Bearing any last minute, the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal led by Justice Isa Sambo will deliver judgment on the petition of Senator Dino Melaye challenging the victory of Senator Smart Adeyemi in the last year November 16 Kogi West senatorial rerun election.
The battle between Melaye and Adeyemi have remained the longest and most commented in the anal of the senatorial axis. The duo are from the same council area of Ijumu and had at different time vied and challenged each other from both political parties of PDP and APC. Melaye had referred to Adeyemi as his political wife, Adeyemi in turn said Melaye was his political errand boy.
In 2015, Adeyemi was the candidate of PDP while Dino stood for APC. INEC declared Dino winner, Adeyemi challenged him. The case at tribunal headed by Justice Akon Ikpeme was struck out on technical ground, Adeyemi appealed. Appeal court ordered for a retrial at the tribunal which still go the same way. Again, Adeyemi appealed the retrial but lost.
However, a leaked audio of a transaction between the tribunal chairperson and Dino Melaye surfaced, Adeyemi petitioned the Nigeria Judiciary Counsel, NJC who requested for a call log of the Tribunal’s chairperson. Adeyemi needed a court injunction to compel the service provider to supply it; a task that was daunting, forcing Adeyemi to jettisoned the idea.
Again, Melaye faced Adeyemi in the 2015 general election. But the table has changed as political happenstances make Adeyemi beared the APC broom, while Dino carried the PDP umbrella for the same senatorial election. INEC declared Melaye winner, Smart petitioned. The irregularities were rightly pointed out, prompting the Tribunal to quashed the election. Dino appealed and lost; setting ground for a rerun election.
By the time the rerun was conducted in November 16, 2019 Adeyemi won. However, the difference in their margin was not up to the cancelled votes, giving way for INEC to conduct a supplematary votes on November 30, 2019.At the end of the whole exercise, Smart garnered 88,373 votes against Melaye’s 62,133 – a difference of 26,240; the widest margin in the history of the senatorial district.
Dissatisfied, Dino approached the Tribunal, making it the fourth time within six years the duo will be challenging each others at the tribunal, with their parties and INEC as co-respondents.
The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal has turned into a battleground for two of the most prominent men to have come out of the state. Both men have won national accolade – Adeyemi, a former president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ and Melaye a student activist.
Unlike in the two previous sceneries, the legal exchange between the two contending parties reached the highest legal talking point when Adeyemi did not bothered to call any witness to buttress his victory, relying just like INEC, on the statements of the petitioner’s witnesses.
Adeyemi and INEC counsels decisions was like an elixir to their clients who were obviously hoping to nudge the tribunal towards the fact that the many contradictory statements of the witnesses were enough to dismissed the case.
The petitioner, Melaye listed seventy witnesses and had called in some of his witnesses to butress his suit at the tribunal challenging the outcome of the November 30 rerun election won by Senator Smart Adeyemi; alleging their was mayhem and manipulation at the poll, as contained in the witnessesd statements on oaths. But many of the witnesses failed to substantiate their claims, some contradicted their statement, while others denied it outrightly when adopting their statements.
One of the witnesses, Magi Abraham Shade delt the first blow to the petitioner when he stated that he was PDP Ward collation agent during the election, said though he did his voters card registration in Kaduna but later transferred it to Kabba. When the witness was queried to identified himself from the voters register, the picture of the person’s whom he claimed was entirely different from his person. He couldn’t denied the fact that he came to the court to impersonate and he agreed to the tribunal that all the evidences he had given were absolute false.
Salihu Muhammed on his own denied ever making statements that he signed the result sheet of his collation centre at gun point. Muhammed when crossed examined by the 2nd Respondent counsel, Senator Smart Adeyemi, Dr. Dapo Otitoju, said the statement on oath which bears his signature was prepared by his lawyer and not by himself. The witness also denied that he moved round all the collation centers in his ward, said he only made a little movement.
Another witness, Useni Muhammad from Odarki Ward stunned the court when he said he couldn’t read. He also said it was an ‘error’ on his part to have signed the statement on oath when he couldn’t comprehend what the lawyer prepared for him. He stated further that the election was free and fair against the Petitioner’s claims of violence during the election. He said his statement admitting to mayhem during the election was due to what he heard from others, said his area witness no chaos during the poll.
Another witness, Abubakar Alhasan while being cross examined said though he was the collation agent for PDP in his polling unit but the result was signed by his colleague, whose name he has now forgotten.
And Suraju Adamu from Giriyan, Kogi LGA claimed he used calculator to reconciled the error his agents made at the poling units and was able to deduced in his personal capacity that their was over voting.
Olurokon Wesley Kayode, from Etiaran compound Egbe, when being cross examined affirmed that the result declared in the result sheet tallied with the outcome of the election in his voting unit. Kayode when asked if their was any violence during the election answered no, stressing that the election was peaceful; against his initial claim in the statement of oath that there was fracas during the rerun election in his ward.
