****By Onitsha Shedrack*****
The Delta State Governorship Elections Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Asaba, yesterday dismissed objections raised by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, The Peoples Democratic Party, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to the admissibility of INEC Card Readers unit by unit accreditation of voters’ document as exhibits.
The All Progressives Congress APC, state governorship candidate in the April 11 election, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, is challenging the declaration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of the Peoples Democratic Party as the winner of the April poll.
At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, counsel for the petitioner and the APC, Chief Thompson Okpoko (SAN), called two subpoenaed INEC witness to tender document and give oral evidence before the tribunal.
Objecting to the admissibility of two documents (witnesses’ statements on oath) tendered by Mrs. Abimbola Olagunjoye, Assistant Director, Information Communication Technology (ICT) department at INEC’s office in Abuja, Okowa’s counsel, Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN), averred that the documents were not listed, pleaded or properly certified.
He added that Section 104(2) of the Evidence Act provides that a witness’s statement on oath should have an engraved stamp, signature and the designation of the officer and his name superimposed on the document.
Also, PDP’s counsel, Timothy Kehinde (SAN), aligned with Okowa’s counsel, arguing that the parties are bound by their pleading, and therefore averred that document pleaded and frontloaded were different from the one INEC is bring in as witness statement PW1B.
Counsel for INEC, Damien Dodo (SAN), Dodo (SAN), also aligned with the submissions of Dr Izinyon and Kehinde.
He said: “I wholly adopt the objections as canvassed by the first and second respondents. It is an issue of law and we are bound by the law, especially by the Supreme Court.”
However, counsel to the petitioner and APC, Chief Okpoko (SAN) argued that the documents tendered by INEC were pleaded, adding that it was stated in Paragraph 4 of the petitioner’s reply to the first respondent’s reply of the petition.
He further averred that having pleaded unit by unit accreditation of voters report in the petition, “I am at a loss as to how the respondents can claim they were taken by surprise. At the onset, we stated that we were going to rely on polling unit by polling units’ reports. We listed those documents. The object of pleadings is hereby satisfied. Both documents comply strictly with Section 104(2) of the Evidence Act.”
On the contention that the documents ought to be frontloaded, Okpoko said: “That it is not necessary, as the documents are in the custody of INEC, and INEC is a party to this suit.
“Can we now go to our opponent to sign the witnesses’ statements on oath? We should be realistic. When the person you have subpoenaed and are to come to court to present the documents, it needs not be frontloaded or listed. I humbly submit that these documents be admitted.”
In his ruling, Justice Nasiru Gunmi said: “We have examined this application on the face of the document tendered and we are satisfied that the document satisfies the requirement of Section 104 (2) of the Evidence Act to justify the admission of these documents.
They also hold that the documents tendered were duly certified by appropriate authority; “We are of the view that signature is the most important aspect of certification, and therefore the documents meet certification requirement.
“We, therefore, overrule the objection of the admission of this document, and therefore admit the documents as exhibits PW1A and PW1B.”
The tribunal also dismissed the objections raised by Okowa, PDP and INEC to the admissibility of INEC, Press Statement on the use of card reader for accreditation of voters for the April 11, 2015 governorship election, Approved Guideline and Regulation for the conduct of 2015 election and manual for election official 2015 by the second INEC witness.