28th May, 2010
Nigeriaâ€™sÂ Osun State Election Petition Tribunal has struck out the petition instituted by the Action Congress (AC) candidate for the House of Representatives, Lasun Yusuf against the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Leo Awoyemi. The same tribunal was on its way toÂ dismissingÂ the three-year old case filed by the governorship candidate of the Action Congress, Alhaji Rauf Aregbesola, against the election of Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the PDP. The chairman of the Tribunal was midway into the verdict when we went to press, but indications were strong that Aregbesolaâ€™s case would go the way of Yusufâ€™s.
Awoyemi, representing Osogbo/Orolu/Olorunda/Irepodun Federal Constituency in Nigeriaâ€™sÂ House of Representatives, was declared winner of the 2007 election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Yusuf of the AC challenged the election.
While striking out the AC candidateâ€™s petition today, the five-member Election Petition Retrial Tribunal led by Justice Garba Alli ruled that Yusuf did not prove his case beyond reasonable doubt and went further to affirm the victory of Awoyemi.
Aregbesola started fighting to retrieve what he described as his stolen mandate a few weeks after the 14 April, 2007 elections which saw the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) swearing in Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola as the governor of Osun State. He filed a 1004-page petition.
The tribunal was not impressed by Aregbesolaâ€™s submission, including the novel use of forensic tools to demonstrate the fraud in Oyinlolaâ€™s election victory. InÂ 2008, the Tribunal dismissed Aregbesolaâ€™s petition and affirmed Oyinlolaâ€™s victory. According to the Tribunal, Aregbesola had failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt.
The judges including Thomas Naron, Saâ€™adu Muhammed, Joy Akpughunum, A.T Badamus and J.E Ekanem, in their declaration, held that Aregbesola did not call as witness a single voter, polling agent, accredited election monitor or any other person lawfully entitled to witness the election.
Naron, who read the tribunalâ€™s judgment, said all the petitionerâ€™s 102 witnesses, who dubbed themselves as ward supervisors, were not known to the nationâ€™s electoral law.
He said allegations of violence, stuffing of ballot boxes, snatching of election materials, were criminal in nature which made the standard of proof to be that of â€œbeyond all reasonable doubts.â€ This was in spite of video evidence tendered by Aregbesola to prove that the election was marred by violence.
â€œHaving stated all these, we hold that the petitioners have not established by credible evidence the acts of violence, non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006, widespread irregularities which substantially affected the results of the elections for the office of the Governor of Osun State,â€the tribunal declared. Consequently it dismissed the petition in its entirety as lacking in merit.
Most Nigerians saw the judgement as contrived especially following allegations that the tribunal hobnobbed with Chief Kunle Kalejaiye, theÂ lawyer to Oyinlola, Chief Kunle Kalejaiye (SAN). TheNews magazine published a telephone call log ofÂ discreet interactions between Kalejaiye and some of the tribunal members. Kalejaiye vehemently denied the charge and threatened to sue the magazine for libel. Infuriated by Kalejaiyeâ€™s public denial, the magazine sued Kalejaiye for alleged libel.
This, among others, compelled Aregbesola to seek the face of the Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, which, in sharp contrast with the Tribunalâ€™s judgement, said the petitioner was denied the use of vital documents to establish his case. The documents, according to the appellate court are forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E.
Headed by Justice Victor Omage, the Court held that: â€œOn no account should a party be refused his documents to assist him establish his case. Election petition must be handled with care. The tribunal was wrong not to have admitted the forms.
â€œI consider issue three (the non-admission of the forms) in the appellantâ€™s amended brief of arguments and interlocutory, as crucial to his case,â€ Omage said, adding that the rejection of the security reports at the tribunal was wrong.
The Appeal Court therefore ordered a re-trial of the case and this led to the appointment of a five-member tribunal headed by Justice Garba Ali from Yobe State. Other members of the tribunal include Justice Abimbola Ogie (FHC Benue State), Justice M T Aliu (Kaduna State), Justice Bashiru Ismaila Aruna (Kebbi State), Justice Agbatan (Enugu State)
While the legal fireworks were going on, human rights activists including Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), were arrested and tried at the court. There was the story of a bomb that went off inside a grey colour Peugeot 505 at the Government Secretariat, Abere, disemboweling an occupant and blinding another while the third occupant took to his heels.
There were testimonies before the tribunals that were nauseating.
There were a host of controversies. Even on Wednesday Tribunal sent out a notice that it will be delivering its judgment today, an online news portal, Elendu Reports claimed that the Tribunalâ€™sÂ judgment was likely to be controversial and that Aregbesolaâ€™s petition â€˜â€™will be dismissed on the grounds that, â€œThat the complaints and allegations are criminal in nature and therefore must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.â€ Elendu also claimed that the Tribunal would also dismiss the appeal on the groundÂ that â€œThe expert witnesses and evidences have no judicial value.â€ Elendu even suggested that the verdict read out this afternoon may have been procured by the defendant at a cost of N3B (three billion naira).
â€”Gbenro Adesina/Osogbo & Eromosele Ebhomele