Ayodele Olayinka Stephen, a builder in Isedo Compound Oke-Ere in Yagba West LGA also affirmed that there was no disruption in the poling unit where he served as agent. He stressed further that there was no looting of the ballots papers, as the result of the votes in his units was duly announced.
The contradiction continued when two of the petitioner’s witnesses, Bidemi Kolawole and Aare Luke separately laid claims to be the proper agent for the PDP in Aiyeteju Amuro Unit 001.
For Mr. Femi Obalemo who in his statement on oath said he signed and participated in the inspection of materials used for the election and further carried out an analysis of the report, told the tribunal he was not even in the country when the inspection was carried out.
The icing on the cake was when the petitioners himself denied his witnesses. Melaye also turned the court sitting to a comedy when he stated that he was physically present in all the polling units in the Kogi West Senatorial axis during the rerun election.
When confronted with the contradictory statements of some of his witnesses, Melaye said, “I can’t speak for the agents neither can they speak for me”.
It became more worrisome for the petitioner when the tribunal refused his prayer to admit or speak on the materials used for the rerun election because it was deposed outside the 21 days allowed by section 285 (sub 5 ) of the electoral act for pleading.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on their own urged the tribunal to dismiss Melaye’s petitioner, saying the application filed by the petitioners (Melaye) lacked merit and was incompetent.
INEC counsel, Barr. Alashey said, “When I was trying to get in touch with my witnesses, I also used the same time to review the testimony of the petitioner’s witnesses, where most of them admitted before the court that they lied. On this note I am no longer calling any evidence. This is on the fact that the first respondent (INEC) case was clearly established during the cross examination of the Petitioner’s witnesses.
“Your lordships can bare me witness that I commended the witnesses for saying the truth that the election was free and fair. On this I hereby close my case and plead your lordships to grant me my prayers that the petitions should be strike out for lacking in merits and full of lies, errors and deceits.”
Senator Smart Adeyemi and the All Progressive Congress, APC too closed their cases before the tribunal without calling a witness. Counsels to Adeyemi, and the APC, Dr Otitoju Oladapo and Barr. Muhammed Abdullahi respectively said the Petitioner’s position was enough to supports their prayers to upheld the election.
Dr. Oladapo said, “At the pre hearing, we all acknowledged to call all our witnesses however, during the hearing and adjournment, I have review the evidences giving by the petitioner’s witnesses before the court, I have been able to find evidence that most of them lied on oath and admitted so before the court, and agreed they lied before the Court.
“In view of that, they (petitioner witnesses) have contradicted themselves with their evidences before the Court based on the aforementioned evidences elicited from all the 70 witnesses. On this note my Lord, we are closing our case because they have confessed before your lordships that they lied.”
Counsel to 3rd respondent, (APC) Barr. Abdulahi Muhammed also said he’s not calling any witness because many of the Petitioners witnesses during cross examination lies, “They admitted before your lordships and their claims contradicted their written statement which they adopted before your lordships. I hereby apply to close our Case.”
But the petition took a new turn when the petitioner’s counsel, Prof Egbewole asked the court to grants his prayers and declare Melaye as winner based on the alleged evidence that the petitioners had the majority of lawful vote with 46,649 votes against INEC and APC which hold 43,543 votes.
Prof. Egbewole when adopting his final written addresses said though the figure were different from the one they pleaded in court against INEC, but submitted that their prayers should still be considered.
But Barr. Chris Alashe, counsel to 1st respondents (INEC) asked the court to dismiss the case in ‘adumbration”, stating there was no evidence to the figure brought by the Petitioner, hence, the case be dismissed in it’s entirety.
Counsel to Senator Smart Adeyemi who was the second respondents, Dr. Otitoju Oladapo, also urged the tribunal to look into his objections to the Petitioner’s prayer contained in his final written addresses, “We seek to adopt that your Lordships to dismiss this petition. We also filed on the points of law to tendering of documents, urged you to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit and substance.
“The petitioner failed to proof the petition by bringing credible witness to proof its case. When a witness lies before the court it becomes unreliable and the evidence the counsel to the petitioners brought this morning emanated from his table and it cannot stand as evidence before your Lordships. The vote was not born in this process and therefore it cannot be giving a serious backing because it is forbidding.
“I urge your Lordships to discountenance the paragraph (3.00-5.0 ) it amount to reargument which the court forbid. Having satisfy the law the 2nd respondents was declared the winner and it has not been disprove by any witness. On this I pray the Lordships to dismiss the petition.”
Barr. M Y. Abdulahi, who is the 3rd respondents counsel, (APC) said the tribunal should not only dismiss the petition but cost should be awarded in their favour, “As the figure the petitioner brought to the court was not pleaded and it was manipulated by the counsel to the petitioner. We urge your Lordships to dismiss this case in entirety”.
The tribunal had reserved judgement with counsels involved to be communicated. If Melaye loses at the tribunal due to his witnesses contradictory positions, it will be liken to a man who summersalted and landed on his one swords. What the tribunal does with Melaye’s witnesses statements could prove decisive.End