From Tony Osauzo, Benin
Edo State Election Petition Tribunal has reserved judgment in a petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, challenging the declaration of Governor Godwin Obaseki as winner of the September 28, 2016 governorship election.
Chairman of the three-member tribunal, Justice Ahmed Badamasi, after listening to addresses of counsel to parties in the petition, announced, yesterday, that the date of judgment in the petition would be communicated to them.
Addressing the tribunal, counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), who led other lawyers, said the burden was on the petitioners to prove their cases in all the polling units they alleged electoral malpractices.
The petitioners called 29 witnesses who gave evidence in respect of the 29 polling units.
Ikpeazu argued that if the tribunal were to act on settled cases, the evidence from 29 polling units cannot affect the entire election.
He urged the court to rely on the provisions of Section 138 sub-section (2) of the Electoral Act, and contended that non-compliance with guidelines of instructions for election cannot erode provisions of the Electoral Act.
He said the argument of ticking register or non-ticking was a non issue, and urged the tribunal to hold that issue was immaterial. On the issue of INEC not calling evidence raised by the petitioners, Ikpeazu said by the results of every polling unit before the court, the electoral body has called evidence, even as he added that by cross-examining witnesses, INEC has also called witnesses, and stressed that there was a difference between calling evidence and witnesses.
On the issue of over-voting, alleged by the petitioners, the INEC counsel argued that the only way they could show over-voting was to tender the voters’ register, ballot papers and establish over voting after the ballots had been counted.
“The ballot papers have not been counted, therefore, there is no way over voting can be proved,” Ikpeazu said, and pointed out that the petitioners invented figures that were not before the court which were contradictory to the pleadings and evidence they led.
He urged the tribunal to hold that the petitioners abandoned their pleadings, and dismiss the petition.
In his address, counsel to Governor Godwin Obaseki, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), leading other lawyers, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition because the petitioner’s identity was doubtful, as he different from the person sponsored by the PDP for the election.
He based his argument on the fact that whereas, the petitioner’s identity was stated as Pastor Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu, his identity in INEC documents did not bear Pastor and Andrew.
Besides, he argued that the petitioners did not find anything on the relief they sought, and contended that since that was the case, they have abandoned their case.
Olanipekun also argued that he was not aware of any ballot recount, as the result of the counting was not admitted in evidence.
Citing Supreme Court decisions, Olanipekun said the document brought for identification without tendering was no issue, even as he drew a distinction between (former governor Adams) Oshiomhole and (late former governor Olusegun) Agagu’s cases and pointed out that after the counting of their ballot papers, the report of the counting was tendered in court, unlike the instant case.
He also argued that in two senatorial districts, the petitioners did not call any witness, yet, they want the entire election in Edo State nullified.
Aligning himself with the submissions of Ikpeazu and Olanipekun, counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), who led other lawyers, said the petition has “failed in stem and branches and urged the tribunal to dismiss it.
He said even if the tribunal believed the result computed by the petitioners, the APC still won the election with 59,696 and spread in two-thirds of the 18 local governments of the state.
Addressing the tribunal, counsel to the petitioners, Yusuf Alli urged it to grant the reliefs sought by the petitioners, saying it was the most logical thing to do.
He listed 10 reasons the petition should succeed, describing it “as unusual petition.”
Among the 10 reasons, Alli argued that all the allegations of non-compliance were made against INEC deliberately, that by virtue of the allegations in the petition, only INEC can answer, that INEC failed to call any witness to come and answer any allegation.
He argued that authorities cited by the respondents’ counsel were irrelevant to the instant case because of its peculiar nature.
On Ize-Iyamu’s personality, he said his identity was not in doubt, as only the PDP that presented him can disown him.
Alli, therefore, urged the tribunal “to hold that there is merit in all the complaints of the petitioners and that the result is that they are entitled to be declared winners of the election.”