Thursday sitting of the Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal ended on a rather controversial note after 6 pm this evening as counsel to the respondents opposed the application of counsel to the petitioners for an adjournment till Monday next week instead of tomorrow. The application by Roland Otaru, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, sparked off a heated debate as respondents’ counsel robustly resisted the requested adjournment, accusing the Ahmed Badamasi-led panel of having been over-indulging the petitioners. Moving his application, Otaru pleaded with their Lordships to adjourn sitting till next week Monday instead of tomorrow (Saturday) for logistic reasons. According to him, “we shall be asking for an adjournment till Monday because there are some logistics we have to put in place. And even our lead counsel (Kemi Pinheiro, SAN), has travelled out of the country and is going to be back on Monday”. The request did however not go down well with counsel to respondents who murmured as he spoke that ‘we will come tomorrow, we must come tomorrow’. Pinheiro had been around all week until last Thursday when Otaru stepped into his shoe.
Reacting immediately to the application, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who joined the team at noon today, said he would want to understand the application to mean that they would be forfeiting tomorrow, stating that “if that is the case, I have no objection”. Ikpeazu said he actually came in today to take today and tomorrow. Even when Akinlolu Kehinde jokingly offered to offset his bills, he stood his ground, positing that he would want the matter to continue tomorrow because that was what he came for. Adetunji Oyeyipo, counsel to the governor, Godwin Obaseki, after conferring with his colleagues, said “we opposed the motion for the adjournment, sir”, reminding the tribunal that the petitioners opened their case on the 16th of January. According to him, ordinarily, they are entitled to 14 days, noting that today is the 4th of February and they are asking for another adjournment. Oyeyipo stated that the petitioners had been over-indulged “and that is why they are emboldened to make applications for adjournment”. He said each of the three sets of respondents would have 14 days to prove their case “and we intend to utilise our days…and we will need to apply for adjournments when it becomes necessary for us. So my Lords, if they want adjournment till the last day of their 14 days, we will not oppose it. But any adjournment at the instance of the petitioners must take into account the days they should have utilised otherwise we vehemently oppose this application for adjournment”. Oyeyipo submitted that it would not be in the interest of justice for this matter to be adjourned “especially given the reasons that they gave that their lead counsel travelled out of the country when there are about 14 senior advocates on their side. So we oppose the application”.
Rotimi Ogunesho, counsel to the APC, in opposing the motion, noted that Saturday is a working day for the tribunal, recalling that last Saturday was vacated because of the petitioners, “now, the same thing, another Saturday, they are asking for adjournment”. Like Oyeyipo, he posited that the petitioners had been over-indulged. While asserting that justice should be for all the parties, Ogunesho said the implication of their action was that the petitioners were carrying on as if they were the only party before the tribunal. He, therefore, concluded by calling on the tribunal to refuse their application, contending that “the application of the petitioners is a disservice to the respondents and it is also a disservice to the tribunal”. He insisted that if they are unable to go on tomorrow, then it must be removed from their days.
A passionate plea by Otaru that the application was not a disservice to the respondents and the tribunal neither was it an over-indulgence, did however not sway their Lordships. He blamed the inability to sit last Saturday on the delay tactics employed by the respondents during document inspection at INEC. But their Lordships in their discretion, rejected the application, stating that they were not satisfied with the reasons given. Badamasi held that for such a request to be granted, “there must be cogent and compelling reasons”. He held that “logistic reason without specification and the absence of the lead counsel, in our view, are not cogent reasons we should allow the application for adjournment more so when in our report, Saturday is a working day”.