Legal brickbats can be a drab and boring exercise, especially to the uninitiated. The call of witnesses to the dock, the questions, mannerism, gesticulations, the objections and the counters can really wrack the nerves. But, watching the Learned Men throw banters at each other at the beginning and end of court sessions and charging at each other during proceedings presents quite a paradox. Call it a profession’s shenanigans if you like. It’s just the ways of law and Lawyers.
This scenario was evident in the contentious Akwa Ibom governorship election legal tussle holding in Hall 8 of the Abuja High Court. It was exhirating watching Lawyers in the legal divide trying to ensnare each other to score legal points in a case which ordinarily should have been a very straight case of electoral fraud perpetrating against a people who have the constitutional right to choose who should governed them.
But, the most exciting part of the court drama, is usually when parties to a dispute are asked to adopt their written addresses to capture the high points in their attempt to sway the jury to see the law from their point of view. The drama, gesticulations, the shouting match, the inference to the position of law, quotations from authorities and decided cases to buoy up positions, and of course the resort to frivolous applications, to delay or derail the strings and order of proceeding, added to firm up such excitement
All these scenes played out October 8, 2015, when the parties in the Akwa Ibom Governorship Election Petition, were scheduled to adopt their written addresses, and consequently got a reserved date for judgment. First, to fire the strings of application was the Counsel to the Second Respondent, PDP, Mr Tayo Oyetibo who had failed to file their reply on point of law within the time prescribed by law and consequently sought extension of time. He capitalized on an innocuous typographical error on the date on the signature page of the Petitioners Address, which was suppose to be Sept. 30 but typed Oct. 30.2015.
It should be noted that it was on the signature page but not on the front page, to object to its adoption. This objection met the dexterity of Counsel to the Petitioner (Umana/APC), Wole Olanipekun(SAN), who after intense argument, backed by citations of law and decided cases got the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Sadiq Umar, to retort and warn “ Do not drag my court back.” He subsequently dismissed the objection.
After the initial attempt to “drag the tribunal back”, the Final Addresses on the point of law commenced. Counsel to Umana/APC, Mr Wole Olanipekun (SAN) fired the first salvo by urging the Tribunal to grant all the reliefs he sought on about 11 grounds. Among the areas, he stated he had proven his case were in the irregularities. Seeing election as a process, he said the components and ingredients of elections, viz, accreditation, voting and collation were all proven to be irregular in the April 11, governorship elections in Akwa Ibom State. He said that the mistake the Respondents made was to chose to see the Petitioner’s case merely on Exhibit 317 which is the evidence from the card reader, instead of looking at the whole gamut of evidence from a total of360 exhibits, 52 witnesses, making a grand total of 412 materials (talisman), to prove their case.
He equally, drew the Tribunals attention to pages 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, and 14 of the address which proved the issue of accreditation. In pages 17 and 18, the issue of collation were proven while pages 19 – 24 in the address graphically addressed the issue of return forms. He said the issue of regularity which the respondents made a big issue out of, can only arise if there was regularity in the election, but not in the case where the election was marred by widespread irregularities.
He said this was a case in which even the Governorship candidate in the election was not even allowed to vote! And, equally reminded the jury that the petition was able to bring two governorship candidates of other political parties (Accord and DPP) to come and testify to the Tribunal, while the Respondents couldn’t bring any. It was in the opinion of the Counsel that it bespeak of serious infraction in the election if the petitioner could call collation agents to come to the Tribunal to testify and the respondents couldn’t bring any.
Olanipekun referred the tribunal to pages 8, 9, 10 and 11 of his address to counter the point the respondents made about the issue of card reader where they said was against the Electoral Act and asked rhetorically whether the use of card reader did not prove the issue of accreditation. He seriously sought the attention of the tribunal to the fact that though the respondents brought the Incidence forms to the tribunal, they didn’t tender them. The simple reason being that those forms, meant to authenticate accreditation for voting, were not signed! It was a clear case of allocating figure and seeking to fill the forms, but the ad-hoc electoral officers couldn’t be traced to sign them.
