Bayelsa Election Petition: S’Court Orders Video Evidence Played in Open Court

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Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

The Supreme Court has dismissed Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson’s appeal to over turn the ruling of the Court of Appeal that a vital video evidence before the state’s governorship election tribunal, sitting in Abuja be played in the open court.

Dickson opposed playing the video in the open court.
But the apex court yesterday ordered the election tribunal to play, in the open court, a digital video disc (DVD) recording of the announcement of the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw Local Government by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).

A former governor of the state and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last governorship election, Timipre Sylva, who is contesting Dickson’s victory at the election, had claimed in his petition that INEC’s REC lacked the powers to cancel election.

While Sylva claimed in his petition that the REC cancelled the election, the respondents, including Dickson, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and INEC argued that the election was merely postponed.

In support of his client’s case, lawyer to Sylva, Sebastine Hon (SAN), pleaded the DVD, which the tribunal admitted, but denied the petitioner the opportunity to have it played in court when he applied to do so through a witness.

Sylva appealed the tribunal’s decision at the Court of Appeal, Abuja which, in a judgment on June 24, faulted the tribunal’s refusal to allow Sylva play the DVD. It directed the tribunal to play the DVD in the open court, a decision Dickson appealed to the Supreme Court.

Dismissing Dickson’s appeal filed by Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal

The apex court agreed with Sylva’s lawyer that Dickson’s objection to the playing of the video by the tribunal “was misplaced, unwarranted, baseless, lacking in merit.”

In the lead judgment read by Justice Chima Nweze, the court held that the foundation for the admission of the said video tape was properly laid by the petitioners in compliance with section 84 of the Evidence Act in their petitions.
The court directed that the witness, Mr. Emmanuel Ogunseye who produced the video tape should be allowed by the tribunal to demonstrate it in the open court in the interest of justice and having complied with the relevant laws.

Justice Nweze particularly noted that by his objection to the demonstration of the video, Oyetibo “rail-loaded” the tribunal into making a wrong decision in accepting his objection.

“This is a fallacious piece of reasoning, because Section 84 of the Evidence Act did not require the production of two certificates before electronically generated evidence can be demonstrated in court.

“The court has no power in making a cluster enquiry outside the evidence adduced before the tribunal as far as the video tapes already admitted in evidence by the tribunal is concerned,” Justice Nweze said.

He noted that in the instant case, the single certificate tendered by the witness had satisfied Section 84 of the Evidence Act and therefore there was no need for any hindrance to be put forward before the exhibit in question could be demonstrated.

Justice Nweze said: “Demonstrating the evidence in court will allow the applicant to link the evidence and also allow the opponent to test and contest the accuracy of the said evidence

“In conclusion I found that the appeal by the appellant is wholly unmeritorious and is dismissed. The judgment of the court of appeal delivered on June 24 is hereby affirmed,” he said.

Justice Onyeakachi Ottis, who read the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal on June 24, set aside the tribunal’s ruling of May 10, 2016 rejecting the request by Sylva’s lawyer to have the DVD played.

The court said that contrary to the decision of the tribunal the appellant complied with the conditions precedence stipulated in Section 84 of the Evidence Act on the admissibility of electronically generated evidence.

It held that it was wrong of the tribunal to have misapplied Section 84 to deny the appellant the right to play the DVD in the open court to justify his petition against the election of Governor Seriake Dickson.

The court said once the evidence had been admitted, having met all the conditions under Section 84 of the Evidence Act, there was no need for any certificate before any computer could be deployed to play the DVD in evidence.
The court ordered the tribunal to recall the petitioner’s witness, through which he had sought to play it, to play the said DVD in the open court.

It noted that the DVD was pleaded by the petitioner; it is relevant to the petition, and that it also the tendering also conforms to the law on electronically generated document.

The court further noted that since it was admitted in evidence in line with Section 84 of Evidence Act; the foundation for its admission well laid, and the DVD well pleaded in the petition, “it is not the decision of the judiciary to supply any authority other than to follow the law in the circumstances.”

The court said there ought not to be any inhibition to the playing of the DVD in the open court by the tribunal because all conditions prescribed by law have been fulfilled by the appellant.

It held that the DVD ought to be played by the tribunal in the open court to demonstrate that it intended not to make it a sleeping exhibit.