The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal reconvened on the 10th following its last adjourned date of 8th July 2019 to give the Tribunal room to mark evidence received from the Petitioner. Case mentioned, the Chairman acknowledged the presence of the parties including first Petitioner, Obong Nsima Ekere. As expected counsels to the parties announced their respective appearance.
J. S. Okutepa (SAN) Prof. Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), Victor Iyanam (Esq), Edet Atting(Esq) Solomon Etuk (Esq.), Edet Bassey (Esq) Doyin Oyedemi (Esq), Effiong Oquong (Esq) and 10 others for Petitioners. Assam Assam (SAN), Johana Okoro Ekemini Udim (Esq), Arit Okoro (Esq), Assam Assam Jnr.(Esq) Emah Assam (Esq), and Nsima Akpabio (Esq) for 1st Respondent. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) Uko Udom (SAN), David Amah (Esq) Samuel Akpabio (Esq) Emmanuel Akpan (Esq) A. A. Abdurazaq (Esq) and Uboho Eyoh (Esq) for 2nd Respondents. Dr. Solomon Eyelanye (Esq), Prince Nwafor and Mercy Agbor appeared for 3rd Respondent.
To set the ball rolling, Tribunal Chairman, Justice A. M. Yakubu informed counsels that the Tribunal had undertaken marking of evidence tendered to it. He assured counsels that all was set as there were at liberty to call for evidence at their discretion.
Petitioners counsel, J. S. Okutepa (SAN) informed the Tribunal he was ready to commence calling his witnesses and then proceeded to do so; calling altogether 6 witnesses identified by the Tribunal as PW1 to PW6 in the course of the day’s proceedings. PW1 to PW6 had a common issue of admissibility of their witness statement as it is legally expected that they demonstrate their capacity to testify as witnesses. That is, what is otherwise referred to in law as having the locus standi or sufficient interest in the case. In this case, being a registered voter is instructive and producing a valid voters card before the Tribunal is imperative to the admittance of witness testimony. On this score, Petitioners counsel sought to validate witness testimony by having the witnesses produce their voters card for sighting and admission in evidence by the Tribunal.
Petitioners request was at first rebuffed and vehemently opposed by the Respondents who upon referencing extant laws argued and countered petitioners request aligning with one another on the following grounds: that the PVC sought to be tendered by petitioner’s counsel was not pleaded or mentioned in the petition neither was it listed in the list of evidence as stipulated by the Electoral Act.
Petitioner contended that the PW1’s PVC was mentioned in the witness statement and citing the authority of the Tribunal under paragraph 41 (3) of the s1st schedule of the Electoral Act (2010 as amended) to admit documents referred to in written depositions of a witness to be tendered in evidence. He publicly read the provisions and appealed to the Tribunal in the interest of justice to admit the PVC since PW1 had mentioned it in his witness statement as authorized by the Electoral Act. Ruling on the matter, the Tribunal Chairman summarized the pleadings of 2nd and 3rd Respondents and ruled that further arguments of the Petitioner on the admission of the PCV was unacceptable; the PVC having not been pleaded or listed in the list of evidence ab-initio and accordingly rejected its admission.
Led in examination by the Petitioners counsel, PW1 who was an APC unit Agent in Nsit Atai LGA disclosed how he was stabbed by PDP thugs who invaded his unit and carted away election materials on the day of election. Image and Police report of the injury sustained by PW1 were tendered to the Tribunal raising objection by Respondents on the admissibility of the Police report on points of law. Citing extant laws and authorities Petitioners counsel debunked the objection of Respondent submitting that it was misconceived and should be rejected and the documents admitted. Tribunal ruled that Petitioner mentioned Police report at page 45 of his petition and that Police medical report constituted report of expert witness and admitted same in evidence accordingly.
During cross-examination1st 2nd and 3rd Respondents all attempt to bully and intimidate PW1 to admit that election took place in his unit but he stood his ground affirming to the Tribunal that there was no election in his unit submitting that 2nd and 3rd Respondents manipulated the election “like Maradona”.
Counsel to 1st Respondent, Assam Assam (SAN) caused bewilderment on the floor of the Tribunal by falsely alerting the Tribunal that PW2 whom Counsel to Petitioner had just called/invited for examination (contrary to rule that all other witnesses stay away from the hall during the testimony of another) was seated in the hall while PW1 testified. Petitioners counsel expressed disappointment with such misinformation coming from a very “learned senior” whom he publicly chastised for misinforming the Tribunal. Perplexed and perturbed by the false alert, Tribunal Chairman ruled that PW2 was not in the hall during PW1 examination. PW2 only came in after PW1 had left.
After profiling PW2, Petitioners counsel again sought to tender his PVC as a registered voter for admission in evidence. He referenced paragraph 57 (11) of the witness statement as pleaded and requested PW2’s PVC to be admitted in evidence. The request was again vehemently opposed by the Respondents on grounds earlier canvassed in addition to further arguments by 2nd Respondent counsel proffering grounds for admission of evidence citing Broad Bank Nig. Ltd. V Olayiwola and submitted that Petitioners counsel ought to be familiar with the process of seeking leave of court to secure the admission of further evidence by the Tribunal.
