According to reports, Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, has closed his election petition case against Bola Tinubu, the newly sworn-in president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The story was headlined “Atiku Abubakar closes case against Tinubu” by many news outlets across the country.
While those familiar with legal terms may understand what “closing a case” means, the CDD Election War Room discovered that many members of the general public interpret it to mean “withdrawal” or “end” of the case.
When did the tribunal begin?
The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) began its pre-hearing on May 8, 2023, and agreed on consolidated hearing for all petitioners in the election petition on May 30, 2023.
The petitioners in the election petition are the Labour Party (Peter Obi), the Peoples Democratic Party (Atiku Abubakar), and the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).
Because Election Petitions are time-sensitive (the tribunal must deliver its decision within 180 days of the petition being filed), the court established ground rules in agreement with the parties; the Labour Party and PDP were given three weeks to prove their cases. The PDP hearing began on May 30 and is scheduled to end on June 20, while the Labour hearing, which also began on May 30, is scheduled to end on June 23.
The responding parties to the suit, the first respondent (INEC), and the second and third respondents (Tinubu and APC), were given two and five days, respectively.
The court’s rules also state that the time allotted for the examination–in–chief will be 30 minutes, 20 minutes for cross-examination, and 5 minutes for re-examination.
What exactly does it mean to “close a case”?
The opening of a case represents a “hearing,” and the closing of a case represents the end of the hearing.
“Hearing” is when the party (whose case is open) presents evidence to the court in support of that case.
During the hearing, witnesses are called, documents are presented, and the party will request that the court admit the evidence(s) as exhibits.
The responding parties will state their objection to the admissibility of the evidence tendered, and as is customary in this time-sensitive election tribunal, the reason for objection will be stated in the final written address.
When a party has presented all of the evidence in support of its case to the court and has called its final witness, it is said to have closed its case.
Simply put, a party to a lawsuit closes its case when its final witness or evidence is presented before the court.
Section 46 (5) of the Electoral Act‘s first schedule defines what it means to close a case in an election petition.
“A party shall close his case when he has concluded his evidence and either the petitioner or respondent may make oral application to have the case closed.”
What happens after a case is closed?
The “closing of a case” does not imply the end of the case. When the party who first opens the case (the petitioner) calls its final witness and closes its case, the defense — which is the respondent for the purposes of the election petition — then opens its own case.
So in this Presidential Election Petition instance, once the PDP, LP and APM close their cases, the APC, INEC and Bola Tinubu will open their defense.
As previously stated, the Presidential Election Petition Court gave INEC two days to present its defence, while the APC was given five days.
Is “closing a case” the same as “withdrawing a case”?
No, it is not. Withdrawing a case indicates a lack of interest in continuing a lawsuit.
In general, in a civil suit, if the parties seek to withdraw a suit 14 days after serving (or being served), or if they did not withdraw a suit before the commencement of the hearing, a leave of court is required to discontinue the matter. The parties will then file a notice of discontinuance with the court. Otherwise, the consent of the court is not required to withdraw a case.
If all of the parties agree to withdraw, they will submit written consent to the registrar of the court, and the case will be dismissed.
The Electoral Act, Section 29 of the first schedule, states that an election petition cannot be withdrawn without the permission of the court. The petitioner must first give notice of withdrawal to the respondents before proceeding to court to file an application for leave to withdraw.
Section 31 further states that the court will set a date for the hearing of the application for leave to withdraw the election petition.
Has any party withdrawn a suit in the course of this tribunal?
Yes. Of the 18 political parties that took part in the presidential election, five went to court to voice their displeasure with Bola Tinubu’s emergence as the winner. These parties are the Action Peoples Party (APP), The Action Alliance (AA), the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Labour Party (LP).
However, on May 10, 2023, the APP withdrew its case against Bola Tinubu, the APC, and INEC, while the Action Alliance (AA) had withdrawn its petition against Tinubu a few hours earlier.
It is important to remember that the PEPC agreed with the parties at the preliminary stage that the hearing for the PDP would end on June 20, while the hearing for the Labour Party would end on June 23.
As a result, the news that the PDP “closed” its case is consistent with what was agreed upon.