THE Edo State governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Benin City has fixed December 12, 2016, for pre-hearing and January 9, 2017, for the hearing of the main petition filed before it by the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ahmed Badamasi, also disclosed that all applications will now be taken alongside the substantive petition following an agreement reached by counsel to the petitioners and the respondents, who agreed that on the new dates amongst other issues.
The PDP governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, is challenging the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Godwin Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the September 28, 2016, governorship election in the state.
Proceedings at the tribunal had commenced at about 9.33am when counsel to the PDP, Kemi Pinhero (SAN), leading other lawyers, acknowledged that there was an avalanche of applications before the tribunal.
He then informed the tribunal that in the light of this, counsel from both the petitioners and the respondents engaged each other in a meeting and resolved among others that pre-hearing be fixed for Monday, December 12, 2016, while the tribunal proper commences in January 2017.
While acknowledging that their decision can only be approved by the tribunal, Pinhero said the meeting also resolved that all applications before the tribunal for which it convened on Wednesday be taken during the final addresses of counsel of the respective parties.
“We have made the tribunal’s task easy today because of the senior legal counsel on both sides. We met, we have discussed, and we have engaged ourselves and agreed, subject to your overriding discretion that all these applications be heard alongside the prehearing of the petition.”
Counsel to the INEC, Onyinye Anunonye; expressed satisfaction with the arrangement, while counsel to Godwin Obaseki, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who confirmed the position of the counsel to the PDP and its candidate, said the position was adopted due to the fact that all counsel involved were officers of the tribunal.
He then listed two of the motions his client has filed to include the one dated November 29, 2016, which is challenging the competence of the entire petition of the PDP and its candidate, and another one dated November 30, 2016, which is challenging the petitioner’s reply to his client’s reply
On his part, counsel to the APC, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), confirmed the meeting the counsel had and aligned himself with the submissions of Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN).
Meanwhile, issues with the modalities to be adopted for the inspection of ballot papers used for the conduct of the election dominated proceeding on Wednesday with the PDP’s counsel alleging that the order of the tribunal over the inspection was being frustrated by the respondents.
He said the petitioners have informed the respondents about some of the challenges they face, adding that “it does appear that there is a deliberate and connived attempt to frustrate our inspection of ballot papers.”
He said during the scanning process, the respondents insisted that each of their 10 representatives must inspect a ballot paper, pointing out that it was taking at least 10 minutes to inspect a ballot paper.
He said, “Even when INEC gives a time of 9:00am for the inspection to start, they (respondents) will come late and always insisted that the inspection must start afresh.”
However, counsel to Obaseki, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said the issue of inspection of ballot papers was not for the tribunal to decide, adding that “if they want a variation, they should bring an application to that effect.”
Our reporter observed that the unlike the last sitting, the business of the tribunal was conducted in a peaceful a atmosphere with police condoning off the Benin High Court premises of the tribunal and security personnel admitting only 10 members of each parties to the courtroom.