The legal fireworks at the Edo State governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Benin-City ended on Monday, March 3, 2017, with all the parties reading their final addresses before the three-man panel led by Justice Ahmed Badamasi.
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September 28, 2016 governorship election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, had gone to the tribunal, urging it to nullify the election of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Godwin Obaseki, and declare him winner of the election after he alleged that the election was not conducted according to the Electoral Act. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Obaseki the winner of the election after he polled 319,483 votes as against the 253,173 scored by Ize-Iyamu.
Yusuf Ali (SAN) led senior counsel Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), Adebayo Adelodun (SAN), Roland Otaru (SAN), D.C.Denwigwe SAN, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), Chief H.O.Ogbodu SAN, Akintola Kehinde SAN, Kehinde Eleja SAN, Dr P.A.Otaigbe among others to argue Ize-Iyamu’s case. On Obaseki’s part, Chief Wole Olanipekun, (SAN) argued his case. Others in his team include Adetunji Oyeyipo (SAN), Ken Mozia, (SAN), A.J.Owonikoko (SAN), Dr Oladapo Olanipekun, (SAN), Chief N.Ekanem, (SAN), Joseph Odibeli. APC was represented by Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, Ricky Tarfar, SAN, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, (SAN), Austin Alegeh, SAN, Rotimi Oguneso, SAN, Dr J.O.Olatoke, SAN and H.O.Afolabi (SAN).
On its part, the INEC is represented by A.B.Mahoud, SAN, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, (SAN), H.M.Liman, (SAN), Ahmed Raji, SAN, Mathew Ugwuocha, Onyinye Anumonye, among others. Justice Badamasi gave 20 minutes to each of the parties to address the court on the points of law. The first respondent in the case, INEC, through Ikpeazu, urged the tribunal to dismiss Ize-Iyamu’s petition, saying the petitioner failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt. The counsel punctured the claim that the INEC failed to produce witnesses during the trial which most PDP members in Edo see as a victory.
On his part, counsel to Obaseki, Olanipekun, tore apart Ize-Iyamu’s petition page by page, saying the petitioner went on a wild goose chase throughout the trial. He insisted that the tribunal should throw away the petition on the grounds of the identity of Ize-Iyamu. The lawyer posited: “Why are we here, who is the petitioner, what is his identity?
In the body of the petition, we have Pastor Ize-Iyamu Osagie Andrew, while in his party’s nomination form, he described himself as Osagie Ize-Iyamu. We have submitted to you, your lordships, that, that is not the name of the person sponsored by the political party to contest election on its behalf. They have filed a reply and they compounded the matter beyond redemption. The Supreme Court decision says if you are AT, or TA, you cannot say you are TJ. These are binding decisions of the Supreme Court. We urge your lordships to apply them because there must be certainty of the person who is the petitioner and I will say for now there is no certainty and rather than addressing the matter they compounded it the more in their counter affidavit.
“Let’s even talk about the merit of the case, there is no correlation between their pleadings and evidence and the relief is the bus stop of whatever a party claims before a court. So they agreed that they have abandoned their case which is corrupt practices during the election. But why are we here? Corrupt practices and malpractices are intertwined. They are like siamese twins. Once you said you have abandoned the issue of corrupt practices, that is the end of the petition.
“Another issue is that they are talking about ballot recount, My lords, I am a counsel in this matter but I am not aware of any ballot recount. And that takes us to the address of the petitioners. Even if this court directed the secretary of the tribunal to count the ballot papers, whatever might be the result of that exercise will be admitted in evidence. In the case of Almakura, that is where the Supreme Court agreed with Yusuf Ali, SAN, documents were brought but they were not tendered. Even when you tender documents for identification, the Supreme Court says no court can use them because you don’t tender documents for identification. You either tender to be admitted or you are rejected; no more no less.
And it is not right to ask the court to count ballot papers, it is not possible and that is the heart of their case. I refer to the case of Agagu VS Mimiko and INEC VS Oshiomhole. To buttress the point, even in those two cases, when the counting exercise were done, we were there, the report were now tendered and admitted formally in court after counting the ballot.
“Why are we here, the sword they are holding is so weak, because in their pleadings they told the court, corrupt practices, non-compliance with manual and the Electoral Act. Now when they got here they could not prove anything; they now diverted to ticking or no ticking. But the Supreme Court has decided in CPC VS INEC on ticking or not ticking, that setting out on this adventure the appellant went on a journey without the necessary materials that would have enabled them established over voting. You can only establish over voting. What one expected was for the appellant to prove that registered voters in the polling units were more than allowed. They have abandoned their case completely. And the court will not come to the aid of such a customer that is so slippery, so mercurial, they don’t know what they want”.
Counsel to APC, Fagbemi, responding, said: “There is a difference between calling witnesses and calling evidence. What the petitioners have done in this case is to call witnesses without calling evidence and, from that angle, I urge your lordship to dismiss this petition. From time immemorial, over voting, non-accreditation have always qualified as a specie of malpractices and therefore my Lords, it is a matter bordering on criminality. There is no doubt about what standard that is required, the standard is beyond reasonable doubt. But they failed to meet up with this”.
Counsel to Ize-Iyamu , Yusuf Ali, said the petition had merit and that they had provided sufficient evidence for the tribunal to declare the PDP candidate the winner of the election. “I want to call your attention to ten important points in this matter to show your lordships that this petition ought to succeed. This is an unusual petition unfortunately being fought in the usual way. It is a 24th century petition of which my colleagues on the other side have deployed 18th century equipment”, the counsel said. “Olanipekun is saying that manual is useless but the Supreme Court said in Faleke VS INEC, that manuals are relevant in an election.
All the allegations of non-compliance in this matter were against the first respondent (INEC) unlike in other matters. By virtue of the nature of the allegations in the petition, only INEC can answer. INEC did not even field a single person to come and answer to the allegations because it is their duty to enforce the manual. The manual is a subsidiary legislation. One interesting feature of this petition for which I said it is unusual is that you said you are dissatisfied with the conduct of the election in certain places in Edo. The second respondent who was declared winner also said he was dissatisfied. So if we are unanimous that that election was badly conducted, why are we wasting time here?”.
On the identity of the petitioner, the counsel said: “It is only the PDP that can disown him. That was the party that sponsored him. If you said somebody used another person’s certificate, you have to present the real owner. The identity of the 1st petitioner is not in doubt. There is no controversy about the identity of Ize-Iyamu”. After listening to their addresses, Justice Badamasi commended the counsel for comporting themselves throughout the trial. “Some of you we have not met before but I have been hearing your names. I commend you all for your efforts. We are going to fix a date for judgment and communicate to the parties”. It was learnt that the judgment is expected to be delivered before Easter holidays in order not to exceed the time prescribed by the Electoral Act for the hearing of the petition.