard about her replacement.
The letter read in part, “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 by appointing a replacement so that we will get a hearing notice and continue with the petition in the interest of justice.”
The petitioners are, by their joint petition filed on March 18, 2019, challenging President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the February 23 poll.
The petitioners had alleged in their earlier application filed on May 16 that with the judge 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. They added that her son, Aliyu Abubakar, was a governorship aspirant on the platform of the same party in Gombe State.
They also quoted a statement made by Justice Bulkachuwa at the inaugural sitting of the tribunal on May 8 as pre-judging their petition.
On May 22, the tribunal, in a unanimous judgment, dismissed the application.
Despite that, Justice Bulkachuwa said, “I am recusing myself from the panel for personal reasons”.
She said a new presiding Justice would be appointed for the panel.
Meanwhile, the PDP has threatened to petition the National Judicial Council over the delay in replacing Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa who last month stepped down as head and member of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
Although the five-man panel of the tribunal in a unanimous ruling dismissed the application, Bulkachuwa said she decided to stand down from the tribunal for “personal reasons”.
The PDP Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr Diran Odeyemi, in an interview with our correspondent on Friday said Bulkachuwa’s replacement could have been announced within 24 hours after she recused herself from the tribunal.
He alleged that there was a plot to frustrate the PDP from pursuing its goal to stop Buhari at the tribunal.
Odeyemi said, “It is very unfortunate that Buhari is trying to stop the tribunal from performing its duties. By not replacing Bulkachuwa, and with the time frame for the tribunal to work, definitely they are working towards an answer to ensure that all the ills performed during the election will not be open to the public, because they do not have the answers to all the allegations of rigging they did during the election, that is why they are not allowing the tribunal or not allowing the PDP to make their case before the tribunal.
“What is wrong with replacing Bulkachuwa within 24 hours if actually, they believe in the tribunal set up for this exercise.
“It is unfortunate. We are still watching and the PDP will not fold its arms and allow the cheating or the rigging to go like that.
“We could petition the NJC and we call on the international community to be observant and to come to our aid. We call on civil society and everybody to come to our rescue, because we can see that they are working towards an answer.
“We will petition the NJC. As far as we are concerned, if no name has been made, we believe that nothing has been done.”
Atiku’s Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, in an interview with our correspondent said the former Vice-President was committed to exploring all judicial options to ensure victory at the tribunal.
He, however, said a replacement for Bulkachuwa had been made but refused to mention their name.
He said, “Your question has been overtaken by development. A replacement for Bulkachuwa has been announced but it has not been made. There is no name mentioned yet but there will be a hearing on Monday.
“However, on your question, Atiku is committed to exploring all judicial options for him and the party to pursue the matter until justice is done.”