Counsels to the Independent National Electoral Commission, President Bola Tinubu and the All Progressives Congress have again objected to the presentation of subpoenaed witness who were INEC ad-hoc staff during the 2023 presidential election in the petition filed by Atiku Abubakar and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
At the resumption of proceedings on Atiku’s petition on Thursday in Abuja, one of the witnesses, Egwuma Friday from Kubwa area of Abuja entered the witness box and prayed the court to admit his witness statement, but all respondents in the petition again raised objections to stop the witness from testifying.
On Wednesday, when Atiku’s lawyer presented subpoenaed witnesses, counsels to all respondents raised objections , saying they were served the witnesses statement same day they were presented in court and would need time to study it. They also argued that the petitioners did not follow the procedure to frontload the witness statement.
At the resumed hearing, Wole Olanipekun, counsel to President Bola Tinubu again raised objections and prayed the court not to adopt the witness statement. He insisted that the petitioners did not follow legal procedures by front-loading the witness statement at the time of filing their petition.
He argued that the provisions of the Electoral Act makes no distinction between frontloaded witness statement as at the time the petition is being filed and subpoenaed witnesses.
“We are not unaware that the court have the liberty to summon witnesses in the interest of justice, but that is a different ball game from any witness being subpoenaed. In Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the first schedule of the Electoral Act, written statement shall be front loaded. This witness was not listed nor ftontloaded at the time of filing with the petition, and should not be countenanced by the court or the tribunal,” Tinubu’s lawyer said.
“May I humbly pray your lordship to reject the application made by my learned silk to adopt the witness statement.”
Counsel to INEC, Abubakar Mahmoud , and counsel to APC, Lateef Fagbemi aligned with the position of Tinubu’s lawyer
“I am also in agreement with the objections raised by Olanipekun. The testimony of the subpoenaed witnesses must be front loaded”, APC’s lawyer said.
However, Chris Uche, counsel to Atiku insisted that subpoenaed witness statement are not frontloaded. He clarified that subpoenaed witnesses are not ordinary or additional witneses, as they are being compelled by the court to attend.
“Therefore, they do not fall into the category of additional witnesses, which is the error and misconception”, Uche said.
While quoting paragraph 54 of the first schedule of the Electoral Act 2022, which makes rules of the federal High Court applicable to the appeal court in similar situations, Uche maintained that subpoenaed witnesses are bound to appear, and the court should have control of their cross examination.
“The witness will be served summons before he brings his witness statement.
The written statement of a subpoenaed witness cannot be frontloaded in advance when the petition is being filed, even before the subpoena is issued or otherwise.
“I urge your lordship to dismiss this objection and allow the witness to proceed. It will amount to a breach of fair hearing not allow a subpoenaed witness testify”, Uche said.
Consequently, the five-man panel of judges led by Justice Haruna Tsammani stood down for some minutes and will give ruling when proceedings resumes.