BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—In its bid to retain his seat, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, yesterday, invited 135 witnesses to testify before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja on the April 16 general election.
Counsel to PDP, Mr Duro Adeyele, SAN, who said this at the resumed hearing on a petition challenging the outcome of the election, also prayed the Justice Kumai Bayaan Akaahs led five-man tribunal to dismiss the suit before it by Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
The ruling party insisted that the petition was frivolous, academic and bereft of merit.
It stated this on a day its candidate and the winner of the poll, President Jonathan, rounded-off the legal process of defending his mandate in court, having already called 26 witnesses that testified in his favour.
Among those that testified for him were Minister of Defence, Mr Bello Haliru Mohammed; Minister of State for Education, Chief Ezebunwo Wike; Acting Chairman of PDP, Kawu Baraje; former House of Representatives member, Chief Mau Ohuabunwa and a chieftain of the petitioner in Akwa Ibom state, Mr Samuel Charles Etuk.
In his testimony, Bello, who was the Acting National Chairman of PDP during the presidential election, told the tribunal that the petitioner had no basis to challenge the results credited to his party, PDP, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, adding that prior to the presidential contest, over 42 political parties adopted President Jonathan as their consensus candidate.
Meantime, the tribunal, yesterday, gave the National Publicity Secretary of CPC, Mr Rotimi Fashakin, seven days to justify why he should not be sent to jail over alleged contempt of court.
The court had on Tuesday issued subpoena against Fashakin following a statement he allegedly circulated to media organisations on September 28, alleging that the five-man panel of justices at the tribunal were bent on dragging “the nation’s judiciary to the abyss.”
Fashakin had in the said statement inveighed heavily on the integrity of justices at the tribunal, saying that, “as a party, we are not under the illusion that this crop of players in the judiciary with entrenched ‘cash and carry’ culture, can do Justice.” His summon was at the behest of counsel to President Jonathan, Dr Alex Iziyon, SAN.
that of the PDP, Chief Amechi Nwaiwu, SAN, and INEC lawyer, Mr Hassan Liman, SAN, who took turns and argued that the publication was not only “prejudicial” to the substantive petition against the April 16 Presidential election but equally “an affront on the integrity of the judicial system in Nigeria.”
Responding to the summon, Fashakin who appeared in court yesterday, while contending that he was not served with a copy of the subpoena issued against him, said his decision to attend the proceeding was due to the respect he has for the judiciary.
He said: “my lords, I am in court today because my friend told me that a subpoena was issued against me, though I have not been formerly served with such process, I decided to come before this tribunal today due to the respect I have for the judiciary and because I believe in integrity which the national leader of my great party, Muhammadu Buhari teaches.”
When he was asked if the National Financial Secretary of the CPC, Mr E.F Alonge, did not transmit the subpoena to him, Fashakin said they have not met since the said order was made, a response that prompted the panel to order the court registrar to serve him with a copy of the subpoena right inside the open court yesterday.
Immediately Fashakin acknowledged receipt of the court order, presiding justice Akaahs then asked if he was indeed the author of the press release dated September 28 but published the next day by the Nigerian Tribune, a question the CPC scribe technically evaded yesterday.
According to him, “my lords, I have issued several press releases, however, I need to go and check my files to ascertain whether the one in question was issued by me.”
Attempt by the panel to move him to affirm or deny authorship of the press release led the embattled CPC official to insist on getting a legal representation, considering that the lead counsel to the petitioner, Chief Dipo Okpeseyi, SAN, washed his hands off the issue, saying he was not properly briefed to mediate on the issue.
The CPC lawyer told the panel to go ahead and treat the matter according to their discretion.
In view of the development, Fashakin asked for 7-days to prepare his defence, a request that was vehemently opposed by all the respondents in the case.
Whereas counsel that represented INEC in court yesterday, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, contended that 24 hours was enough time for the CPC scribe to deduce whether he actually sent the press release or not, counsel to Jonathan, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and that of PDP, Adeyele, SAN, asked the tribunal to only grant him the statutory 48 hours.
After listening to their submissions yesterday, the tribunal conceded to the 7-days request, warning that Fashakin should not fail to appear in court on October 13 with a view to either affirming or denying authorship of the controversial press statement.