It was a case of win some, lose some yesterday at the Edo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Benin as the petitioners closed their case. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate in the September 28, 2016, governorship election in the state, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, are challenging the declaration of Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC as the winner of the election. It was another tension-soaked day as counsel to both parties traded tackles over an oral application made by Yusuff Alli, senior advocate of Nigeria, counsel to the petitioners, for an extension of time for the continued counting of ballot papers for four local government areas. Alli also prayed the tribunal to grant a request for the presentation of the outcome of the ballot papers so far counted after the Ahmed Badamasi-led three-man tribunal ruled that the 14-day period allotted to them to prove their case had been exhausted. Two days ago, the petitioners had applied for an increase in counting points from two to six in order to hasten the process, the ruling on which was delivered yesterday following opposition by the respondents that they should not be compelled to aid the petitioners in proving their case. However, the tribunal, in its magnanimity, acceded to the request but approved only one additional counting point. Because of the volume of the ballot papers to be counted, it was not possible for the exercise to be concluded before Ken Mozia, SAN, counsel to Obaseki, alerted the tribunal that the petitioners’ time was up.
Thereafter, there arose intense fire works as arguments ensued over whether or not the counting process should be continued, and whether the outcome of the counting so far done could be furnished the tribunal in order for the order of the court for the counting not to be in vain, in the words of Alli, counsel to the petitioners. Alli had argued that since the recounting started within time, it should be concluded. While the tribunal ruled in favour of the respondents by striking out the petitioners’ application for continuation of counting, it answered the petitioners’ prayer for the presentation of the result of the counting so far done to the tribunal. In its ruling, the tribunal stated that ‘it is this tribunal that made the order for the recounting exercise. The fact that the exercise was not concluded within time does not prevent the secretary from furnishing the tribunal with the incomplete recounting result. Respondents are free to address us on the weight to be attached to the report submitted of the recounting exercise in their final written addresses”. The secretary of the tribunal was consequently therefore directed to submit the report to it on or before Monday, February 13, 2017.
Counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Onyinyen Anumonye, which was billed to open its defense today (Saturday, February 11), however, demanded a copy of the report to be submitted “so that we will reappraise our defense”. Anumonye also, in view of this new development, sought the indulgence of the court to open the first respondent’s defense Tuesday next week after obtaining the report on Monday “to adjust or readjust our position in respect of our approach to the defense of the petition”. The request was not objected to by the petitioners, as well as the second and third respondents. Though the tribunal was reluctant in granting the request stating that “we are being pushed to the wall”, as Saturday and Monday would have been wasted, he nevertheless granted the request.
Earlier in his ruling on the application for the extension of recounting exercise, and for the result to be made available for tendering before the tribunal, Badamasi had dismissed the petitioners’ application. The respondents in their unequivocal opposition had insisted that election petition is sui generis and is time-framed and as such, the petitioners’ time had elapsed, stressing that the tribunal had no power to extend it. Badamasi agreed with their submission, noting that indeed by the provision of paragraph 41 (10) of the first schedule to the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, which gave the petitioners 14 days to present their case, their time had elapsed by 1 pm. According to him, “1 pm of today is the 14th day the petitioners had to conclude presenting their case. We have no power to extend by a minute the time allotted to the petitioners even though the recounting exercise started within the time”. The tribunal submitted that since the time allotted to the petitioners who chose to make the application for recounting two days before their time elapsed, they should be contented with the consequence of bringing their application late. On the whole, we hold that the application for extension of time for the recounting exercise beyond the 14 days allotted to the petitioners is lacking in merit and is hereby refused”, the tribunal ruled.
Though the petitioners had at the beginning of their case listed over 400 witnesses to be called, they succeeded in calling just 91 before their time elapsed. The ball is now in the court of the respondents to defend the result of the controversial election before the tribunal will give its verdict.