Eyes were on the two gladiators during the Kogi West senatorial election. Many had predicted that the battle will shift from the ballot box to the temple of justice.
In November last year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Senator Smart Adeyemi of the All Progressives Congress ( APC). His opponent, Senator Dino Melaye rejected the outcome.
Melaye cried foul, saying that the exercise was marred by irregularities. Two weeks after the poll, he went to the tribunal. His complaint was that his supporters were deprived from exercising their voting rights.
The tribunal began sitting in January. Although it was meant to sit in Lokoja, the state capital, the environment was not conducive.
Therefore, it relocated to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for security reasons. The Covid-19 pandemic was not a threat to the tribunal’s sittings.
Melaye called 70 witnesses who testified before the tribunal. He closed his case on April 23.
The electoral agency opened the floodgate of drama. INEC, the 1st respondent in the petition was expected to open its case. But, the commission told the tribunal that it will not be calling any witness because the evidence given by the petitioner’s witnesses supported its case.
Counsel to INEC, Chris Alashey, told the tribunal, led by Justice Isa Sambo, that the case of the commission had been well established with the evidence of the petitioner’s witnesses under cross-examination.
The electoral umpire closed its case on April 30. The tribunal adjourned the case to May 5 to enable Senator Adeyemi’s counsel, Dr. Oladapo Otitoju, open his defence by calling witnesses before the tribunal to give evidence.
But, like INEC, Otitoju did not call any witness to give evidence. His argument was that he could deduce evidence from the witnesses called by the petitioner to support his case.
The lawyer said the witnesses called by the petitioner did more damage than good to his case. He maintained that calling witnesses to give evidence was not necessary.
Otitoju said: ”It’s a waste of time calling witnesses in our case because the witnesses of the petitioner have proved our case for us.
“Infact, if I may say, the evidence they gave is useless to their case because most of them admitted that they lied before the tribunal.
“There is a particular witness who admitted that he used a fake name during the election. He was confronted with document before the tribunal and he admitted that he used a fake name.”
He added: “There have been different categories of witnesses called by the petitioner who have come to low before this honourable tribunal and on the basis of this, we will be resting our case.
Since we have been able to elicit piece of evidence that supports our case, we will not be calling witnesses’.”
Otitoju also said that the petitioner, on who the onus fell to prove that the election was marred by irregularities, failed to establish that fact.
He stressed: “Rather, the evidence given by the 70 witnesses he called supported our case. We were able to adduce evidence from them under cross-examination and that is why we did not call witnesses. The witnesses called by the petitioner have actually proved our case”.
Otitoju emphasised that most of the witnesses gave contradictory evidence before the tribunal.
A witness, Adebowale Abayomi, a civil servant and resident of Yagba East Local Government Area, in his evidence, said he voted at Ward10, Units 004 while also serving as the polling agent of that unit. He said voting took place up to the point where results was announced on his presence.
After a while, he was given Exhibit P25:9, which was the voters register, to show to the tribunal where his name appeared on it.
But, after looking through the document for about 15 minutes, he said he could not find his name in the register of voters for unit 004 where he claimed to have voted.
It may be an admission that he was not a registered voter and that he lied to the tribunal.
Also, the PDP candidate said he was in all the 564 polling units on the election day. Before the petirioner was called to the witness box, some of his agents who were also witnesses had testified before the tribunal, saying the election was free, fair and credible.
When asked by Otitoju, if he took cognisance of the testimonies his agents, Melaye said his agents cannot speak for him just as he cannot also speak for them.
When asked where he got the information about irregulaties in the election he presented to the tribunal, he said: ”I was everywhere in the 564 polling units on the election day .”
When asked which polling unit he voted and what was the result of the election, he told the tribunal that he could no longer remember. He also said that he was not aware that the result was recorded in his polling unit.
He was later confronted with the Form EC8-D1 containing the result of the polling unit and was asked to read it. But, he claimed he could not see it clearly because his glasses got broken when the tribunal went on break.
Also, a key witness called by Melaye, Mark Samuel, was diqualified by the tribunal from giving evidence.The tribunal disqualified the witness on the ground that his statement was not presented as required by law.
The tribunal upheld Otitoju’s argument to the effect that the witness and his statement were not properly presented. Otitoju had argued that Samuel’s written statement was not pleaded as additional witness statement in the petition
He also argued that Samuel, who claimed to be a lawyer, failed to attach his seal, as a lawyer, to the statement. Otitoju said the witness’ statement, sought to be adopted by Samuel, was filed on February 26, 2020, 21days after the period allowed under Section 285(5) of the Constitution.
He contended that allowing the statement will amount to the tribunal extending the days permitted by the Constitution for the filing of a post-election petition.
A witness, Tolu Segun, said he acted as the petitioners’ agent in Okekoko Ward, Kabba/Bunu LGA. He said he voted at Polling Unit 009 after which he visited nine other polling units.
He said the results and other information he got from the polling units were given to him by the agents, and that they were later forwarded to the Local Government Chairman of the PDP.
For Philemon Enoch, also a witness, there was no over-voting during the Kogi West Senatorial election. Enoch, a carpenter and the PDP agent admitted that ballot boxes were not snatched during election.
He said: ”There was no over-voting during the election. No ballot box was snatched in my unit. I was the one who signed the result for PDP during the election.”
An agent, Gimba Timothy, a farmer, said he could not remember the score of the PDP in the election in Unit 008, where he acted as agent.
He also said that he signed the result sheet without taking a look at it before signing. When challenged by Otitoju that he was never an agent since he could not remember the score of his party at the election, he insisted that he was the agent.
”I could not remember what my party scored at the election because it has been a long time the election took place. I am the agent of PDP but can’t remember what happened again. I did not read the document given to me after the election before I signed.
At the teibunal, there was a mild drama when some of the petitioner’s witnesses denied their statements on oath. A witness, Magi Abraham Shade, may have delt a blow to the case when she said he was from Okedayo instead of Kakun that was in his written statement.
While being cross- examined, Otitoju, asked the witness to sign his signature. But, it was found to be different from the one appended on his written address.
The witness also stirred controversy when he stated that he was PDP Ward collation agent, although he did voter registration in Kaduna and later transferred it to Kabba.
Counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC) Abdulahi asked the witness to identified himself in the voters register. But, the picture of the person’s whom he claimed to be was different from his person.
A witness, Ibrahim Jimoh, said he served as PDP Collation Agent in Ijumu Ward. Jimoh, who had earlier adopted his written statement, said under cross-examination, that he was absent at the venue of the declaration of result after votes were counted.
He admitted relying on the result announced by INEC after the election. When asked by Otitoju whether he witnessed the counting of votes in his ward, Jimoh said he did not.
The witness also said the ballot papers were not counted in his presence, adding that he relied on the INEC report and what other agents told him.
When asked how he got the results of the election, Jimoh said: ”I was not there. I was not on ground. Yes, it was the second agent that came to tell me the figures.”
Also, Jimoh admitted that the election went on peacefully. He said the exercise was devoid of violence.
A witness, Ademola Samuel, a farmer, adopted his written witness statement upon mounting the witness stand. On being cross-examined by Otitoju, Samuel told the tribunal that he examined the results after the election.
The people of Kogi West are waiting for the verdict of the tribunal. Who wins?