.OYEBANJI: PRE-ELECTION MATTERS RAISED BY ONI OUTSIDE TRIBUNAL’S JURISDICTION
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has moved an application before the Ekiti State Election Petition Tribunal insisting that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate in the June 18 2022 governorship election, Chief Segun Oni, lacked the locus standi to file a petition before the three-member jury.
The APC in its application at the resumed sitting of the Tribunal on Thursday was seeking an order striking out the petition filed by Chief Oni on grounds that the SDP flag bearer was not sponsored as candidate for the governorship poll “as he did not participate in any primary election known to law” before purportedly obtaining nomination form.
The Governor-elect, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji, in his own application urged the Tribunal to strike out all averments in relevant paragraphs in Chief Oni’s petition for containing numerous allegations of commission of criminal offences against persons whose identities remain undisclosed in the petition.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on its part urged the Tribunal to throw out Chief Oni’s petition because it contained several paragraphs that are “vague, inchoate, generic, omnibus, imprecise, exploratory and generally lacking in precision.”
The electoral umpire which maintained that the petition was filed in flagrant breach of the relevant electoral laws on pleadings contended that allegations of criminality raised by Chief Oni must, of necessity, be tied to named and identifiable individuals who committed same.
All these issues were raised as parties in the petition before the five-member panel of judges moved and adopted their applications through their counsels before a packed courtroom. The applications which were ripe for hearing were already pending at the Tribunal Registry.
Respondents in the petition are the Governor-elect was was the APC candidate at the election, Mr. Oyebanji (1st), APC (2nd), Alhaji Mai Mala Buni and APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (3rd), INEC (4th) and the Deputy Governor-elect who was Oyebanji’s running mate at the election, Mrs. Monisade Afuye (5th).
Counsel to 1st and 5th Respondents (Mr. Oyebanji and Mrs. Afuye), Prof. Kayode Olatoke (SAN), had in his application sought an order of the Tribunal to strike out the names of the 3rd and 5th Respondents (Alhaji Buni/CECPC and Mrs. Afuye) because they are not statutory Respondents to a petition.
Prof. Olatoke also prayed an order of the Tribunal striking out Paragraphs 18,19,44,45,53,69 and 70(a) for containing numerous allegations of commission of criminal offences against persons whose identities remain undisclosed in the petition.
Counsel to the 1st and 5th Respondents equally sought an order of the Tribunal striking out Paragraphs 20,21,22,42,44,46,47,49,52,53,66,71 and 72 of the petition for being “vague, imprecise, generic and for containing allegations made against uncertain security personnel.
Counsel to the 2nd Respondent (APC), Alhaji Lasun Sanusi (SAN), urged the Tribunal to hold that Paragraphs 18,19,20,21,22,23,30,42,43,44,45,46,47,
49, 52 and 53 of the petition are vague, nebulous, lacking in details and particulars ungrantable and thereby liable to be struck out for reason of non-joinder of persons or bodies against whom grievous allegations of electoral malpractices are made.
The APC counsel urged the Tribunal to grant an order striking out the petition on grounds that the petitioner (Chief Oni) was not validly sponsored as a candidate because he did not participate in any primary election known to law as stipulated in the Electoral Act and the Constitution before he purportedly obtained a nomination form.
He contended in moving and adopting the application that the whole petition is incompetent in law and liable to be struck out, “in limine,” having not been filed in compliance with, and/or in breach of the mandatory provision and requirements of Paragraph 4(4) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended).
Alhaji Sanusi also prayed an order striking out the petition on grounds that Paragraphs 24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,35,36,37, a
38,39 and 40 of the petition cannot be entertained by the tribunal having been rooted on nomination and sponsorship of the 1st Respondent are pre-election matters that rob the tribunal of jurisdiction and are liable to be struck out.
Chief Hakeem Afolabi (SAN) who moved and adopted another application on behalf of Mr. Oyebanji and Mrs. Afuye, urged the Tribunal to strike out the petitioners’ reply to the applicants’ reply to the petition and all its accompanying processed for being an abuse of court processes.
He also urged an order of the tribunal striking out additional Witness Statement on Oath of Chief Oni deposed to on 23rd August, 2022 in support of the petitioner’s purported reply and an order of the tribunal striking out the Witness Statement on Oath of Dr Bamidele Ekunola and Mr. Dada Moses Bandele deposed to on the same date (23rd August) in support of the petitioner’s purported reply.
Chief Afolabi also sought an order of the tribunal striking out Paragraphs 1(i)-(iv) (a-p); 1(iv) (v); 1(v)-(xii); 2(i)-(xi) of the Petitioners’ Reply for being incompetent and an abuse of court process.
Counsel to 3rd Respondents (Alhaji Buni and CECPC), Mr. Shaibu Aruwa (SAN) moved and adopted his application on behalf of his clients which contained issues for determination before the Tribunal urging the panel to grant his prayers.
Counsel to 4th Respondent (INEC), Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan (SAN), craved an order of the tribunal striking out impugned paragraphs of the petition, namely Paragraphs 18,19,20,22,23,42,43,44,45,46,47,52,53,
61 62,63,64,66,67,68,70(a), (b),72,73,83,and 84 for being generic in nature, in that they failed to specify specific units and wards in each of the 16 local government areas where the allegations occurred.
Chief Edosomwan further hinged his application on the fact that the aforesaid paragraphs equally contained allegations that are criminal in nature, and the person’s alleged to have committed those crimes have been conspicuously left out, not did the petitioners specify the units and wards of the 16 local government areas where the crimes were committed.
The INEC counsel equally accused the petitioners (Chief Oni and SDP) of “attempting to smuggle issues into their petition,” which fresh issues were duly raised in their reply of 5th August, 2022 in purported response to the 4th Respondent’s reply of 31st July, 2022 to their petition which he argued were in flagrant breach of the relevant electoral laws on pleadings.
Counsel to the petitioners (Oni and SDP), Mr. Owoseni Ajayi, moved an application to the effect that the court should strike out a further reply by the 4th Respondent (INEC) to the petition with the heading “Rejoinder to the Petitioners’ Reply.”
Ajayi also alleged before the tribunal that INEC has been blocking the Petitioners from having access to key electoral documents and materials in its custody which would assist them in proving their case and getting justice.
Ajayi alleged that the Petitioners’ prayer in respect of other materials including the Bimodal Voter Authentication System (BVAS) had not been obeyed with INEC officials claiming that the Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who would authorize their release was not available.
He added: “We won’t allow them to frustrate because we wrote a letter to them dated 30th June, 2022 to request for the materials but we will go ahead and prove our case on secondary documents already pleaded.”
But Olatoke suggested that since 80 per cent of the electoral materials needed are in custody of the local INEC office in Ekiti, the Petitioners can start their case while waiting for other materials in custody of the Commission’s National Headquarters in Abuja.
The Tribunal Chairman, Justice Wilfred Kpochi, advised the Petitioners to go ahead with their case with the electoral materials available on ground (in Ekiti) while they can move to Abuja later to obtain other materials needed to prove their case.
After consulting with the two other judges on the panel, Justice S.I. Zadawa and Justice J. A. Atsen, the Tribunal Chair, Justice Kpochi reserved ruling on all the applications moved by parties until the final judgment.
He subsequently adjourned sitting to Friday, 16th September, 2022.
The state APC Chairman, Barrister Paul Omotoso and his SDP counterpart, Dr. Dele Ekunola led the chieftains and members of their parties to the tribunal sitting