The 10th sitting of the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom state which held at its usual location in Uyo on 11th July 2019 was anything but genuinely astonishing. Case mentioned; Nsima Ekere of APC v Udom Emmanuel of PDP, Tribunal chairman proceeded to acknowledge the presence of parties. After which counsels to the var ties announced their representation in a manner consistent with the past (more or less).
J. S. Okutepa, counsel to Petitioner took the floor by reporting to the Tribunal issue of urgent attention. He reported that after the previous day sitting wherein one of his witnesses, Dr. Ita Udosen (PW2) who incidentally is the State Deputy Chairman of APC testified before the Tribunal, he received a death threat via text message at about 20:03hrs from phone number 08135884945 stating “Now that you have testified prepare your obituary”. Speaking further, Okutepa (SAN) said, my Lord, “other witnesses of mine have come forward to express fear of intimidation. I have asked my client to alert the security agencies. It should not be taken lightly following the fear instilled in my witnesses. I want to put the Tribunal on notice and to implore the chairman to use his office to cause investigation to be initiated into the matter having identified the phone number”.
1st Petitioners counsel Assam Assam (SAN) expressed concern over the development, saying Okutepa (SAN) ought to have consulted him in the first instance in order that they jointly address the matter before reporting publicly to the Tribunal. He pondered which of the 3 or even 4 parties could be behind the plot. He averred that petitioners were earlier mentioned in an alleged plot to instigate violence and cause Tribunal sitting to be relocated to Abuja suggesting that the incidence could be a ploy by petitioners to perpetrate that agenda.
2nd Respondent counsel, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) said the threat to PW2 was a serious matter. He said, “it is a criminal offence to threaten a witness and tantamount to contempt of court. We want to know who is responsible and we must fish out any such person. However, Tribunal must remove itself from it being a criminal offence and allow security agencies to handle it. 3rd Respondent counsel, Dr. Solomon Elanleye sympathized with the Petitioner and advised petitioner to contact the DSS to unravel those behind the heinous crime.
Reacting to comments by Respondent counsels, Okutepa (SAN) thanked the Chairman and his colleagues for showing concern over the matter. He however regretted the comments and insinuations made by Assam Assam (SAN) specifically referencing his attempt to impugn the character of his clients by suggesting or associating petitioners with violence. The statement by my colleague that “this is not how we practice here is an indictment of my many years of laborious legal practice. Legal practice in Akwa Ibom should not be any different from practice anywhere else. I do not have any reason to discuss and agree with Chief Assam over the threat posed to my witness because it is not within the purview of our relationship in this Tribunal. Unlike my friend Tayo Oyetibo who said the Tribunal should remove itself, I think in the contrary, the Tribunal should take it upon itself to correspond with the security agencies and cause the incidence to be investigated. My colleagues should not advise me or offer their opinion. I only brought the matter to the attention of the Tribunal. I know what to do.”
In conclusion, Tribunal Chairman affirmed that the Tribunal has noted and recorded the report and would take appropriate steps. He said he was aware through the Court of Appeal earlier petitions for the Tribunal to be moved to sit in Abuja but nevertheless they were instructed to remain in Uyo. He appealed for indulgence on all sides.
Thereafter, petitioners counsel proceeded to call his witness – PW7 who was profiled and put on oath accordingly. PW7 affirmed his witness depositions of 29th March 2019 and prayed the Tribunal to adopt his deposition as witness statement and equally admit same in evidence. PW7 declared his PVC missing in a robbery incidence which he lodged at Ikot Ekpene Central Police station. His witness statement was afterall admitted in evidence and marked by the Tribunal. PW7 doubled as APC polling agent at unit 1, Odoro Ikot and ward 1 collation Agent for Essien Udim LGA. He told the Tribunal during cross examination that APC won both in his unit and ward with a wide margin but the results returned from the units were tinkered with by INEC presiding officers who did not undertake collation at the ward collation centre but rather opted for the LG collation centre where they colluded to discretely concocted the ward results. He further informed the Tribunal that APC ward collation Agents were denied access to the LG collation centre so they were oblivious of the results so collated and announced by INEC. Concluding, he said INEC later cancelled the results in his presence as contentions set-in.
PW8 was called by Petitioners counsel. He was profiled and put on oath. He admitted his witness deposition of March 29th2019 and prayed the Tribunal to adopt and admit same in evidence. His PVC was admitted in line with the earlier ruling of the Tribunal. PW8 is a registered voter in unit 1, ward 11 of OrukAnam LGA. He informed the Tribunal that the election was disrupted by thugs loyal to PDP who invaded his polling unit and carted away election materials alongside INEC ad-hoc staff. He told the Tribunal him and other APC supporters were brutalized by thugs causing them severe bodily harm and injury.
PW9 was called by Petitioners counsel, profile and put on oath. His witness statement was admitted and marked by the Tribunal though he declared that his PVC got lost on election day. He was APC Agent for ward 4, Usuk Ediene in Ikono LGA. He said there was no election in the ward because of violence that engulfed the process following a fight by PDP and APC members. He said PDP employed “local security” which he explained to the Tribunal to mean “able bodied young men” that PDP engaged to ferment trouble and subvert the election process by their pay master.
Next to enter the witness stand was PW10. He was profiled and put on oath. PW10 is from Mkpat Enin LGA. When tendered for admission, PW10’s PVC was rejected as 3rd Respondent counsel spotted an anomaly in his PVC. The name with which he introduced himself to the Tribunal was slightly at variance with that on the PVC he presented. Respondent counsels contended that PW10 was not one and the same person as presented before the Tribunal and urged the Tribunal to discountenance PW10’s witness depositions. Tribunal reasoned with Respondent counsels and discharged PW10.
Last best not the least was PW11 who was invited to take the witness box at the instance of Petitioners counsel. He was profiled and put on oath. PW11 affirmed his deposition of 29th March 2019 and prayed the Tribunal to adopt same as his witness statement and evidence. PW11’s PVC was admitted and marked by Tribunal.
PW11 was registered at unit 002, Esa Ibiaku, ward 3 of Mkpat Enin LGA. He informed the Tribunal that he doubled as unit and ward collation Agent for his Party-APC at Mkpat Enin ward 3. Against intimidation by 1st Respondent counsel, he stressed the fact that his unit 002 was designated as collation centre for ward 3. Tha,t there was no collation of results in the ward and therefore no valid election results for Mkpat Enin ward 3 as announced by INEC.
Upon exchange of goodwill messages in a friendly atmosphere, Tribunal Chairman adjourned sitting with the consent of both sides to Tuesday, 16th July 2019.