Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Justice Anthony Akpovi-led National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Oyo State on Monday adjourned for judgment the petition that will determine whether the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, lost or won the February 19, 2019 National Assembly election in Oyo South Senatorial District.
Justice Akpovi, who led other two members of the panel, Justices Sambo Daka and Chinyere Ani, said date for the judgment would be fixed and communicated to all the parties.
The petition, filed by All Progressives Congress (APC) against the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as first respondent; Senator Kola Balogun, who was returned by INEC as winner of the poll as second respondent; and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as third respondent, was adjourned after counsel for all the parties adopted their final written addresses.
A legal luminary, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who is a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, is leading other 13 lawyers for the petitioner – APC. The lawyers included 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 INEC, Senator Balogun and PDP are Messrs S.A Osunolale, Tunji Ogunrinde, and Oluwasesan Dada respectively.
The counsel argued vehemently for and against the petition. The respondents told the panel that the candidate of APC for the election, Senator Ajimobi, is not a party to the petition, which means he has accepted defeat.
But Olujinmi, who cited points of law, said 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, its in favour of every member of the party, including the candidate. So, its rarely unnecessary to bring both together. You may bring one, the candidate or the party but its unnecessary to bring the two.”
The respondents counsel also argued that the petitioner has no case since agents of 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 such issue arises, the entire election in that unit should be cancelled.
Another issue the counsel argued on is the Section 137 of the Electoral Act. The respondents contended that the petitioner failed to invite witness from 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 INEC was invited as witness by the petitioner. But Olujinmi said the petitioner brought 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 Electoral Acts simply talks about parties to a petition, which was cited by the petitioner’s counsel. Ogunrinde told journalists 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 the judgment is delivered, adding that they have confidence in the tribunal.