By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze SAN, is now leading the legal team of former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in their petition against the February 23 election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nwabueze, who came in on wheelchair at the commencement of hearing Thursday announced appearance as lead counsel for Atiku and PDP as part of efforts to beef-up the legal arguments of the two petitioners against Buhari.
The Professor of Law who was led to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja with a retinue of lawyers shortly after announcing his appearance made a presentation in which he lent his voice to the claims that the last presidential election was flawed and that remedy must be found if democracy is to flourish.
He prayed the tribunal to allow him use his wheelchair due to his age and health situation.
Nwabueze’s two page statement read in part; “The February/March 2019 General Election have come and gone, but the generality of Nigerians seem agreed that something was wrong with them, particularly the February Presidential Election.
“They suspect that the later was manipulated or, in more familiar language, rigged.
“What is not known is how or by whom the rigging was done. An Election Tribunal/Court is now saddled with the task, an intractable task, of finding out the truth about what happened.
“The task before it is made intractable by what Justice Kishna Iyer of the Indian Supreme Court referred to as “the tyranny of procedure, the horror of the doctrine of precedent, with its stifling and deadening insistence on uniformity, and the booby traps of pleadings.”
“The decided election cases show the Election Tribunal/Court to have succumbed all too readily to these constraining factors, but Nigerians still expect it to rise above the self-imposed shackles in order to find out the truth about what happened during that election.
“The Tribunal/Court owes it as a duty to the country to do so, as the discovery of the truth will help to set us free from the scourge of electoral malpractices.
“As the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court have stated in several cases, election petitions are sui generis proceedings, established, not for the purpose of adjudicating disputes arising in dealings or transactions between individual persons, but for the purpose of enabling the political community to choose, in free and fair election, persons to manage public affairs on its behalf and for the benefit of all its members, which makes largely inappropriate the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence applicable in ordinary cases between individual persons.
“An election petition is not such ordinary case; it is sui generis, to which the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence may not be appropriate.
“And the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has said that a tribunal is not deprived of the character of a court or its decisions the character of judicial decisions simply because of it is empowered by statue to decide as it thinks just and equitable or according to equity and good conscience, in as much as the effect of such a power given to a court is not to exonerate it from all rules of law: Peacock V. Newton Marrickville and General Co-operative Building Society No. 4 Ltd (1943) 67 CLR 25.
“An approach based on law but moderated by what is just and equitable in the interest of peace, security and good governance of the community is what is needed in election cases, not a rigid adherence to the technicalities of the law of pleadings and evidence and the doctrine of precedent.
At the end of the speech, the law professor announced that Dr. Levy Uzoukwu SAN, would take charge of Thursday’s proceedings.
At Thursday’s resumed trial, Atiku and PDP tendered election results from polling units, wards and local governments in Niger State to formally kick start hearing of the substantive petition against Buhari’s election.
However surprisingly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) objected to tendering of the results. President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressive Congress (APC) also objected to the tendering of the results.
The tribunal chairman Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba who admitted the results as exhibits told lawyers to INEC, Buhari and APC to defer their objection to the point of address to the tribunal as earlier agreed by parties during the pre-hearing session.
The petitioners had brought before the tribunal, boxes of electoral materials in which they intend to lead evidence. The materials were from Niger, Yobe, Kebbi, Jigawa.