12th September, 2011
Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, which is seeking to upturn the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan at last Aprilâ€™s Presidential election on Monday in Abuja before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal opened its case against Jonathan, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, on a faltering and very disappointing note.
On commencement of the dayâ€™s proceedings, the counsel representing CPC, Mr. Ibrahim Mailami, a senior advocate of Nigeria, called the partyâ€™s first principal witness, Mr. Buba Galadima, the National Secretary of the party to the witness box to adopt his witness statement on oath which will become his oral testimony for the proceedings.
Galadima took to the witness box and identified his signature appended on his deposition and adopted his statement on oath.
The respondents, President Jonathan, PDP and INEC, took turns to cross examine the witness on contents of his deposition and the Tribunal, headed by Justice Kumai Bayang Akhaars, subsequently accepted the deposition of Buba Galadima.
Soon after Galadima was excused, CPC called their second principal witness, Prince Tony Momoh, the partyâ€™s National Chairman to the witness box.
The National Chairman stepped into the box to give evidence on the partyâ€™s claims of rigging in favour of President Jonathan at the April poll.
He identified the signature on the document containing his depositions as his and ascertained that the contents of the documents are his statement on oath.
After preliminary questions by the partyâ€™s lawyer, the respondents took turns to cross-examine Prince Momoh.
In the course of cross examination, it was discovered that Congress for Progressive Party had erroneously mixed up the contents of Momohâ€™s deposition with that of Buba Galadima who also identified the deposition and the accompanying signature as his. Then there was confusion!
Questions based on certain statements of facts contained in the mixed up depositions thrown at CPCâ€™s National Chairman could not be answered as those were not his although he had identified and claimed they were his.
The party hurriedly requested for a stand down to enable them sort out the mix up and the court obliged them.
Soon after the court acquiesced to the partyâ€™s request for a stand down, lawyers in the legal team of the party went into a shouting match, blaming one another. It was a pitiable sight to behold.
On resumption of proceedings, Mailami attempted to alter the courtâ€™s record by requesting the court to allow them rectify the mistake they made in the depositions of their principal witnesses one and two by substituting that of Galadima with that of Momoh.
Jonathan, represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun and his party represented by Chief Joe Kyari Gadzama, both senior advocates of Nigeria, opposed the application.
Olanipekun opposed the application on the ground that it amounts to changing of witnesses.
He argued that the Tribunal has no jurisdiction to allow CPC to do what it is asking for and posited that a party cannot challenge the record of a court before that same court.
He argued that all the answers given by Buba Galadima in the course of cross-examination came after he had identified his signature and adopted his statement and that Momoh, who is also a legal practitioner of long standing also identified his own signature before adopting the statement as his.
The Presidentâ€™s lawyer further argued that the adopted depositions constitute evidence which cannot be amended or interchanged.
â€œAll we have done here this morning is in compliance with paragraph 41(3) of the first schedule of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, and cannot be altered. We have reached a point of no return,â€ he persisted.
In the same vein, Joe Kyari Gadzama argued that CPCâ€™s lawyer cannot stand at the Bar and claim that all that had been done was a mistake and refused the request for the court to allow the party to interchange witness depositions.
INECâ€™s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo took his opposition higher by urging the court to expunge the submissions of Momoh in the dayâ€™s proceedings as they are hearsays which have no place in the courtâ€™s records.
In a unanimous decision, the 5-man panel agreed with the respondents and held that it was quite unfortunate that the mix up occurred and noted that it is a basic law that after a witness had identified a document and signature as his, it becomes his oral submission which cannot be switched.
The court observed that CPCâ€™s mix up cannot be remedied as the Tribunal must be seen to be holding the bar of justice evenly between parties and not lean heavily in any partyâ€™s side.
Upon this ruling of the court, Mailami, the CPCâ€™s lawyer told the court that it is impossible for the party to continue with their case today and applied to withdraw the partyâ€™s National Chairman, Prince Tony Momoh, as a witness and requested for an adjournment to enable them put their house in order.
Further proceedings continue on Tuesday.
By Nnamdi Felix