Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), has opposed the proposal by the Labour Party (LP) and its presidential candidate Peter Obi to present ‘expert witnesses’ at the Presidential Election Petition Court.
The LP and Obi had told the Presidential Election Petition Court that they will call no fewer than 50 witnesses to testify in their petition.
Counsel to the petitioners, Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN) said this on Saturday in Abuja at the resumed proceedings of the pre-hearing phase before the five justices of the court.
Essentially, Labour Party and Peter Obi are challenging INEC’s declaration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as President-elect.
Prof Kalu disclosed that the party still has a few hiccups at INEC because of the order of the court made on March 8 directing the commission to allow them carry out forensic investigation of BVAs, which he said they have not been able to.
To this end, Kalu said that his clients would require seven weeks within which to present their petition in court.
Kalu further told the court that, with regards to timing, his team is suggesting that 30 minutes be allotted to the witnesses classified as “star witnesses” to demonstrate any electronic evidence.
He, however, said that the 30 minutes excluded the time that would be used to demonstrate video evidence or any other electronic evidence.
“For this class of witnesses, they will be cross examined for 30 minutes by each respondent and re-examination will be for five minutes.
“In respect of other witnesses, we suggest 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 10 minutes for cross examination by each respondent and five minutes for re-examination.
“For the respondents, we suggest 20 minutes for the evidence-in-chief of their star witnesses, 30 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re-examination.
“For their other witnesses, we suggest 20 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re-examination.
He also suggested that where a respondent called a witness and other respondents wanted to cross examine such a witness, they would have to do so first before the petitioners take their turn.
Counsel to INEC, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN) said his client which conducted the disputed election planned to call five witnesses to defend the election of Tinubu.
Mahmoud told the court that his team would require seven days to argue the case of their client.
He said that the commission was proposing 30 minutes for its star witness to give the evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re- examination.
“For the regular witnesses, we propose 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re-examination.”
He opposed the suggestion by the petitioners that a separate time be given to their expert witnesses for demonstration.
He also said that he was not aware of any hiccups between the petitioner and the commission as was alleged by the counsel to the petitioner.
Mr Roland Otaru, SAN, arguing for Tinubu and Shettima said that he would call 21 witnesses to defend his clients challenged victory excluding expert witnesses.
He requested that all expert reports be front loaded to the respondents within 48 hours.
On timing, he suggested that 20 minutes be allotted to expert witnesses for their evidence-in-chief, 30 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re-examination.
“For regular witnesses, we suggest 10 minutes for evidence-in-chief, 15 minutes for cross examination and five minutes for re-examination.
Otaru prayed the court to make an order that the schedule of documents to be tendered should be exchanged between parties before the hearing.
For his part, counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) said his client needs only nine days to call its seven witnesses excluding subpoenaed witnesses.
He agreed with the report of Otaru regarding the timing for each witness.
He, however, said that the petitioners have front-loaded only three witness statements, and wondered why they would need 49 days to call three witnesses from only three polling units.
The Chairman of the court, Justice Haruna Tsammani, having heard all arguments urged counsels to meet and reach an agreement on the issue of consolidating the petition.
He adjourned the matter to May 22 for continuation of pre-hearing.
Earlier, counsel to INEC had amongst others, moved an application for the court to strike out ground two of the petition.
Ground two of the petition states that the election of Tinubu is invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
Counsel to the petitioners prayed the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.