Udora Orizu in Owerri
There was a drama at the lmo State Election Petition Tribunal yesterday in Owerri, when the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) lawyer in an ongoing election case between the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Araraume and Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), told the tribunal that his sole witness would no longer be testifying in the case, as earlier promised.
Senator Araraume is challenging the election of Ihedioha in the last governorship election in Imo State, alleging that the election was marred with electoral irregularities.
The INEC’s counsel, Mr. Aham Ekeh Ejelam (SAN), had pleaded with the tribunal on Thursday to give him until Friday to produce his sole witness to testify in the case, when the witness failed to turn up at the tribunal.
When asked by the Chairman of the tribunal, Hon. Justice M. U. Dogodanji, at the continuation of the hearing if he had another witness, Ejelam responded thus, “I cannot present another witness when the real witness name was forwarded to the tribunal in our front loaded documents.’’
INEC’s counsel subsequently pleaded with the tribunal to adjourn till Friday 26th July to enable him put his house together and bring his sole witness to the court. The petitioner’s lawyer, Awa Kalu never objected and the court adjourned the matter to yesterday.
However, at the resumed hearing yesterday, counsel to INEC Mr. Ejelam, told the court that he could not produce his sole witness, informing the court that INEC had no witness to present and consequently closed his case.
Onyechi ikpeazu (SAN), counsel to Rt. Hon Ihedioha of PDP, however, pleaded with the court to adjourn till August 16 to enable him to open his defence. But the court declined to his request and later fixed 5th and 16th of August for the opening of their defence, saying the tribunal is running out of time.
The petitioner’s lead counsel Kalu did not object to the ruling of the tribunal on the adjourned date.
The legal fireworks at election petition tribunal sitting in Owerri, the lmo State capital, had begun on Tuesday as the APGA candidate; Senator Araraume testified before the tribunal.
The petition filed by the APGA candidate at the ongoing election petition tribunal received a boost, as the court accepted all the evidence of the petitioner, including the ‘’back end report’’ tendered by the lead counsel to the petitioner Kalu (SAN).
Speaking with journalists after the court sitting, Araraume said that all documents required to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt had been tendered before the tribunal, including but not limited to voter register, declaration sheets and card reader back end report.
Araraume said he was elated about what transpired in the court, stating that the back end report was very critical because in the guidelines issued by INEC, the only means of accreditation was by electronic, with no room for manual accreditation.
To buttress his argument, Senator Araraume cited the case of Aboh Mbaise, Ihedioha’s local government area, where INEC returned 64,000 votes to him, alleging that only 22,328 total votes were accredited to vote, including void – going by INEC’s record.
The APGA candidate maintained that the governorship election in lmo, particularly in Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Oguta and many other local government areas was a big fraud.