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The Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal is expected to issue the notice for the pre-hearing session on the petition filed the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The tribunal will, during the pre-hearing session which the Electoral Act provides must be completed within 14 days, fix “clear dates” for the hearing of the petition.

The five-man tribunal has 180 days period from the date of filing of the petition on March 18 to hear and deliver its judgment in the case in which the petitioners said they had assembled about 400 witnesses to testify.

By our correspondent’s calculation, the 180 days period has been depleted 50 days as of Monday (today).

The PDP and Atiku had on March 18 filed their petition to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress’ victory at the February 23 presidential election.

Sources at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, the court that serves as the PEPT, informed our correspondent that the petitioners had fulfilled all the conditions necessary for the pre-hearing session to begin.

Paragraph 18 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act provides for the petitioners to within seven days after filing and serving their reply to the responses of the respondents to, the petition, apply for the issuance of pre-hearing notice via a form in the format tagged as Form TF 007.

The provision reads, “Within seven days after the filing and service of the petitioner’s reply on the respondent or seven days after the filing and service of the respondent’s reply, whichever is the case, the petitioner shall apply for the issuance of pre-hearing notice as in Form TF 007.”

Paragraph 18(4) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act provides that the failure of any of the petitioners or the respondents to a petitioner to apply for the issuance of the notice for the pre-hearing session within the required period earns a summary dismissal of the petition.

The PUNCH learnt that the petitioners had since filed their replies to the responses to all the three respondents – the Independent National Electoral Commission, Buhari and the APC, the 1st to the 3rd respondents, respectively.

Atiku and his party filed their reply to INEC’s response on April 15, to that of Buhari on April 26, and to that of the APC on April 18.

In line with Paragraph 18 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, the petitioners were said to have since applied for the issuance of the pre-hearing notice within the period stipulated the Electoral Act.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is defending the APC in the case, Lateef Fagbemi, confirmed this to our correspondent on Sunday.

“We have not got a date for the pre-hearing session. But we are expecting that we will get it this week,” he said.

Asked if he was aware that the petitioners had, through their lawyers, applied for the issuance of the pre-hearing notice, the senior lawyer said, “I am aware.”

The petitioners’ lead counsel, Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), while speaking with The PUNCH earlier on Friday, said his clients had done everything that needed to be done and were only waiting for the tribunal to issue the hearing notice.

“We are still waiting for them to issue us with the hearing notice. That has not happened yet, but we have filed all the necessary papers. We have made the necessary application,” he said.

Asked on Sunday what was expected to happen at the pre-hearing conference, another senior lawyer in the petitioners’ team, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), referred our correspondent to Paragraph 18(2) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act, which  provides for among others “the disposal of all matters which can be dealt with on interlocutory application”, during the pre-hearing session.

The tribunal is also expected to give “directions on order of witnesses to be called and such documents to be tendered each party to prove their cases having in view the need for the expeditious disposal of the petition,” and fix “clear dates for hearing of the petition.”

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