After five months of intense legal fireworks by counsels to the petitioner and respondents in the Delta State governorship election petition tribunal, sitting in Asaba, the tribunal adjourned for two weeks to resume October 13, 2015 for submission and adoption of written addresses while Deltans feels the suspense on the tribunal’s verdict.
The governorship candidate for the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the election, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, had approached the tribunal challenging the conduct of the poll and declaration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as winner.
At the last sitting, the Justice Nasiru Gunmi-led 3man panel directed that respondents file and serve final written addresses on the petitioners within five days beginning from Friday, October 2nd, 2015, while the petitioners should file and serve their final written addresses on the respondents within five days.
Emerhor opened his case at the resumed hearing on Tuesday, 25 August 2015 when his counsel Chief Thompson Okpoko (SAN), called two subpoenaed INEC witness to tender document and give oral evidence before the tribunal.
Okpoko led Mrs. Abimbola Olagunjoye, Assistant Director, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) department at INEC’s head office in Abuja, as first witness to tender four key documents including card readers’ accreditation report uploaded from INEC central server.
The INEC accreditation report tendered through Mrs. Olagunjoye showed that the numbers of accredited voters for the April 11 governorship election in Delta state were lower than the results announced by electoral officials after the polls.
Other documents tendered by INEC at the hearing include; manual for election officials 2015, INEC’s April 2, 2015 press statement making accreditation through use of card readers only mandatory for the governorship elections and guidelines and regulations for the conduct of 2015 general elections.
In their testimony, the INEC officials said that “all documents tendered were duly certified by INEC, that the card reader has three (3) functions to with; identification of voters, verification of PVC holder and voter’s authentication on Election Day.”
She further told the tribunal that “the card readers recorded no sustained failure during the governorship election in Delta state and accredited numbers of voters as at April 29th was 709,000 and at the expiration of the shutting down of data upload, the final tally was 715,393.”
However, while declaring the result of the election on April 13, Delta State INEC had put the figure of accredited voters at 1,017,796, significantly exceeding actual accreditation number revealed by the admitted report obtained from INEC central server.
Objecting to admissibility of these documents, Okowa’s counsel, Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN), PDP’s counsel, Timothy Kehinde (SAN), and counsel for INEC, Damien Dodo (SAN), averred that the documents were not listed, pleaded or properly certified.
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 to the petition.
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.
“We, therefore, overrule the objection to admission of this document, and therefore admit the documents as exhibits PW1A and PW1B.”
Emerhor’s counsel while examining his witness, Mr. Ore Ohimor, tendered Form EC8A or unit by unit election result sheets for the 25 local government areas of the state.
The tribunal also dismissed objections by the counsel to the respondent to the admissibility of the document and thereafter admitted it as exhibit.
Meanwhile, Sen Ifeanyi Okowa opened his defence, rather on a shaky note as his star witness, Chief Festus Ovie Agas, who is Secretary to the State Government, (SSG), under cross examination stated that card readers used for the governorship election worked well as against PDP’s claim that card reader failed in most polling units.
The governor’s defence also suffered another major setback when the tribunal rejected Okowa’s subpoena INEC witness document as exhibits.
Okowa’s counsel, Dr. Alex Izyon (SAN), leading Mrs. Ehikhametalo Mercy, a staff of the electoral umpire working in the Delta State office of the commission, had sought to tender four documents through her as exhibits.
Rejecting the document Okowa’s counsel sought to tender, the tribunal noted that: “We believe that the objections of Okpoko (SAN) to the admissibility of these documents are gamine. We believe that the two document sought to tender are computer generated. There is nothing on the face of the document to show that it complied with section 84 of the evidence act. In view of this, we hereby agree that the documents are not admissible and are hereby rejected”.
Ehikhametalo had earlier claimed that Card Reader failed in many places she monitored in Isoko North; under cross examination by Chief Okpoko, she admitted that contrary to her earlier claim, the card reader worked well in Delta state during the governorship election.
Okowa who had told the tribunal he will be calling 30 witnesses strangely closed his case after calling just two witnesses, apparently sensing the inherent danger in calling additional witnesses.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in a dramatic twist subtly closed it defence without calling any witness, or tendering any document to substantiate its claim, but rather adopted Senator Okowa’s defence.
INEC also closed its defence without calling any witness to substantiate its claims that the Delta state governorship election of April 11, 2015 was free and fair.
Counsel to INEC, Mr D.D. Dodo (SAN) who was represented by Mr Onyinye Anumonye, rather tendered, from the bar, document of unit by unit card readers as uploaded as at April 16, 2015, which was earlier tendered by Okowa and rejected by the tribunal.
He thereafter, told the tribunal that INEC would not be calling any witness but will only rely on the document already tendered and the testimony of other witnesses called by the 1st and 2nd respondents (Okowa and PDP).
Counsels to the respondents, particularly, PDP and INEC had informed the tribunal that a total of 65 witnesses, respectively have been assembled to proof its case.
As Deltans feverishly await the verdict of the tribunal, some questions are begging for answers, which are; can the tribunal find the courage to do justice in this case that has been characterised by series of legal fireworks?
Many Deltans think it may not be business as usual where the political class in the state have over the years devised dubious means of subverting the wheel of justice by compromising past members of election petition tribunal in the state to mortgage justice.
They believe that with the wind of change particularly in the judiciary in Nigeria, and the caliber of men that make up the 3man tribunal panel, they expect substantive justice to be done.
As Judgement day draws nearer, there are palpable fear in the governors camp of a possible re-run and they are already strategizing for that with the body language of the governor, who is dishing out appointments to every tom, dick and harry in the state to secure sympathy from their community.
The APC on their part, are not leaving anything to chance, as they have also entered the boxing arena mobilizing ahead, believing justice would be served and re-run inevitable.
Comrade Azuka Unue
Public Affair Analyst,
Wrote from Asaba,
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