The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Monday, told the Benue State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, that the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state did not conduct governorship primaries as required by law.
The revelation was made by INEC after Joy Adeshina (SAN), counsel to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the April elections, Terhemen Tarzoor, tendered documents, insisting that Governor Samuel Ortom did not meet the criteria to contest on the APC platform. During the marathon session held by the tribunal that lasted till 5pm on Monday, the tribunal had subpoenaed the INEC Establishment Officer, Andyar Terkaa, who read the report.
Terkaa explained that at the time of compiling the report on December 5, 2014, the APC had not conducted its governorship primaries in the state. Under cross-examination, the INEC official added: “I was not aware of the conduct of the APC primaries on the said date in Benue state.”
Prior to the presentation of the report, counsel to Ortom, Olaniyi Akintola (SAN), had objected to the tendering of the APC as well as PDP governorship primary reports before the court. In her submission, counsel to Tarzoor, Adesina who cited relevant authorities, argued that the admissibility of a document lies in its relevance to a matter. She noted that it would amount to miscarriage of justice if the documents were rejected, warning that the reliance on technicalities in the determination of any issue would negate the principles of substantive justice for all.
In a ruling, Justice Katharine Ogunsanya held that the weight and relevance of a document determines its admissibility, hence “the two documents have passed the litmus test, the plea is upheld and the documents are admitted in evidence.”
The tribunal also admitted in evidence the timetable and schedule of the 2015 general elections. In Jos, the Plateau State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal adjourned its sitting to Wednesday, August 5, 2015 for ruling on the motion by the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Senator Gyang Pwajok, to admit INEC’s inspected and analysed materials used for the April 11, 2015 Governorship election and also for continuation of hearing. Presiding Judge, Justice Johnson Candide, after hearing the counsels to Governor Lalong, the APC and INEC, urged them to provide reference materials quoted on the matter for faster ruling. The tribunal resumes for ruling and continuation of hearing on the matter tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Calabar, on Monday, accepted the forensic report submitted by the examiner on the suits instituted by Senator Bassey Otu and Dominic Aqua Edem, both of the Labour Party in the state. Otu is challenging the election of Senator Gershom Bassey of the PDP for the Southern Senatorial District,while Edem, a former Deputy Speaker in the State House of Assembly is up against Apostle Essien Ekpenyong Ayi also of the PDP for the Bakassi/ Akpabuyo / Calabar South Federal Constituency listed as EPT/CR/SE/2/2015 and EPT/CR/NA/7/ 2015.
Lead Counsel to the respondents Paul Erokoro (SAN) attempted to persuade the tribunal from admitting the forensic report as one of the examiners, Dr. Vincent Okaa, entered the witness box to corroborate his earlier statement on oath filed on June 25, 2015 before the jury. Erokoro argued based on what he regarded as non-compliance to the provisions of the evidence Act as stated in Section 84 Sub-section 1, which provides that a computer document can only be admitted if it satisfies the rule and procedure as provided by the Act.
The respondents’ lead counsel argued further that the averment by INEC on the terminal page of the report was a confirmation that a computer was used to produce it, hence it not tenable and inadmissible in court. Effefiom Ekong of the PDP adopted the position of the lead counsel, but added that paragraph 10 and 11 of the evidence of the examiner as deposed to in his affidavit confirms that it is a computer generated document which should be discountenanced.
However, Eni Okoi, representing the INEC differed to the earlier representation by refusing to raise any objection to the admissibility of the exhibit. The Petitioners Counsel Essien Andrew, in a rejoinder, insisted that the exhibit is not a computer document but a forensic report obtained as earlier authorised by the tribunal and duly signed by the witness (Forensic examiner) duly supported by the Annexures.
He explained that the Appendix ‘E’ attached to the report is a confirmation by INEC that the scanner (machine) used to conduct the analysis was duly certified as genuine for that which the tribunal earlier permitted. He submitted that the Section 84 of the Evidence Act, as canvassed by Erokoro, does not affect the report prepared by an expert in the calibre of the witness such as Dr. Okaa, who is so licensed for the job.
The tribunal in its ruling, delivered by the chairman, Justice Christopher Awubra, said: “It is our view that having listened to the submissions of the learned SAN and the rejoinder by the petitioners counsel, the report is not computer generated but a Forensic Report. “The certificate of fitness endorsed by the INEC at the conclusion of the report further confirms that the machine used to conduct the analysis was appropriate hence as it is intended to clear and confirm the genuineness or otherwise of the ballots cast at the disputed poll”.