Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
The Election Petition Tribunal in Benin City, Edo State, was forced to adjourned when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was unable to assemble witnesses to open its defence in the petition filed by PDP and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu against the declaration of Godwin Obaseki of APC as winner of last year election.
At the resumed of hearing yesterday, counsel to INEC, Onyinye Anumonye, informed the Justice Ahmed Badamasi-led three-man tribunal that he could not open his defence because of the problem of bringing the corps members who served as polling clerks and returning officers.
According to Anumonye, “I know the tribunal adjourned to today for us to open our defence. Unfortunately, we have challenges,” Anunonye said shortly after announcing his appearance.
He stated that “the first is the scheduling of time of the senior counsel in the case for the first respondent which makes it impossible for any of them to be here today.
“And the second and the most important, is the challenge of logistics which has made it impossible for any of our witnesses to be in court.
“Many of the witnesses were former NYSC members who had passed out and resided outside Benin-city.
“We have sent them text messages, but we have not able to meet with them to interact and streamline our witnesses to be called in other to present a defence for the respondent.
“While we are conceding three days to enable us reduce our witnesses, I apply that the tribunal adjourn to Friday when we will open our defence.
“It should consider the days as part of our 10-days statutorily allotted time for the respondent,” he said.
Anunonye’s application however drew the ire of the tribunal Chairman, Justice Badamasi, who asked him: “Why didn’t you prepare before today, knowing that the petitioners closed their case on Friday?”
However, he got a privy when counsel to 2nd and 3rd respondents, Ken Mozia and Rikky Tarfa, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), did not oppose his request for adjournment.
They argued that since he was utilising the statutory allotted time, he should be allowed time to deal with the identified challenges in the defence of his case.
Counsel to the petitioners, Mr. Adebanjo Adelodun (SAN), however, opposed the application for adjournment.
He said although adjournment was at the discretion of the tribunal, it depended on the credible and factual evidence presented before it.
“In this instance, the respondent has not presented any cogent and credible reason for the tribunal to grant an adjournment aside the nebulous word ‘logistics’.
“My Lords, the respondents is aware that we closed our case on Friday and was sufficiently informed by the tribunal that it would open its defence today.
“We are here today and prepared and INEC is chickening out. We apply that the tribunal forces INEC to open its defene today as we are eager to get done with with this petition.
“INEC has several of its members of staff in Benin and who also functioned as electoral officers, it can invite them as witnesses,” he said.
In his ruling, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Badamasi, said taking into consideration that the first respondent had a 10-day period to present its defense and “since the days being sought for adjournment are within the allotted time, the application is granted.
He thereafter adjourned sitting to Friday for INEC to open its defence