Judex Okoro, Calabar
The legal tussle for the Central senatorial election in Cross River continues as moves by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Senator Sandy Onor, (PDP, candidate for Cross River Central senatorial) to stop one of the star witnesses from testifying for Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), the All Progressive Congress (APC) senatorial candidate has suffered a setback at the election petition tribunal.
At the resumed tribunal sitting on Wednesday, counsel to Ñdoma-Egba, Chief Emeka Offodile (SAN) had called his first witness, Mr Bassey Ibor, into the witness box but counsels to Senator Sandy Onor, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), that of PDP Mr, Joe Agi (SAN) and Prof Jacob Dada for INEC all vehemently opposed that.
Erokoro said: “I am objecting to the testimony of this witness (Ibor) on virtue of part 4 Sub 5a and b of the schedule of the Electoral Law and he the witness supposed to be accompanied by the list of the petitioners. This witness does not appear on the list of names of witnesses of the petition and his written statement on oath did not accompany his name.”
Citing paragraph 16 of the 1st schedule of the Electoral Act, he further said: “There is no provision for a witness statement” hence “this witness should not be allowed because it does not conform to provisions of the law.”
Corroborating, Agi, counsel to PDP, said: “We associate ourselves with what my brother said. We add that the tribunal, the petitioners and the respondents are all bound by the petition as presented by the petitioner” and the petitioner had said they will call their principal witness and others subpoenaed and cannot bring in a witness as election petitions are not presented by instalments. “So bringing in additional witness without seeking leave of the tribunal is taking us by surprise.”
INEC counsel, Prof Dada, aligned with two counsels to Onor and PDP saying, “this attempt is not covered by law, so you cannot smuggle in an additional witness.”
But objecting, counsel to Ñdoma-Egba, Offodile, argued that the petitioner can call a witness later in a case in line with paragraph 16 (T) of the Electoral Act which gives the right to file a reply to a respondent’s reply and “as a matter of substantial justice, the schedule is silent on necessary evidence on what be contained in reply to respondent’s reply…and paragraph 54 of the 4th schedule shall apply to some modifications.”.
According to him, the “failure to allow us proffer our evidence, takes us clearly to a territory of denying us fair hearing by law just as some of the authorities cited by counsel to PDP are not applicable to our situation. So I pray my lord to dismiss the objection.”
After arguments and counter arguments for about two hours, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Agbata, after due consultation with two other members of the panel, ruled that “paragraph 4 of the 3rd schedule of the electoral act requires the filling of list of witnesses.
“But paragraph 16 of the same schedule allows the petitioner to file a reply to respondents but cannot raise fresh issues….therefore as long as the petitioner has not raised fresh issues, he is entitled to file and call a list of witnesses. The objection is overruled.”
Senator Ndoma-Egba had challenged the declaration of Senator Sandy Onor by INEC as the winner of the Central senatorial election held on February 23.