Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
The immediate past governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party will on Tuesday whether he actually lost the February 19 senatorial election for Oyo South.
The indication emerged as the Justice Anthony Akpovi-led National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in the state is set to deliver judgement on the petition filed by the APC for Ajimobi against Senator Kola Balogun of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that was returned as winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Secretary of the Tribunal Mr Kala Ibrahim confirmed that the judgement would be delivered Tuesday, September 10. He said the panel would also rule on the petition filed by former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, of the PDP against Senator Abdulfatai Buhari, who was declared winner of Oyo North senatorial election.
Justice Akpovi will lead two other members of the panel, Justices Sambo Daka and Chinyere Ani, to deliver judgement on the two petitioners.
The petition has the INEC as first respondent, Senator Kola Balogun as second respondent and the PDP as third respondent.
A legal luminary, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who is a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, is leading 13 lawyers for the petitioner – the APC.
The lawyers include the immediate past Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, Mr Seun Abimbola and former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the state, Mr Kazeem Gbadamosi.
Lead counsel to the INEC, Senator Balogun and the PDP are Messrs SA Osunolale, Tunji Ogunrinde and Oluwasesan Dada, respectively.
During the adoption of final written addresses of the counsel to the parties some weeks ago, the lawyers argued vehemently for and against the petition. The respondents told the panel that the APC candidate in the election, Ajimobi, is not a party to the petition, which means he had accepted defeat.
However, Olujinmi, who cited points of law, said that the matter has been settled by law that the party can reclaim its mandate, which would be binding on the candidate, saying: “The law says that a candidate at an election or his party can present an election petition. Now, any decision for or against a party will affect every member of the party. If it’s for them, it’s in favour of every member of the party, including the candidate. So, it’s rarely unnecessary to bring both together. You may bring one, the candidate or the party but it’s unnecessary to bring the two.”
The respondent’s counsel also argued that the petitioner has no case since agents of the APC at each disputed polling units signed the relevant documents that the election was okay. But the petitioner’s counsel punctured the argument by telling the Tribunal that the votes recorded were more than the number of accredited voters, and anywhere an such issue arises, the entire election in that unit should be cancelled.
Another issue the counsel argued on was the Section 137 of the Electoral Act. The respondents contended that the petitioner failed to invite witness from the INEC to confirm the authenticity of the results and card readers’ reports tendered before the panel on the disputed polling units, adding that in Rivers State, an Assistant Director from the INEC was invited as witness by the petitioner. But Olujinmi said the petitioner brought the INEC before the court and it behoves on the body to say the documents tendered were genuine or not
According to Olujinmi, “Before Section 137 was amended, there was no duty put on INEC to defend the election on behalf of its election officials. So, we had the duty then to bring forward all the presiding officers, all electoral officers and all returning officers. You may have about 500 parties to a petition. But the law came and said you can make all your allegations against INEC and since INEC was the one who employed them, INEC should be able to defend all your allegations against them.
“So, that was what Section 137 has done and we said since we brought INEC, the duty imposed on them by the law, they failed to discharge that duty and the court has a duty to hold that against them.”
But the trio of the respondents’ lawyers held that Section 137 of the Electoral Act simply talks about parties to a petition, which was cited by the petitioner’s counsel. Ogunrinde told reporters that “We told the court that in this case, that section is inapplicable. It is not relevant to the facts at hand.”
Both parties are optimistic that they would win when judgement is delivered, adding that they have confidence in the Tribunal.