Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday granted permission to the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to serve their petition challenging the outcome of the February 23, 2019 election, on President Muhammadu Buhari through substituted means.
This came after the petitioners complained in an ex parte application that they had been unable to serve their petition on Buhari personally, one week after filing the petition before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja.
The ex parte application was filed before the Court of Appeal on March 25, 2019, about one week after the petitioners lodged their case at the tribunal in Abuja on March 18, 2019 to challenge Buhari’s victory in the presidential election.
In the ex parte application sighted by The PUNCH after it was heard and granted on Wednesday, the petitioners stated that they had served copies of their petition and the accompanying court processes on both the Independent National Electoral Commission and the All Progressives Congress – the first and the third respondents to the petition- respectively.
But they said “it is impracticable and impossible” to serve the petition on Buhari personally, “given the impregnable security and protocol” at the Presidential Villa, also known as Aso Rock, where he resides.
Praying for an order permitting them to serve Buhari through the national secretariat of his party, the APC, the petitioners stated in their application that an attempt by a bailiff of the Court of Appeal to personally serve Buhari with the petition was abortive.
The affidavit which they had filed in support of the ex parte application read in part, “The petitioners/applicants, upon filing the petition, have served the 1st and 3rd respondents (INEC and APC) with the petition, but it is impracticable and impossible to serve the 2nd respondent (Buhari) personally with the petition.
“The 2nd respondent is currently the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and lives in and carries out his duties from the Presidential Villa, Abuja, and personal service of any process on him is impracticable and impossible given the impregnable security and protocol attaining his office as the Head of State.
“An attempt by the court bailiff to serve the petition and other processes personally on the 2nd respondent was abortive because of security issues and hurdles in the Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja.”
They noted that Buhari “is a member of and was sponsored as candidate for the election by 3rd respondent, whose office (National Secretariat) is at No. 40 Blantyre Street, Wuse II, Abuja.”
They therefore contended that service of the petition on him “can only be effectively and conveniently made” on the President “by delivering same to the 3rd respondent through any of its senior officers or officials at its office at the APC National Secretariat.”
The petitioners’ counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), supported by others including Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Mr. Gordy Uche (SAN), moved the application before a three-man bench of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.
The three-man bench which sat in a “pre-hearing session” of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, granted the request contained in the petitioners’ application shortly after the application was moved by the petitioners’ lawyers on Wednesday.
Granting the application, Justice Abdu Aboki, who led the panel and delivered the lead ruling, made an order permitting the petitioners to serve Buhari, who is the second respondent to their petition, through any senior official or an officer of the APC at the party’s secretariat in Wuse II area of Abuja.
He said, “it is in the interest of justice” to grant the prayers in the petitioners’ application.
Meanwhile, with the petition filed by Atiku and the PDP, there are now a total of four petitions filed before the tribunal to challenge Buhari’s victory.
The four petitions are on display at the premises of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, venue of the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.
Atiku and the PDP’s petition filed on March 18 was marked CA/PEPC/002/2019.
Another of the petitions was filed on March 7 by Hope Democratic Party and its national chairman and presidential candidate, Chief Ambrose Owuru.
The other petition with number CA/PEPC/004/2019 filed on March 19, was by Pastor Aminchi Habu and his party, the Peoples Democratic Movement.
The fourth petition was by Geff Ojinika and Coalition for Change, who both contended that “the election was vitiated by substantial non-compliance with mandatory statutory provisions which irregularity substantially affected the election such that the 1st respondent (Buhari) was not entitled to be returned as the winner of the presidential election.”
The petitioners, who all complained that the February 23, 2019 election was marred by irregularities, joined INEC, Buhari and the APC as the respondents.
But the Coalition for Change and Ojinika added Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to their list of respondents.