The Supreme Court has fixed October 28 for fresh hearing of an appeal filed by the Hope Democratic Party HDP to challenge the declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari as winner of the February 23 presidential election.
The new date comes as the camp of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, worries over the delay by the apex court in constituting the panel of justices to hear Atiku’s appeal against the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) which ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari was validly elected.
The apex court bowed to hear the appeal of the HDP candidate afresh following protest by the party that the court’s earlier decision which dismissed the appeal was based on technicality rather than merit of law.
In the bid to ensure that the appeal is heard within time allowed by law, the court has issued hearing notices to parties in the matter notifying them of the October 28 date for fresh hearing.
Recall that Atiku’s spokesman, Mr. Paul Ibe and one of his lawyers, Mr. Mike Ozekhome SAN, were quoted in media reports as lamenting Atiku’s travails.
Ibe said in an interview with The Punch: “We hope that when eventually the panel is constituted there will be enough time to robustly look at the issues. We hope they will have the requisite time to do that and look at the issues. That should be the concern of everybody so that justice is not compromised. We hope that our interest and the interest of Atiku Abubakar in this matter will not be compromised on account of time. We are concerned. We are worried about it. We do not know why it is taking this long.”
He added, “The mandate we are talking about is the mandate we believe was given to him by Nigerians and Nigerians should also be concerned and worried. We are anxiously awaiting the resolution of issues that are in contention at the Supreme Court.
“I believe that the Supreme Court understands what their duties and responsibilities are in this democratic process. They should also take into consideration that people, like Atiku Abubakar, have a constitutional responsibility to contest an election that they have adjudged was not free and fair. I believe that the Supreme Court understands its role and if it does not, that should concern anybody. What is involved in this process is to strengthen our democracy.
“After (the President of the Court of Appeal) Justice (Zainab) Bulkachuwa had recused herself, it took a long time to name a replacement for her. Time was lost. Any Nigerian, not only Atiku Abubakar should be worried and ask what is holding the naming of the justices.
“Our concern is that whatever it is; let it be done within the provisions of the law. We believe that they also are taking care and due cognisance of the time that is allowed for the appeal to be heard and be disposed of with. So we want to believe that they are also conscious of the time.”
According to Ozekhome, Atiku’s lawyers are worried about the delay in constituting the panel considering the decision of the Supreme Court that election petitions are time-bound and that the time cannot be exceeded.
He said, “We (lawyers) are very worried about it because election petitions are time-bound and time lined and the Supreme Court has decided that the constitutional time provided for election petitions is like the Rock of Gibraltar that cannot be moved.
“So, I believe, therefore, that the Supreme Court is much aware of their extant decision and the sensitive nature of this case which has caught the attention of not just Nigerians but the entire world. I believe that the Supreme Court will do the needful. I have no fear of that at all.
“There is no need for any report (to the National Judicial Council) because the CJN will do what is right and necessary, guided by the Constitution and the Electoral Act.”
Respondents in the HDP appeal are the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress APC.
HDP had filed a fresh motion to challenge the way and manner its appeal against President Buhari’s election was determined and dismissed on what it termed technicality rather than merit of law.
The party in the new motion is asking the apex court to reverse itself in the judgment delivered on October 3.
In a fresh motion on notice brought pursuant to order 8 rule 2 of the Supreme Court Rules and sections 6 and 36 of the 1999 constitution as well as section 22 of the Supreme Court Act, the party and its presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Albert Owuru, claimed that the judgment delivered by Justice Mary Peter Odili in favour of Buhari was invalid on the ground that it was based on technicalities of law rather than merit and justice.
The motion filed by Mr Chukwunonyerem Njoku on behalf of the appellants pleaded with the court to restore their appeal for a fresh hearing.
The HDP and its candidate maintained that the dismissal of their appeal on technical ground was without compliance with the mandatory procedure of law.
The apex court Justices had dismissed the HDP’s appeal on the grounds that more than one notice of appeal was filed in the same appeal contrary to the provisions of law.
Justice Odili who delivered the verdict also held that Owuru and HDP failed to appeal against the ruling delivered by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal on August 22 which struck out their petition based on the lack of jurisdiction.
“The two notices of appeal filed by the appellants and jointly utilised is a procedure not backed by law and cannot be used,” she said.
“Rather the appellants have come here to tackle the decision on the merits which the court below handled out of the abundance of caution.”
Presidential candidate of the HDP, Ambrose Albert Owuru confirmed that the Supreme Court has notified him and the party that the appeal will be heard afresh on October 28.