By Gbenga Olarinoye
A forensic expert, Dr. Ndarabasi Ekong, who has been giving evidence for Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola at the Osun State Election Petitions Retrial Tribunal sitting in Osogbo yesterday admitted that he examined and analysed more ballot papers than the total votes cast in two local governments during the 14 April 2007 poll, but said heÂ did not do the examination in isolation.
Dr. Ekong who entered the witness box for the second time was being cross-examined by Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, leading counsel to the Governorship candidate of the Action Congress, AC, in Osun State, Engr Rauf Aregbesola.
The forensic expert also informed the tribunal that he did not do the inspection of 156,000 ballot papers in isolation at the INEC office in 35 days.
â€œMy Lords, I did not do the examination in isolation. AC, PDP, SSS and Police representatives were there. I passed the ballot papers to each of them one after the other,â€ he said.
He informed the tribunal that standards differed across countries on the number of fingerprint ridges that could be used to determine clarity of finger prints, adding that Nigeria uses the international standard.
When asked by AC Counsel, Yemi Osibajo, SAN, to explain how he was able to examine so many ballot papers within the allotted number of days, the expert said it was possible because examination of smudged ballot papers did not take time.
â€œIt took less than one minute to examine a smudged ballot paper, three minutes for clear print, four minutes for partially clear print. Ballot papers with no votes did not take any time at all,â€ he said.
When the witness who stated in Exhibit R 19 (3), that he examined 20, 941 ballot papers for Atakunmosa West Local Government of Osun State was confronted with Exhibit 92, where the total votes cast in Boripe Local Government was 14,859, he replied that â€œI examined only what was given to me.â€
Witness indicts INEC
The witness also indicted the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, â€œfor keeping the ballot papers given to me to examine and analyse in damp and wet conditions while others were dusty and bounded together with rubber bandsâ€.
These developments, according to Ekong, had affected the ballot papers on which thump print impressions were done with water based ink by voters.
Under wet or damp condition, the expert asserted that any finger print impression made with water based ink would become faint and migrate into the papers on which it is affixed.
His words: â€œIf it is primary ink, it will not be smudged. If it is permanent ink, it will not be smudged. If it is water-based ink, it will be smudged. The black finger print ink is a permanent ink; it cannot beÂ easily smudged. The purple ink which was used in some local governments is a water-based ink and it will faint and migrate into the paperâ€.
The expert agreed that the ballot papers were examined by him two years after the elections were conducted stressing that â€œthe longer the storage in poor condition, the poorer the quality of print impressions when they are examinedâ€.
When Professor Osinbajo calculated that if the time stated by the witness to examine each ballot paper was taken into consideration, it would have taken him 57 days while he spent 35 days to conduct his assignment, he replied that â€œif the finger print does not have any forensic value, it will take you no timeâ€.
Osinbajo then requested the witness to read out the number of polling units he analysed and compared them with the total number worked upon by Aregbesolaâ€™s forensic expert, Mr. Paul Jobbins.
When Chief R. A. Lawal-Rabana, the leading counsel to Governor Oyinlola objected, the Tribunal overruled him and held that the expert witness could be asked to read from the report of Paul Jobbins.
It was found out that while Paul Jobbins worked on 121 polling units in Ayedaade Local Government, Ekong touched only 11 of them.
He was asked to look at page 10 of Exhibit 90, the report of Paul Jobbins, for Boluwaduro Local Government, Ekong worked on 11 while Jobbins worked on 58.
In Ifedayo Local Government, the witness admitted that he examined only 11 polling units as opposed to 60 that Jobbins examined.
The story was the same in Ife East Local Government where Ekong examined only seven out of 89 polling units that Paul, Jobbins worked upon.
In his defence, Ekong told the Tribunal that â€œWe examined seven. I have already said so in this court that we did not go through all the wards because of time constraint. I also said even if I went through all the wards, it would not have made any difference. Some of the prints were just dots.â€
The witness was then given the calculator to subtract the total number of ballot papers he examined in the 12 Local Governments as compared to the total number of votes.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, posted 347,965 on Form EC8D, Ekong admitted that he examined only 156,347 ballot papers.
He also admitted that only 62,558 ballot papers representing 40 per cent of the 156,347 ballot papers were personally handled by him while others were handled by members of his team.