The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), failed to present witnesses in its defence at the Edo state governorship election petition tribunal on Friday.
At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Counsel to INEC, Oniye Anunonye, informed the Justice Ahmed Badamasi-led tribunal that he could not open his defence, saying he had no witnesses to call in the case.
“I know the tribunal adjourned to today for us to open our defence. Unfortunately, we have challenges,” Anunonye said shortly after announcing his appearance.
“The first is the scheduling of time of the senior counsel in the case for the first respondent which makes it imposible 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,” Anumonye said.
According to him, many of the witnesses were former NYSC members who had passed out and who resided outside Benin.
“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 whittle down 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?”
Counsel to end and 3rd respondents, Ken Mozia and Rikky Tarfa, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), respectively, did not oppose Anunonye’s request for adjournment.
They argued that since he was utilizing 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 congent 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 defense 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 that 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 alloted time, the application is granted.”
He thereafter adjourned sitting to Friday for INEC to open its defence.
In their petition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate in the September 28 gubernatorial election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, are challenging the declaration of Mr. Godwin Obaseki of the All Progressives Congress (APC), as winner of the election.
INEC, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and the APC were named as first, second and third respondents respectively in their petition.
The petitioners who alleged that the said election was fraught with electoral fraud and irregularities in some units and wards in the 18 local government areas of the state, are asking the tribunal to declare Ize-Iyamu as winner from the valid votes cast.
The petitioners closed their case on Friday after calling 91 witnesses and tendered used ballot papers, results and voter register before the tribunal.