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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Okori VS Akpabio: 102 witnesses to testify in court as Akpabio fails the bid to stop continuation of pre – hearing

The Honourable Justice Goddy Anunihu led Akwa Ibom State National and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting at the Customary Court Dutsen Alhaji, Abuja, on Tuesday refused former Akwa Ibom state Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio’s bid to stall the continuation of the pre hearing in the petition challenging his declaration as winner of the March 28th, 2015 Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial election by the All Progressives Congress (APC) senatorial candidate, Chief Inibehe Okori of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

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The three man panel which also has as members, Hon Justice A. O. Adebusoye and Hon Justice A. M. Lamido, on Tuesday insisted that Akpabio’s preliminary objection to the petition be heard alongside the petition against the former governors position that pre hearing must be put on hold till his application before the tribunal is dealt with.


Okori VS Akpabio: 102 witnesses to testify in court as Akpabio fails the bid to stop continuation of pre – hearingIn a preliminary objection filed on July 14, 2015, hours after he pleaded the tribunal to stand down the petition to 1pm to allow him be available in court, claiming he was previously engaged in another tribunal, Akpabio, rather than go on with the pre -hearing to defend how he got the over 450,000 disputed votes during the March 28th ,2015 Senatorial election, is challenging the petitions merit to be heard by the tribunal as a means of buying time with the hope that his delay tactics will help him evade the tribunal till the 180 days time frame allowed by law for election petition elapses.

In a motion on notice before the tribunal, the ex Governor said his grounds for bringing his preliminary objection before the tribunal for the petition to be struck out is premised on the fact that the petition is incompetent and the tribunal has no jurisdiction to entertain it in that

1. A condition precedent to the presentation of the petition has not been fulfilled in that

a. the purported witness statements were not deposed in accordance with the provisions of the Oath Act.

b. the purported witness statements were not sworn to before a competent authority as required by law.

2. The petition is not supported by any valid ground or grounds.

3. One of the grounds pleaded is unknown to law.

4. The grounds pleaded are inconsistent with one another.

5. The ground that the 1st Respondent was not nominated or sponsored by any political party is inconsistent with the facts pleaded.

6.The grounds pleaded are inconsistent with the relief sought.

7. The reliefs sought are inconsistent with one another.

8. The petition does not disclose any reasonable cause of action to warrant a hearing on the merit.

This is the second motion Akpabio is bringing before the tribunal to stop the petition from preceding to pre- hearing.

Akpabio had on June 11th,2015 filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the tribunal to relocate from Uyo to Abuja. He had earlier argued that the petition against his election cannot be heard until the jurisdiction suit presently before the Court of Appeal is disposed of, a position that was unanimously rejected by the tribunal which ruled that the pre- hearing must continue while parties await the Appeal Court ruling on the matter. When he failed to have his way, his lead counsel, Offiong Offiong (SAN), who had argued for close to two hours that the jurisdiction issue must first be determined suddenly took ill and slumped forcing the tribunal to adjourn the matter.

At the resumed hearing of the petition at the Customary Court, Dutsen Alhaji ,Abuja on Tuesday July 14, 2015, all Akpabio’s14 lawyers who signed the pre hearing document on July 2 that

was to be argued were absent. Rather, Paul Usoro (SAN) filed a letter requesting that the matter be stood down till 1pm for reason that he is engaged at another tribunal. He never showed up when the tribunal resumed from recess by 2.15pm.

Akpabio said he is objecting to the petition in that Okori’s petition is not accompanied by any valid witness statement as required by law.

“All the witness statements filed are invalid in the light of their failure to comply with the mandatory provisions of our laws relating to statements made on oath. The invalidity of the so called witness statements attached to the petition he said, are manifested in the fact that none of the witness statements was sworn in accordance with the mandatory provisions of the First Schedule to the Oath Act as well as the fact that none of the witness deposed to the statements before an appropriate authority duly authorized by law to administer oaths”, he submitted.

He argued that the witness statements were purportedly administered by the secretary of the tribunal. The secretary of the tribunal, he insisted cannot lawfully administer oaths because “Nothing in the Electoral Act empowers a secretary to administer oaths “,he declared.

Rather than explain and prove beyond reasonable doubt that his constituents actually validly gave him over 450000 votes as was declared by INEC to represent them at the Red Chambers , the former Governor listed four issues for determination by the tribunal in his preliminary objection which are:

1. Whether in the light of the fact that a condition precedent to the presentation of the petition has not been fulfilled in that the purported witness statements were not deposed to in accordance with the provisions of the Oath Act and were not sworn to before a competent authority as required by law, this petition is not incompetent and liable to be struck out.

2. Whether having pleaded that the 1st Respondent was sponsored by the 2nd Respondent to contest the election, the Petitioners could challenge the election of the 1st Respondent on the ground that he was not so sponsored quite apart from the fact that the Petitioners have no standing in law to challenge the candidacy of the 1st Respondent on the ground of sponsorship by his political party.

3. Whether the grounds pleaded in support of the petition are inconsistent with each other and inconsistent with the reliefs sought and if so whether this Petition is not incompetent and liable to be struck out

and

4. Whether the reliefs sought are inconsistent with one another and if so whether this Petition is not incompetent and liable to be struck out.

At the hearing of the petition on Tuesday, counsel to the 1st Respondent, Dr .G. O. Ogunjobi said the pre hearing cannot proceed until his application before the tribunal are first dealt with.

Counsel to both the INEC and PDP aligned with the counsel to the 1st Respondent that the motion be looked at irrespective of Paragraph 12(5) which the petitioners counsel is invoking as the section mentioned is not a bar to the hearing of the application.

Responding, Solomon Umoh (SAN), counsel to the petitioner said Akpabio’s motion is only aimed at delaying the petition till the 180 days allowed by law elapses and therefore the only option available to the tribunal is to invoke Section 12(5) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act to stop the many mischief of technicalities on the part of any of the parties even as he contended that all the issues raised by the 1st Respondent are left for the tribunal to decide as the case proceeds rather than to be heard now at the expense of continuing with the pre hearing.

He referred the tribunal to Paragraph 18(9) of the Electoral Act which states that pre hearing must be commenced and concluded within 14 days. Regrettably he said , a pre hearing that commenced on July 2, 2015 is still at this stage when the 14 days has been exhausted. He therefore urged the tribunal to continue the pre hearing and Schedule the application within the pre hearing.

A total of 102 witnesses are to testify before the tribunal. A breakdown of the figure shows that Chief Okori will call 19 key witnesses, while Akpabio is expected to call 63 witnesses. On it’s part, both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) hopes to invite 10 witnesses each.

The tribunal ruled that Akpabio’s two motions be heard on Thursday, July 23 but both application be consolidated while ruling be delivered on Monday, July 27,2015.

Also the tribunal granted seven days from Tuesday, July 28- August 4, 2015 for the petitioner to make his case while Akpabio has nine days from August 5-14th,2015 to make his defence. INEC was given three days from August 15-18,2015 while the PDP was given three days from August 19-21st, 2015.

Also the tribunal said each witness will have ten minutes and ten minutes will also be given for cross examination while five minutes will be given for re-examination should the need arise.

At the end of the trial, ten days will be given for all parties to submit their written addresses while respondents will have seven days to file their reply. Five days was also given for respondents to reply on point of law.

Okori VS Akpabio :Trial time table schedule

Okori – 7 days. July 28-4th August

Akpabio- 9 days. 5-14 August

INEC- 3 days. 15-18 August

PDP- 3 days. 19-21 August

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