The National and State House of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Abia held its inaugural sitting in Umuahia on Tuesday, warning litigants to avoid influencing its members.
The Chairman of the tribunal is Mr Justice Abiodun Adebara, with Mr Justice Joe Acha and Lawal Mahmoud as members.
He warned parties and counsel to avoid engaging in any untoward act that might stifle the administration of justice.
“Any attempt to influence the tribunal should be totally avoided as such would be severely dealt with according to law.
“There should also be no behind-the-door communication between the litigants and or their counsel with the chairman and members of the tribunal for any reason whatsoever. All communications should be done in the open court,” he said.
Adebara said that the warning became necessary because “this is our bid to see that justice is not only done but also seen to have been done.”
He said time was of essence in election petitions, pointing out that the tribunal would adhere to the provisions of S. 285(6) of the constitution and deliver its judgment on any matter within the 180 days stipulated by the law.
The chairman urged the counsel to remain committed and be up and doing as the tribunal will not entertain unnecessary delays as all petitions will be treated with utmost urgency and dispatch.
While pledging that it would accord all equal opportunity to present their cases, the chairman said the sittings would be on daily basis from 9 a.m. prompt.
He noted that the absence of parties or their counsel without genuine excuse would not stall proceedings and where necessary, the rules of court would be invoked against the defaulting party.
He appealed for the cooperation of members of the Nigeria Bar Association, adding that the judiciary and the press were partners in progress, urging them to report accurately and shun sensationalism.
Responding, the Attorney-General of Abia, Chief Umeh Kalu, said the task before members of the tribunal was not an easy one.
Kalu, who was represented by Mr Ugochukwu Nwachukwu, the Director of Public Prosecution, gave the assurance that the State Government would provide environment conducive for the tribunal to accomplish its task.
Mr John Amajuioyi, the Chairman of Umuahia chapter of NBA, urged the tribunal to keep to its warning as well as to report erring lawyers to the association.
The Tide’s source reports that 13 petitions had been submitted to the tribunal.
The breakdown revealed that five were from contestants to the Senate, while eight were from those for the House of Representatives.