26th September, 2012
Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal began sitting this morning amidst tight security in Benin.
The tribunal heard the petition filed by Maj.Gen. Charles Airhiavbere, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the July 14 governorship election in the state, challenging the victory of Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
The Tribunal also heard the challenge of the jurisdiction of the tribunal by the ACN governor.
Screening of journalists covering the hearing by stern-looking security men who took over the vicinity of the high court-venue of the Tribunal began as early as 7 am.
Many journalists were as a result prevented from gaining access into the court room.
This might not be unconnected with the alarm raised by the Chairman of Airhiavbere’s campaign Organisation, Okharedia Ihimhkpen, who in a press statement last Sunday alleged that some “political elements” were planning to ferment trouble at the tribunal by recruiting hoodlums to cause mayhem.
The court room was filled to capacity by politicians from both ACN and PDP with hundreds of their supporters, and scores of lawyers and other observers, who troupes into the court as early as 7 am.
Amongst notable politicians at the court was the State Deputy Governor, Dr. Pius Odubu.
Lead Counsel to Governor Oshiomhole, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), prayed the Tribunal to strike out and dismiss the petition for lack of competence and jurisdiction, arguing that only the Federal High Court has the jurisdiction to hear the case, citing several authorities to back his submission.
He submitted that the point of law is incontestable because the petition is fatally defective, said that as the petitioner relied solely on the electoral law instead of the Nigerian constitution.
Olanipekun further said that the court cannot adjudicate on an issue that is not an election matter, saying that the issue of forgery of result which is being pursued by the petitioner is not a civil case, but a criminal case which can only be pursued at the Federal High Court.
“The relief being asked for is as bad as asking the presiding judge to adjudicate on land matter in Benin,” he said.
Besides, he argued that since the competence and jurisdiction of the petitioner’s application is being challenged, the Tribunal cannot make any binding order.
In his argument, Counsel to the 2nd Respondent (ACN), A. O Aleghe (SAN) argued that the electoral act as stated in the petition did not prescribe any form of qualification. He therefore prayed the court to strike out the 4th and 5th respondents saying that they cannot be sued.
But counsel to the petitioner, Akpofure (SAN) said section 138 of the electoral act has dealt with the issue of non-qualification, just as he urged the Tribunal to dismiss 2nd respondent application with excruciating cost.
“None of the application has been able to convince the tribunal that the Supreme Court has overruled itself on the matter. The petitioner also has the right to sue all the parties,” Akpofure said.
Akpofure who said determining the petition at this stage will be premature, further pointed out that a Supreme Court judgment had ruled that such petition must wait because of time frame in election matters, even as he prayed the tribunal to compel the 3rd to 5th respondents to make available certified true compy of voters register in Esan North East, Esan South East and West respectively.
Having listened to the Counsel’s arguments, head of the Tribunal, Justice Suleman Ambrusa granted the petitioner’s application, but added that ruling on the issue of jurisdiction will be given priority.
“If the issue of jurisdiction stands, then the case is closed,” Ambrusa said, explaining that though the law says the judge cannot make an order if its jurisdiction is being challenged, but the law did not stop it from hearing an application.