The Edo State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Benin Wednesday evening turned down the oral application by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate in the September 28, 2016, governorship election, Osagie Ize-Iyamu for an extension of the time allotted it to prove their case by half a day. Yusuf Alli, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, lead counsel for the petitioners in the ongoing election petition hearing, had at the end of proceedings a few minutes after 6 pm, demanded from the tribunal how many days they had left. When told that the 14 days allotted to them expires by 1 pm on Friday after the morning session, Alli passionately pleaded for an additional half a day.
In his oral application, Alli pleaded that last Monday be given to them as half day because what happened that day was beyond the comprehension of any lawyer. The petitioners had attempted to present a subpoenaed witness which was opposed by respondents counsel. A heated debate arose that took several hours and at the end of it all, the tribunal reserved ruling till today (Wednesday, February 7). Though the ruling was in their favour, Alli regretted that the arguments took all their time and they were not able to present all their witnesses that had been prepared to give evidence. According to Alli, “unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the development of the law, they took the objections which your Lordships have now ex-Cathedral pronounced upon. So, may I ask with all humility that your Lordships should please allow the milk of mercy to flow so that we will have two days left and then so that we can do what will assist all of us and administration of justice”.
Opposing the application for a time extension, counsel to INEC, Onyinye Anumonyen noted that parties are limited by time and parties knew this what they were going into when the proceedings started. He said granting the application which has been sought by the petitioners, “will be eating into the time reserved for the respondents to present their case, it will eat into the tribunal’s time to write and deliver judgment in the matter”.
Ken Mozia, SAN, counsel to the second respondent, (Godwin Obaseki) said the stipulations as to time are cast in stone. “You cannot extend the time for any party. So, we are opposing it”, he told the tribunal. Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, counsel to the All Progressives Congress, APC, noted that “we were all here on Monday when the then lead counsel to the petitioners, Mr. Ukala said they deserve to conduct their case the way they deemed fit. And your Lordships have no power to extend the time for anybody”. He recalled that this type of application came up in Abia State during a governorship petition hearing like this and the matter went as far as the Supreme Court but the petitioners lost. “My Lord, It is not done. You cannot extend the time. We are opposing it”, Akintola submitted.
Giving his terse ruling, Ahmed Badamasi, chairman of the three-man panel, recalled that ON 15TH December 2016, the tribunal categorically stated that the time frame allotted to each party must be respected. We will abide by that. The petitioners’ application for the extension of time by half a day is hereby refused and this matter is hereby adjourned until tomorrow the 9th day of February 2017 for the continuation of hearing”. Though he passionately canvassed for an extension of time from the remaining one and a half days to two days, Alli told the magazine that the decision of the tribunal would not adversely affect their case.
According to him, their request it was just for the record, adding that “in our own team’s pre-trial conferences, we knew that we had just one and a half days left. But you don’t lose anything by attempting to ask for something that is beneficial to you. After all, knock, the door shall be opened to you, ask, you shall be given. So, if you don’t ask, you can’t expect anything. So we have asked and we have been told that we have had enough”. Alli insisted that it would not in any way affect their case, stressing that “we are working within the time frame”. He said as, at today, they have called 90 witnesses. On the issue of bags of ballot papers brought by subpoenaed INEC official and which admissibility was being contested on, an apparently confident Alli said “we have our strategies for all this stuff, (pointing at the bags) and I can tell you that we are on course”
Also reacting, Akintola said the law was very clear on the issue of time allotted to each party. “Petitioners are entitled to 14 days maximum. Paragraph 41 of the Electoral Act is so clear and it says there can be no extension. So, there is nothing anybody can do about it. That is the position of the law; you have to abide by it”.