Here, it is noteworthy to state how petitioners counsel J. S. Okutepa (SAN) initiated and canvassed fresh arguments to persuade the Tribunal to accept in evidence the PVC of PW2 in a similar circumstance where the Tribunal rejected the admission of the PVC of PW1. He referred the Tribunal to paragraph 41 (1) of the evidence Act which he averred was superior to Paragraph 41 (1) of the Rules of Court. He queried the relevance of the Rules of Court when the subject matter (PVC) has already been pleaded and mentioned in the petition submitting that, that is what to be considered citing Omega Bank V OBT Limited (2005). He told the Tribunal that Rules of Court emphasized by 2nd Respondent counsel should not be used to pervade the course of justice saying it was a strange introduction to stifle the law.
RULING: The tribunal ruled that the essence of paragraph 41 (1) of the Rules of Court is for the avoidance of counsel springing surprises on their opponents. Here, Petitioner pleaded several documents including witness’s voters card. Failure to list cannot therefore overrule the admission of documents. The tribunal accordingly admitted the PVC of PW2 and reversed itself on the earlier ruling on PW1.
PW2 who was a local government agent for the APC in Ibesikpo/Asutan LGA was cross-examined by the Respondents who strenuously attempted to puncture his written statement wherein he informed the Tribunal that there was no voting in his unit (as he did not vote) and other units in the 10 wards of the LGA on the day of the governorship election and so there was no election and no results as published by INEC.
PW3 was also a witness called by Petitioners counsel from Ibesikpo/Asutan LGA. PW3 was a unit and ward Agent for APC in Ibesikpo/Asutan LGA. His PVC was mutilated and therefore not tendered for admission in evidence. He corroborated the statements of PW2 and affirmed that there was no election in Ward 1, unit 4 located at market square, Afaha Ikot, Obio Nkan where he registered. When asked if he signed any results sheet, he said there was no election and could not have signed any election results sheet.
On cross-examination, counsel to 1st Respondent fiercely interrogated PW3 trying to commit him into assenting that there was an election in his unit/ward. PW3 remained calm and slowly provided answers to questions posed to him by Counsel to 1st Respondent, Assam Assam (SAN) who got obviously frustrated and became combative due to provocation by PW3 who “chopped” the 10minuits allotted to him for cross-examination without achieving his expectations.
PW4, an APC unit and ward Agent was called by Petitioners counsel. He was profiled and put on oath to testify. PW4’s PVC was tendered and admitted by the Tribunal without objection by Respondents relying on the ruling just delivered by the Tribunal at the instance of PW1. PW4 informed the Tribunal that there was no voting/election in Ukanfun. As the unit and ward leader for Ukanafun ward 7, unit 7 PW4 attested that there was violence in Ukanafun on 9th March 2019 the day of the governorship election. He informed the Tribunal that thugs loyal to the PDP invaded his unit provoked violence and carted away election materials. He visited 3 of the 11 wards in Ukanafun and saw for himself that there were no elections in those wards. He said reports received from APC unit and ward agent Agents across the LGA confirmed that there were similarly no elections as recorded by him. He informed the Tribunal that he wrote a protest letter through the SPO to the EO who refused to receive the letter that he personally went to deliver to him. He said he notified the state Chairman of APC and its governorship candidate of the development in Ukanufan LGA on the said day.
PW5 was called as witness by counsel to petitioner. He was profiled and put on oath for testimony and his PVC admitted in evidence. PW5 was local government Agent for APC in Ibiono Ibom LGA. He testified before the Tribunal that there was no election in his LGA. He told the Tribunal that he had an INEC observer status which gave him liberty to rove around the LGA for on the spot assessment of the election exercise. He informed the Tribunal that there was no election in 108 out of the 152 polling units in the LG that he visited on the day of election, March 29th2019. He debunked the attempt by Respondent counsels to discredit his testimony and demonstrated grasp of the political environment in Ibiono as well as knowledge of Akwa Ibom politics to the commendation of J. S. Okutepa (SAN) and admiration of others.
PW6 was called as witness by Petitioners counsel. He was profiled and put on oath to testify. His PVC was tendered and admitted in evidence. PW6 is from Etim Ekpo LGA and was APC Local Government Agent at the election. Led in examination by Petitioners counsel, PW6 informed the Tribunal that election is a process which INEC regrettably did not follow through diligently. He told the Tribunal that he did not vote as there was no proper election conducted in his unit and ward. He informed the Tribunal that the election results purportedly announced by INEC were manipulated and concocted. As a proof of that, PW6 frontloaded copies of Forms EC8 exhibited as PTA 320 – PTA 375 and presented for sighting by the Tribunal as evidence of copious mutilations in polling units result sheets collated and compiled by INEC as the purported election. PW6 resisted every attempt to be hoodwinked and intimidated by the Respondents during cross examination to accede to the furious promptings to negate the contents of his witness statement hitherto adopted in evidence by the Tribunal.
Counsel to Petitioner, J. S. Okutepa thank the Chairman for his patience and indulgence in the fair conduct of the proceedings and for the opportunity to exhaustively utilize the time alloted for him. Likewise, Assam Assam (SAN) commended the Tribunal chairman for his prudence and industry and prayed for the sustenance of the congenial atmosphere at the Tribunal.
The Tribunal adjourned to 11th July, 2019 for continuation of examination of witnesses.