By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA- President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, commenced the process of defending his victory in the April 16 presidential election, even as he called five witnesses that testified for him at the presidential election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja.

Among those that testified in court yesterday were the Minister of Defence, Mr. Bello  Mohammed, the Minister of state for Education, Chief Ezebunwo Wike, the Acting Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Kawu Baraje, a former House of Representatives member, Chief Mau Ohuabunwa and a chieftain of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in Akwa Ibom State, Mr Samuel  Etuk.

In his oral testimony yesterday, the Defence Minister, Bello, who was the Acting National Chairman of PDP at the time the presidential election held, told the Justice Kumai Akaahs led five-man panel tribunal, that  the CPC, had no basis to challenge the results credited to the PDP by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, adding that prior to the presidential contest, over 42 political parties openly adopted President Jonathan as their consensus candidate.

Referring to a witness statement on oath he deposed before the court on May 31, Bello said there was substantial evidence proving that the petitioner lacked the capacity to defeat the ruling party at the presidential contest, noting that CPC, being one of the newest political parties in the country, had no identifiable structure in all the 36 states of the federation.

He told the tribunal that CPC was specifically registered by INEC in March 2011.

He said: “As the Acting National Chairman of the PDP, I was in touch with everything that happened in the 36 states of the federation, we had situation rooms at the national and states levels and I monitored the entire process. “Therefore, I can vouch before this honourable tribunal that the April 16 election that brought President Jonathan into power was free, fair and credible.

“More so, considering that over 42 political parties including major parties like APGA, PPA, MDGR, LP and others unanimously adopted President Jonathan as their consensus candidate. I may not be able to enumerate those other parties now because I was more interested in relating with their chairmen and not the party structure itself.

“However, it is incontrovertible that till today, PDP remains the only party that has structures in every level from ward to national, in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, there is no other political party with such structure including the petitioner before this court.”

Immediately he was discharged from the witness box, the current PDP Acting Chairman, Baraje, was ushered into the court by the lead counsel to President Jonathan, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN.

In his own evidence, Baraje who appeared in court with a retinue of PDP chieftains, told the tribunal that he has never heard of a printing company, Tulip Nigeria Limited, which CPC identified as one of the local companies which it said INEC and PDP allegedly engaged to print replica ballot papers that was used in rigging the presidential election.

He insisted that the total votes recorded for Jonathan by INEC was the true and authentic reflection of the votes cast for him by Nigerians, adding that forms EC8A containing the election result across the 36 states and FCT, were duly signed by agents of all the political parties including those of the petitioner.

He said: “My lords, apart from local observers that followed the sequence of the elections, the international community also adjudged the 2011 election as one of the best and freest in the democratic history of Africa.”

Likewise, the Minister of State for Education, Wike, persuaded the tribunal to admit into evidence, 12 separate newspaper publications, which he said would show that the contention of the CPC over the outcome of the presidential poll, is “baseless, unfounded and tissues of lies”, a request that was accordingly granted.

He equally debunked allegation by the CPC that INEC surreptitiously allocated votes to the PDP.

Meanwhile, yesterday proceeding got an added piquancy, as a chieftain of the petitioner in Akwa Ibom State, Etuk, stunned his party by volunteering to testify for President Jonathan.

Etuk took his time yesterday to give a graphic analysis of factors he said facilitated the loss of his party, CPC, in the presidential contest.

He told the tribunal that at the time the election held, there was no serious heavyweight politician in the fold of the CPC, adding that the party had no solid structure in 90 per cent of the states of the federation.

He said: “The truth is that my party, CPC, had no structure on ground. I am not only a member of the state Executive Council of the CPC in my state, Akwa Ibom, I was the supposed chairman of my local government chapter, yet there was no physical structure for either me or others to work.”

In a bid to discredit the witness, counsel to the petitioner, Abubakar Malami, SAN, asked him to produce his CPC membership card, a challenge the witness surmounted by fishing out the card from his back pocket.

Meantime, further hearing on the petition continues today even as President Jonathan is expected to call more witness to testify on his behalf.

He had earlier informed the tribunal of his decision to call 100 witnesses to testify in the matter with a view to proving that he duly won the April 16 presidential election.

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