DELTA GUBER TRIBUNAL: What Went Wrong?

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The Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal fully kicked-off on June 1st 2023, with commendations from counsels to the Justices led by Justice H. C. Ahuchaogu, following the calmness the panel accorded them while they presented and argued their cases.

The three-man panel equally accorded same respect to the lawyers for the high demonstration of professional prowess displayed from the bar.

It was indeed a very quiet atmosphere even spectators acknowledged this.

This applause was not to gain favour from any of the Justices, it was truly given to the panel by the counsels to the petitioners, His Excellency, Olorogun Barr. Kenneth Gbagi FNIM, OON, the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the March 18th election.

The Defendants, Sheriff Oborevwori, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Ovie Augustine Omo-Agege, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Ken Pela, of Labour Party (LP), their various parties and their deputies equally did same.

This encomiums were also reciprocated by the panel all through the Pre-hearing to the hearing conference.

However, on Saturday August 12th 2023, this atmosphere was greeted with what seemed to be a reprisal like attack from the Chairman of the panel when he called on the lead counsel to Gbagi, Mr. Mato Magaji Ibrahim, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to adopt his final written address.

Flowing from the above scenario, not having any doubt in mind, the learned senior colleague as he was often referred to by his opposition colleagues, rose but informed the tribunal that he and his colleagues who appeared with him are here to adopt the final written address but have filed a harmless application, seeking the indulgence of his lordships to move the application before the adoption of the final written address.

The application is a motion on notice brought pursuant to section 36 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) paragraph 47 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022 and under the inherent powers of the honourable tribunal.

It is for an order granting leave to the Petitioners/Applicants to make the application at post hearing session, an order granting leave to the Petitioners/Applicants to re-open their case for the purpose of tendering document(s) from the bar and any such Order(s) this court deem fit to make having regards to the circumstance of this case.

The word or phrase “post”/post hearing session”, may have miffed the panel who argued that there was never a word like this in the Electoral Act.

Magaji, however argued that in any situation where there is “pre”, what comes to mind ordinarily in English is post.

In support of the application, the Petitioners/Applicants armed themselves with an Affidavit of 15 paragraphs duly deposed to by Kenneth Orusi, the Chief Press Secretary to the 1st Petitioner, which they “rely heavily on all the averments as contained in the affidavit”, urging the panel to grant their prayers.

An exhibit, an allegedly forged Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette, by Sheriff Oborevwori, dated 5th May 2022, was attached to the application.

The petitioners/Applicants also attached a letter from the Office of the Head Of Civil Service of the federation, dated July 28th 2023, in response to a letter dated 26th July 2023, requesting for the verification of the Gazette dated 5th May 2022.

The response letter reads in part: “I wish to confirm that the said Gazette did not emanate from this office. Gazette for 5th May 2022, is still at author’s proof state and has not been printed”.

However, this met a very stiff resistance on the ground argued by the panel chairman that the application was ‘Novel”, which is not actually the truth about this application as the position of the law was well articulated, citing the cases of Samson Awoyake v. Joshua O. Ogunbiyi (1985) and Nebo v. FCFA (1998) 11 NWLR (Pt 574) 480 at 489-493 (per Kalgo JCA as he then was.

It is true that in court, in this case, the governorship election tribunal, objection(s) are raised by defendants but Justice H. C. Ahuchaogu, however, wore the robe of a defendant, noting that having read through the application, the cases cited by Mr. Magaji, were not related to election petition tribunal.

Even when the 1st to the 4th, 11th to 13th Respondents said they are not objecting to the application but leaving it to the discretion of the panel, Justice H. C. Ahuchaogu, said: “you have approached us with a novel application which is unknown to the Electoral Act.

“We will hear you and we will do what you want us to do if you persuade us authoritatively”.

Not deterred but determined to press home his application base on the above statement, the erudite counsel to Gbagi, cited Aregbeshola v. Oyetola which is an election petition case, Magaji said: “Written addresses have been adopted and a police report was discovered after the adoption of addresses… Justice Ahuchaogu cuts in “who discovered it?”

As a seasoned legal luminary, without being put off balance answered: “my lords, the petitioners and they came back to the honourable tribunal to apply that this document is very important and vital to the determination of this petition.

“And they brought in an application to that effect and my lords at the tribunal accepted the document on the basis that, is germine to the determination of the petition”.

Poised not to see the application fly, which the 3rd Respondent pleaded in their own case but was unable to provide, Justice Ahuchaogu queried Magaji, why he was interested in another person’s document.

Hear him: “If your adversary pleaded a document and was unable to make use of it, is it not to your own advantage that the case should proceed without that document coming in. Why are you interested in another person’s document, I’m asking you?

One is therefore tempted to ask, if this is the once friendly panel?

Could this be the same panel that was once rumoured to have rejected N4 billion?

These and many more questions begging for answers.

Justice Ahuchaogu-led Panel should be courageous and bold enough to step in the shoes of their Kano State counterpart in charge of
National and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, Hon. Justice Flora Ngozi Azinge, who recently rejected N10 million bribe from a SAN, to pervade the course of justice.

And like Justice JR Midha of the Indian High court eloquently puts it, “in the court of justice, both parties know the truth. It is the judge who is on trial”.

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