THE Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) has merged the three petitions challenging the result of the February 25 presidential election.
The petitions are those filed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, the Labour Party (LP) and its candidate Peter Obi, and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).
The five-man tribunal led by Haruna Tsammani on Tuesday, May 23, dismissed objections raised by the President-elect, Bola Tinubu and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against the merger of the petitions.
The court determined that since all of the claims involved the same election, it was in the interest of justice that they be merged and handled as a single petition.
As a result, the tribunal set May 30 as the date for commencement of hearing of the consolidated petition.
Additionally, the tribunal gave Obi and Atiku three weeks, each, to call witnesses.
The court also gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Tinubu and the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima, five days each to make their defence against the petition.
In the same vein, the court ordered that the parties will adopt their last briefs of argument on August 5, before it sets a date for ruling.
The ICIR reported that APC and the President-elect, Tinubu, rejected plans by the tribunal to merge the petitions seeking to nullify the outcome of the February 25 presidential election.
Citing paragraph 50 of the 1st Schedule of the Electoral Act, the tribunal led by Tsammani announced on Saturday, May 20, that all the petitions against Tinubu’s election will be merged for easy adjudication.
The tribunal subsequently directed all the counsels to consult with their clients and report the outcome on Monday, May 22.
During the resumed sitting on Monday, May 22, counsel for the APC, Charles Edosomwam, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), argued that consolidating the petitions would go against the interest of justice.
Edosomwan noted that the grounds and issues raised by the parties were different, adding that consolidating them would result in significant issues being lost.
He also noted that it would be practically impossible for the respondent to effectively defend the case, adding that justice should not be sacrificed for convenience.
“Major issues before this court will be lost like a pin in a haystack if the consolidation is considered,” he said.
Likewise, Tinubu’s legal team, led by Akin Olujinmi (SAN), argued that consolidating all the petitions would hinder their ability to defend the issues raised against the President-elect.
Olujinmi further argued that the provision of the Electoral Act referred to by the court was not absolute, and the exercise of power should be subject to limitations.
He pointed out that each petition had varying issues and evidential matters, making it difficult to consent to consolidation.
“The issue of justice should be a restraint on the power of this court to exercise its discretion in granting the order for consolidation,” he said.
In contrast, INEC stated that it would defer to the court’s discretion regarding the consolidation issue.
INEC had declared Tinubu as the winner of the February 25 presidential election.
According to INEC, Tinubu secured 8,794,726 votes, the PDP candidate, Abubakar, had 6,984,520, while the LP presidential candidate, Obi, polled 6,101,533.
The PDP and LP candidates rejected the result and approached the tribunal with separate petitions to challenge Tinubu’s victory.
They alleged that Tinubu was not qualified to contest the election and that he failed to secure the majority of lawful votes cast at the poll.
They are also contesting that Tinubu’s running mate, Kashim Shettima, had a double nomination contrary to the Electoral Act.
In addition to Atiku and Obi’s petitions, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) also asked the court to nullify Tinubu’s election.
Aside from Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who came second in the election, and Obi of the LP, who came third in the election, the Allied Peoples Movement, APM, equally lodged a petition to challenge the outcome of the presidential election.
Although five petitions were initially filed to challenge Tinubu’s victory, The ICIR reported that two of the petitioners, the Action Alliance (AA) and the Action Peoples Party (APP), withdrew their cases during the ongoing pre-hearing sitting of the tribunal.
Meanwhile, the Justice Tsammani-led panel hinted that it might ban both lawyers and members of the public from entering the courtroom with mobile phones on the next adjourned date.