Witnesses in the Delta state re-run election petition tribunal, sitting in Asaba, Delta state had on Friday, July 8, 2011 testified that election did not hold in several wards of eight contentious local government areas during the January 6, 2011 re-run election ordered for the state by the Court of Appeal in Benin.
The petition brought before the Tribunal by Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru (Petitioner) , is challenging results declared by INEC in eight local governments that elections were allegedly not duly conducted. They include, Warri North, Warri South, Warri South West, Patani, Ika North East, Ethiope West, Bomadi and Isoko South.
The 13 out of the 20 witnesses called by the counsel to the petitioner, Prof. Mogbeyi Sagay (SAN) include a former commissioner in Uduaghan’s cabinet, George Timinimi, younger brother to the newly sworn-in commissioner for environment, Barrister Eric Omare, Arch. Sylvester Obi Adoye, Charleds Omanele, Tommy Olugbo, Chief Duncan Ewere, Rev. Martins Eboigbe, Sunny Okpoye, Mr. Sylvester, Henry Obaha, Tosan Awani, Johnson Okwho and Peter Emabamije.
The witnesses who swore to the relevant oaths averred that election did not hold in their respective units and wards, adding that the votes cast returned from the eight local government areas and announced by INEC did no emanate from the various units and wards since the party agents were not privy to the said voting materials allegedly distributed by INEC during the election. The Tribunal had issued 10 minutes each for witnesses’ appearances and cross-examination.
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan is the First Respondent, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are the Second and Third Respondents in the petition.
Meanwhile, the First and Second respondents are also challenging the results of five local government areas where they alleged that the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) which is the second Petitioner, may have unlawfully garnered votes or rigged elections.
The local governments being challenged by the PDP are Udu, Uvwie, Ughelli North, Ughelli South and Ethiope East.
The tribunal had ordered the parties involved in the matter to sort out the relevant INEC materials which have undergone forensic analysis before tendering same from the Bar to the court to avoid further objections by the respondents in the matter. The materials include forms EC8A, EC8B and ballot papers used for the January 6, 2011 re-run election.
According to the lead counsel to the petitioner, Prof. Mogbeyi sagay, “Our claims is that we want the petitioner to be declared the winner and in the relief being sought in the petition, we are asking that the votes that were declared there were invalid votes.
He had urged the Tribunal to remove the contentious votes and use the remaining valid votes to declare the petitioner as having won the majority of the lawful votes and also having won 25 percent of at least the two-third of all the local governments in accordance with the Electoral Act.
The trial session began after a pre-trial by the Delta state re-run election three-man Tribunal, headed by Justice Uzoamaka Doris Ogwurike with Justices Louis Ogbonna Okereke and Bello Duwale as members respectively.
Recall that the Delta State Election Petition Tribunal had earlier during its pre-trial sitting struck out applications of the 1st (Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan) and 2nd (PDP) Respondents urging leave of the Tribunal to dismiss the matter instituted by Chief Great Ogboru of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), where he is seeking the nullification of the election victory of Governor Uduaghan at the January 6 governorship rerun election.
Lead counsel to Governor Uduaghan, Mr. Ken Mozia had at the tribunal’s sitting in an application challenged the “competence and validity of the mode of initiation of the pre-hearing session” and urged the tribunal to dismiss the petitioner’s case but the tribunal struck out the application as well as that which is seeking for an extension and a directory order claiming that the time allowed for filing petitions had elapsed.
Similarly, an application filed by Counsel to PDP (2nd Respondent), Mr. Jolone Ikomi, and supported by a five-paragraph affidavit and a written address in support of the motion, urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition was stuck out by the Tribunal.
The Justice Uzoamaka Ogwurike-led tribunal therefore held that Governor Uduaghan’s application “lacks merit and is hereby dismissed”, just as she averred that the crux of the matter was whether the letter of pre-hearing notice by the petitioner complied with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“The secretary to the tribunal accepted and assessed the letter by the petitioner for issues of pre-hearing notice and in the circumstances it is unconscionable to punish the petitioner for the lapses or actions of the tribunal. Therefore, the petition is sound and proper and the petitioner cannot be said to have abandoned the petition. The application for the pre-hearing is in order.”
Earlier, during the pre-trial the re-run election Tribunal granted an oral application made by Prof Mogbeyi Sagay (SAN) to give an extension to parties in the matter to complete the inspection exercise of election materials which is undergoing forensic analysis at the INEC state headquarters in Asaba, just as all the parties agreed on the second application by Counsel to the First Respondent to Subpoena the Delta state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) to tender all relevant materials in the course of trial.
The Tribunal had however, fixed the dates for the trial proper, in accordance with the agreed procedure that each party in the matter will have two days to do their case. The Dates are: Friday, 8 and Saturday 9 July 2011 for the Petitioner (Great Ogboru); Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 July, 2011 for the First respondent (Emmanuel Uduaghan); Wednesday 13 and Thursday 14 July 2011 for the Second respondent (PDP Delta); and Friday 15 and Saturday 16, July 2011 for the Third respondent (INEC).
All other proceedings including the filing and adoption of all written submissions as well as the dates for final addresses and Ruling will be done between the 17th and 25th of July 2011, when the time limit for the tribunal is expected to elapse.
The Court also ruled that in view of the time limit which is very central to the proceedings, all parties should endeavour to call only essential and indispensable witness. The Court equally established that no adjournments would be granted to any party for witness who are not available on the days designated for their cases, no adjournments would be granted to any party for the appearance of new counsel, no further applications would entertained during trial proper unless on exceptional grounds and a specific time limit would be allotted for each witness, which all parties shall adhere to strictly, amongst other rules.
Mr. Turner Ogboru, younger brother of the petitioner, had during the pre-trial session said that “What the present Tribunal is doing is decisive, precise, and just, ensuring that nobody will waste the time left. They want to ensure that by latest July 25, 2011, judgement in this case is delivered because after 25th of July the court will lack jurisdiction to be able to deliver any judgement or continue any proceeding in this matter based on the constitutional time frame of completing the case within 180 days. And this petition was filed on the January 27, 2011 and so by July 25, 2011, their time would be up and the petition will be incompetent.
“Our expectation on this matter is to win because every man that goes to court expects to win. If we did not think that we have a chance of winning, we will not file a petition. We are sure we have a case and we are sure that our case is solidly supported by the evidence that we have examined from all that INEC has presented to us and which is on record that the type of Tribunal we are seeing is not the type that will give a “Ghana Must Go” bag judgement.”
In the same vein, the state commissioner for housing and Director General of Uduaghan campaign organisation, Chief Paulinus Akpeki has vowed that the first respondent (Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan) and the second respondent (PDP) will pursue the matter to its logical conclusion, as he said they too have issues at the Tribunal that the first petitioner (Chief Great Ogboru) and the second petitioner (DPP) are yet to clear with the Tribunal.