16th August, 2011
The Governorship Election Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, North Central Nigeria, has adjourned ruling till Friday 19 August 2011 for consolidated ruling after hearing the submissions of all counsel on the preliminary objection raised by Governor Gabriel Suswam’s counsel on the issue of certificate forgery against him by Professor Ugbah of Action Congress of Nigeria.
The ACN governorship candidate in the April election in Benue State, is also challenging the election of Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State.
Counsel to Prof. Steve Ugbah, Mr Femi Falana has claimed that Governor Gabriel Suswam intentionally hid his qualification as he did not make same available to the Independent National Electoral Commission, before contesting the last April election.
Mr Falana, who made this allegation at the ongoing governorship tribunal sitting in Makurdi yesterday during his arguments at the resumed sitting of the tribunal, insisted that the issue of non presentation of certificate to INEC must be heard so that the person who is governing the state should not be seen as someone with questionable character.
Falana lamented that all efforts made to get INEC release materials failed, accusing the electoral body which is supposed to be a neutral party of frustrating the case.
Falana maintained that they are not questioning the issue of forged certificate which is regarded as a criminal offence to be handled by another court, but instead they are challenging the declaration Suswam as governor on grounds of non presentation of certificate which qualifies any candidate to contest an election.
He also noted that while the public has the right to challenge the qualification of a candidate before the election, it behoves on a party in an election to contest the qualification of his fellow candidate.
â€œWe are not quarreling with the election but challenging whether the governor who was declared winner by INEC was qualified to contest the election. Also, if the tribunal arrives at the conclusion that a criminal offence is enclosed in an election petition, then it shall recommend to INEC to prosecute,â€ Falana said.
In the same way he dismissed as technicalities the issue of their witnesses’ statements represented with alphabets or numbers as alleged by the respondents, noting that the new law provides that witnesses should be protected from possible attack from desperate and violent politicians and urged the tribunal to discountenance the objections of the respondents.
Governor Suswamâ€™s counsel Mr Damian Dodo (SAN) in his submission insisted that the tribunal had ruled on the allegation of presentation of certificate in the case of Prof. Daniel Saror Vs Governor Suswam and urged the tribunal to abide by the ruling that was delivered on 11 August 2011, adding â€œthis is not the place to ventilate such pleasâ€.
On the issue that INEC did not capture the particulars of his client, Dodo argued that it is a pre-election matter that does not concern the tribunal, noting that is a smart after thought by Prof. Ugbah to avoid the impact of the Saror/Suswam case on his.
He said it is not the responsibility of respondents to compel INEC to publish particulars of a candidate and urged the tribunal to grant their application in the interest of justice.
At the same time as counsel to PDP, Solo Akuma said if there is an allegation of criminal conduct in an election petition and WAEC, which such allegation is made against, is not joined in the suit, then the tribunal cannot make any decision.
Consequently, after hearing the submissions of all the counsel, the tribunal Chairman, Justice Munir Ladan adjourned the matter till Friday, 19 August 2011 for consolidated ruling.
By Ubong George/Makurdi