The Independent National Electoral Commission and the All Progressives Congress have till Thursday to file their responses to the election petition jointly filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, challenging the outcome of the February 23 presidential election, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
Due to the fact that the petition was served on him late, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the candidate of the APC, has till at least April 16 to respond to the petition.
Atiku and his party had, on March 18, 2019 filed the petition before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, challenging the declaration of Buhari and the APC as the winner of the election.
The petitioners claimed that contrary to INEC’s declaration, the PDP’s candidate was the valid winner of the election.
INEC, Buhari and APC are the first to the third respondents to the petition, respectively.
SUNDAY PUNCH found out that as of Friday, none of the three respondents had filed their responses to the petition.
Paragraph 10(2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 provides for a period of not more than 21 days within which a respondent must reply to an election petition from the date of being served with it.
The said Paragraph 10(2) provides, “The non-filling of a memorandum of appearance shall not bar the respondent from defending the election petition if the respondent files his reply to the election petition in the Registry within a reasonable time, but, in any case, not later than twenty-one (21) days from the receipt of the election petition.”
The petitioners served the petition on INEC and APC on March 22, but was unable to serve same on Buhari until they were able to obtain a March 27 order of the Court of Appeal in Abuja permitting them to serve the President through substituted means.
The petitioners had, in an affidavit filed in support of their ex parte application, cited the protocols and security hurdles at the Presidential Villa as the reasons for their inability to serve Buhari with the petition personally.
Ruling on the application, which it said was meritorious, the Justice Abdu Aboki-led three-man bench of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, on March 27, granted the order permitting them to serve Buhari through APC’s national secretariat.
By our correspondent’s calculation, the 21 days granted to INEC and the APC to respond, from March 22 when they were served with the petition, would expire on April 11.
Asked when the APC would file its reply to the petition, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in the party’s legal team, who sought not to be named, confirmed that they had Thursday deadline to file their response.
“We are filing our reply in the new week because our 21 days window expires in the new week,” the SAN said.
Speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Paul Ananaba, confirmed that a respondent had 21 days to reply to an election petition.
Ananaba, who has handled a number of election petition cases, said, “The respondent has 21 days to file a response. But there is no extension of time once the respondent fails to file a reply.
“The registry of an election petitions tribunal opens on Saturdays and Sundays; so, there is no excuse for anyone not to meet the time limit.”
Asked what the implication of non-filing of a reply within time, the SAN said, “It simply means the respondent has no defence.”
There are now four petitions challenging APC’s victory at the presidential poll.
All necessary papers would need to be exchanged between parties to a particular petition before hearing could begin in respect of the petition.
Another lawyer, Mr Tunde Falola, said, “A respondent, who does not file his reply to the petition within time has no defence to the petition and he would be deemed to have accepted those allegations contained in the petition.”
He also confirmed that Paragraph 10(2) of the Electoral Act provides for 21 days for a respondent who does not file a memorandum of appearance, to file a reply to the petition.
According to him, non-filing of a memorandum of appearance implies that the respondent “intends to dispute or challenge the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the petition in the first place.”