By Efosa Ugiagbe
THE above title describes the situation of the second and third respondents at the Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Benin City, the first respondent, INEC, having failed to put up defence which could have been a reference point for the second and third respondents.
The helplessness of the second and third respondents, Obaseki and APC, has been apparently underscored by their inability to present an articulate defence. Rather than use INEC as a backdrop they have found themselves trying to do for INEC what the electoral umpire ran away from. Their desperation is understandable against the background of the loss they stand to suffer in the event that judgment is delivered in favour of the petitioners.
On the other hand, INEC has always had nothing to lose. Even it soiled reputation does not bother it. Thus, it has always conducted it with glaring impunity, Edo 2016 not being an exception, as universally attested to by electoral observers of diverse origins.
Funny enough, INEC cannot feign ignorance of the dictates of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the implications of any infringement. Yet, it has always acted in the breach, relying on the frivolities and shenanigans of our legal disposition and judicial pretences to “get away with murder” in many instances. Good enough, the judiciary is undergoing critical positive reforms, instigated by a combination of advertent and inadvertent factors.
At the Edo Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Obaseki and the APC, through their counsel, have been forced, respectively, to abandon the presentation of their unimpressive witnesses for cross examination midway and to jump into a hasty conclusion of their defence. First was the second respondent, Obaseki whose leading counsel, Adetunji Oyeyipo, SAN, surprised the Tribunal on the sixth day into their presentation of witnesses, by asking for an adjournment to their last date of defence, willing to forfeit three days in the bargain. What was their excuse? According to Adetunji Oyeyipo, SAN, they needed to discontinue presenting witnesses who lacked focus. What that implies is that the presentation of evidence by their witnesses was not helping the respondent’s argument. In plain language, the witnesses were not sounding credible.
Counsel to the second respondent seemed to have realised that their presentation of witnesses was a mistake. Even those suspected of being mercenary witnesses fell apart under expert interrogation. The evidence before them appeared impossible to contradict. The Tribunal chairman, Justice Ahmed Badamasi had no choice but to oblige them.
Their presentation of witnesses on the adjourned date was seemingly, as popularly said, “to fulfill all righteousness”. It also, however, looked like an opportunity to test the strategy to adopt when the third respondents would take the stage. For this reason, there was a stalemate on the very first witness, a ward collation officer for the third respondents, which lasted over two hours. The respondents won the argument on the kind of questions that kind of witness could answer. And thus the stage for the third respondents to present their witnesses was set.
On Friday the 10th March, which was the second day of the presentation of witnesses for cross examination, the lead counsel to the third respondents, S. Akintola ,SAN, sought the leave of the Tribunal for an adjournment for which they were ready to forfeit four out of the ten days allocated to them. Unlike the counsel to the second respondent, he did not have to explain that their witnesses were not sufficiently prepared. In fact, the witnesses they had so far presented looked over prepared to the extent that they got carried away with over confidence. However, the petitioners’ counsel seemed to have prepared for them like Chinua Achebe’s mythical “Eneke the Bird” which said that as men have learned to shoot without missing, so it had learned to fly without perching.
The penchant of the third respondents’ witnesses has been to unambiguously indict INEC for whatever infractions or errors that are perceived to be reflected in the documented evidences of the September 28, Governorship Election which include the result sheets and the ballot papers used for the election. Curiously, INEC which is the major accused had failed to call any of its officials that acted on its behalf on election day to refute the indicting allegations of non accreditation and over-voting laid against it by the petitioners.
In the ensuing confusion, the witnesses and agents of Obaseki and APC resorted to absolving themselves and indirectly passing the blame to INEC by denying propriety and handling of the incriminating evidence before the Tribunal. This looks like attempting to avoid the guillotine. How much this can be of help to the respondents is a matter of law, which in every material sense neither shows emotion nor sentiment.
It is to this impersonal factor that the petitioners have had recourse and have laboured to convince in the past eventful weeks. How well they have been able to do that remains to be seen through the eyes of the impartial panelists of the Tribunal ably led by Justice Ahmed Badamasi.
Meanwhile, without prejudice to how the erudite justices of the Tribunal, guided by the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), will interpret the performances of the counsel, witnesses and the documented evidences before them, in reaching and pronouncing their epochal verdict, in the eyes of the members of the public which have been following the reports, there is no doubt that so much tares were sown among the wheat. And now we have come to harvest.
Are we not to separate the tares from the wheat? This is what I understand that the petitioners have pleaded pursuant to the relief sought that ipso facto, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP be declared the validly elected governor of Edo State, as deemed in the contemplation and letters of the prevailing electoral law.
The petitioners have predicated their petition on the allegations of improper or non accreditation of voters and over-voting.
Now, what does the electoral law say about these violations by way of sanctions and remedy? And to what extent does it offer relief to the petitioners who are able to prove their case? And have Pastor Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu and the PDP not sufficiently proved their case? Has the darkness created by INEC, and in which Obaseki and APC been groping, not given room to damning suspicion? The questions are best left to the Tribunal to answer. But with bated breath, Edo people patiently ponder as they wait for justice.