Kamarudeen Ogundele and Success Nwogu, Abuja
Forty-four days after his petition challenging the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the February 23, 2019 poll was dismissed, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, has expressed worry over delay by the Supreme Court to constitute the presidential election appeal panel.
Atiku and his legal team said on Friday that they were concerned about the delay in naming the Supreme Court Justices to sit on their appeal against the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal’s ruling which dismissed their petition against the Independent National Electoral Commission’s declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress in the winner of the election.
Atiku spoke through his media aide, Mr Paul Ibe, while Mr Mike Ozekhome (SAN), spoke on behalf of the legal team in separate interviews with our correspondents in Abuja.
Ibe said the delay should not affect a legal debate on the contentious issues, adding that there should be enough time for Atiku’s lawyers to present his case.
He said it was the responsibility of the Supreme Court to name or constitute a panel of justices to hear the matter, adding that Atiku’s interest should not be compromised owing to the delay in naming the justices considering the time limit to hear and decide the appeal.
Ibe said, “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.”
However, the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Lanre Issa-onilu, did not answer his calls or reply a text message sent to him, even as of 10:30 pm on Friday.