By Henry Ojelu & Tayo Okunola
OSOGBO—MEMBERS of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Osun State, yesterday, protested the disbandment of the Election Petition Tribunal by President of the Court of Appeal.
But when contacted, secretary of the Tribunal, Mr. Adamu Mohammad, disclosed that “no reason was given to us but the panel has been disbanded.”
The protesters stormed the premises of Osun State High Court, where the tribunal usually holds its sitting, with placards with various inscription like ‘don’t frustrate our petition’, ‘Adeleke won Osun poll’, among others.
They alleged the disbandment of the panel when it has not fully began sitting, was an indication that pliable judges that would do the bidding of the ruling party were being sought.
The PDP candidate in the September 22 governorship poll, Senator Ademola Adeleke, had on Tuesday, filed a petition against the declaration of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Gboyega Oyetola, who was declared the winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
However, addressing newsmen during the protest, former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the state, Mr. Niyi Owolade, said both Mr Gboyega Oyetola and APC, who were second and third respondents in the matter, deliberately declined service after “we have successfully served INEC.”
Owolade said: “That situation compelled us to file an application for substituted service. While we have been able to serve the first respondent, the second and the third respondents declined service so, we brought an application here yesterday for substituted service.
“The application was to have been heard 9:am this morning but we were surprised when we heard that the panel has been disbanded. What is even more surprising is that they disbanded a panel without replacement.
“We all know that election petition matters are sui jeneris, our 180 days started counting from 16th October, and section 285, sub-section 6 of the 1999 constitution is clear about that. By the 180 days duration, final judgement on this matter is to be delivered on or before April 15, 2019, and the time is of essence.
“We are presently in limbo because time is of essence; we want a new panel to be put in place immediately to continue the process. We are appealing to the president of Appeal Court to do the needful.”
It’s delay tactics — Osun PDP
Also faulting the decision, state chairman of the PDP, Mr. Soji Adagunodo described the disbandment as an attempt to commit a second robbery against the people of Osun State.
In a statement Adagunodo said: “We receive with shock and utter disappointment the news of the disbandment of the Election Petition Tribunal constituted to hear the petition arising from the conduct of the last governorship election in Osun State.
“The disbandment of the tribunal barely 24 hours after the submission of the petition by the governorship candidate of the PDP, Senator Nurudeen Ademola Adeleke poses serious threat to the free and fair administration of justice in the hearing of the petition.
“We equally have it on good authority that the disbandment of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal is one of the devices the APC plans to use to delay the commencement of hearing of our petition with a hope that the constitutionally prescribed trial period of hearing would not be met.
“We are, thus, compelled to passionately appeal to the Chief Justice of the Federation as the head of the Nigerian judiciary to pay closer attention to the constitution and general conduct of the governorship election petition tribunal in Osun State and save our democracy from an avoidable mishap.”
A’Court should give reason— Adegboruwa
In his reaction, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa called on the President of Court of Appeal to explain the reason for the disbandment.
Adegboruwa said: “It is the President of the Court of Appeal that is empowered to constitute the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. If the Osun governorship election tribunal has been disbanded by the same authority that constituted it, it will be very wrong for now to speculate on the motive until the reason for disbanding the tribunal is given. The only worry here is the statutory 180 days that the tribunal is supposed to sit. It is too early to say much for now. Let us wait to hear from the President of Court of Appeal on why the tribunal was disbanded.”
We won’t engage PDP — Osun APC
In its reaction, the APC expressed total disgust at what the party described as the shenanigans of the PDP over the dissolution of the Osun Electoral Petition Tribunal, which had been hearing its appeal against INEC’s declaration of APC victory at the last governorship election.
In a statement by the party’s Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Kunle Oyatomi, the party described PDP statement and the orchestrated demonstration as “irresponsible and desperate.”
The statement reads: “We urge the people of Osun to remember that this same phenomenon occurred in 2014 when the same PDP went to tribunal, attempting to annul the re-election of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola at the time. By our record, which is public knowledge, the tribunal was dissolved three times.
“Because we did not know what was responsible for the dissolution, the APC did not issue stupid statements nor was any irresponsible protests, organised against those dissolutions.
“This was because we were neither privy to, nor was it our responsibility to question the action of the judiciary. We are not inclined to engage PDP in an unnecessary argument over the judicial process.
“Let the justice system plays itself out.”