Counsel to the petitioners reminded the tribunal that while the petitioners brought ballot papers before the court, the respondents ended up saying the ballots were mixed up, a clear bridge of the electoral guidelines which require that ballots should be clearly filed away and stored after elections, in order which the elections were held. But, in this case, the ballots were jumbled up, showing criminal intent.
Concluding the address, the lawyer backed his erudition by quoting from a plethora of laws, rules, legislation and decided cases, and urged the Lordship to grant all the reliefs sought by the petitioners, adding a time- tested quote “No election known to law, no election known to mankind, no election known to civilization was conducted in Akwa Ibom State” ( on April 11, 2015). He added “The respondents ran away from discussing the issue of the mode of accreditation, they constantly attacked card readers but they ran away from discussing how the accreditation was done. They brought incidence forms but refused to tender them.”
Conversely, and expectedly, the respondents which include Udom Emmanuel, PDP, INEC and Resident Electoral Commissioner, Austin Okojie, represented by Paul Usoro (SAN), Tayo Oyetibo and Onyechi Ikpeazu, tried to put up spirited effort to douse the brilliant erudition of the petitioners. They all hinged their defence on the regularity of the process, which they posit was in favour of INEC as far the election results were concerned. This was meant to counter the petitioners’ claims that the elections were marred by irregularities.
Paul Usoro was particular in stating that the election result was a pyramid and form EC 8A collated from polling units was not used to prove irregularities. He equally made allusion to the fact that, with 2980 polling units, only 52 witnesses were called by the petitioner. But the question in this case has been, if the petitioners presented 52 witnesses and also tendered 360 exhibits, making a total of 412 talisman, how many did the election ‘winner’ presents? 19 witnesses for Udom Emmanuel out of over 400 listed and a further application for 9000! Laughable.
The case of PDP and INEC presented a pathetic case. While Tayo Oyetibo harped on the assertion that the petitioner said that they were no election but it presented card readers, and that the petitioners said only 19 wards had elections, INEC represented by Mr Ikpeazu equally attacked the card reader(exhibit 317), and why it was not a veritable material in the case. The learned SAN also saw something wrong with the employment of forensic experts, saying they were not in Akwa Ibom state during the election and were merely relying on documentary hearsay. He also faulted the petitioners’ claim that they were voting in some cases but materials were snatched on the way to collation centres.
The points to note here is that harping on the card reader was INEC method to curb rigging, and was officially designated as a tool during the elections. In any case, the petitioner brought exhibit 317 (card reader) to disprove the claim of over a million accredited voters as claimed by INEC. Secondly, if other states have used card readers, adhering strictly to the directive from INEC National Secretary, Mrs Augusta C. Ogakwu that the use of the equipment was compulsory, why didn’t the Akwa Ibom INEC obey the rule?
Most important, why didn’t they tender the Incidence which was supposed to be the alternative to the card reader? And still, which method did the state electoral body was used to authenticate the voters if the card reader and the Incidence form are not the basis for verifying voters? Again, the claim that the forensic expert were not in the state when the fraud of election occurred, is to say the least, infantile. Must forensic auditors, pathologists, etc, be around when financial fraud or murder is committed? For God’s sake these are researches that can capture or authenticate fraud whether you are around or not when the crimes were committed.
A million questions can be asked but that would be left for the Tribunal, while they ponder over the volume of evidences before them. But one thing is sure, it is quite soothing to know that elections in our state and country is going through serious scrutiny. The era when touts, miscreants and societal misfits take over the political space, using intimidation, will grind to an end. And this will largely depend on a court verdict that will be decided on the points of law and not on technicalities. Mundane issues such as using initials for witnesses, signing signatures in inappropriate places or putting dates in wrong places cannot vitiate the fact that law abiding citizens were eager to go out and exercise their constitutional franchise but were stopped by people who insisted on foisting themselves on them and continue to exhibit mediocrity, impudence, and arrogance in the political space of our people. It is one election that will bring sanity to our electoral system and encourage people who something to contribute to society to step forward. And, most important, it will make politics persuasive, passionate and would have complemented the change mantra which is coursing through the land like a tide.
Ankak, a journalist and public affairs analyst, lives in Lagos
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