With the Benue State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, resuming sitting on September 7, 2015, it has becomes important to examine the critical issues and facts before the tribunal, which must be resolved before the people of Benue State know their authentic elected governor.
The petitioner, Mr. Terhemen Tarzoor of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had predicated his petition on one sole issue: That Dr. Samuel Ortom of the All Progressives Congress, APC, not being validly nominated by his political party, the APC, was not qualified and competent to contest the guber poll.
Tarzoor is consequently, asking the tribunal to nullify Ortom’s election and declare him (Tarzoor) as governor of the state.
Certain legal and factual issues have however developed and may work against the ambition of Tarzoor. First of all, in suit FHC/MKD/CS/09/2015, the PDP, had filed a pre-election action at the Federal High Court, Makurdi, raised the same issues and claimed similar reliefs as the petition of Mr. Tarzoor was to later claim in his election petition.
On May 21, 2015, while Tarzoor’s matter was still pending, the Federal High Court, Makurdi dismissed the suit by the PDP. And till date, the PDP is yet to appeal that final judgment.
This development prompted counsel to APC, Mr Sebastine Hon, SAN, to amend the APC reply to the petition and therein raised the defence of res judicata, since the PDP and Mr. Tarzoor were co-joined as far as the disputed governorship election was concerned. Res Judicata means a matter that has been decided by a court of competent jurisdiction, which the present tribunal needs not to waste its time on.
The motion on notice filed by Mr. Hon wherein issues of res judicata, abuse of court process, lack of locus standi on the part of Mr. Tarzoor to pry into the internal affairs of the APC and other issues on the jurisdiction of the tribunal has been slated for hearing on September 7, 2015, when parties are expected to adopt their final addresses before the tribunal gives its final judgement.
It is instructive to note that apart from the issue of res judicata, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN and Prof. Anthony Ijohor, SAN, counsel to Dr. Ortom and the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, respectively, have raised similar points in their motions on notice, which will also be entertained by the Tribunal on September 7, 2015.
Apart from these threshold issues of the jurisdiction of the tribunal, Mr. Tarzoor called only one eyewitness to the rescheduled APC State Congress of December 10 -11, 2015. He is Mr. Terkaa Andyar, a staff of INEC, the body charged with the statutory function of monitoring political party primaries.
As the only eyewitness to the rescheduled APC primary election, who was said to have co-signed a report to the effect that no such congress took place, Tarzoor camp was upbeat about the potency or decisiveness of the evidence of this witness. Thus, when Mr. Andyar stepped into the witness box on August 3, 2015 to testify, there was tension in the courtroom.
Tension in the courtroom
The witness identified and tendered Exhibit P7 the damning INEC report and also adopted his statement on oath.
Under cross-examination, however, this witness made startling admissions. Responding to a question from Mr. Hon, he admitted that said report, Exhibit P7, had nothing on it to indicate that it emanated from INEC. He further admitted that it was not written on INEC letterhead and that the word ‘INEC’ either in full or in abbreviation could be found on the report. The worst case scenario arose when he agreed with Mr. Hon that the signature on the report was not his own.
All other witnesses called by Mr. Tarzoor adduced essentially hearsay evidence, since none of them was an eyewitness to the APC congress that produced Dr. Ortom as the APC flagbearer.
In its defence, APC called Baba Dala, a legal practitioner who was the Chairman of the State Congress of the APC, who gave graphic evidence of how Dr. Ortom emerged as the APC flagbearer as consensus candidate and how this was ratified by over 3,000 of the 4,013 delegates that attended the congress.
All eyes are therefore on the Justice Elizabeth Karatu-led tribunal as it reconvenes on September 7, for parties to adopt their final written addresses. Thereafter, the Benue State people who are very much expectant will know who their real governor is, when the tribunal will deliver its judgment.