AKWA IBOM TRIBUNAL: WITNESSING THE WITNESSES
I arrived Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory at about 12 noon on Tuesday 3rd September, 2015 to witness the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal.
I decided to embark on this trip at my own expense, in order establish the veracity or otherwise of the messages churned out on the internet to the innocent Akwa Ibom by the whirl wind called APC, because I have always been guided by the age -long maxim that,”Ignorantia juris non excusat”, hence the need for an firsthand perspective.
My travel, though not without inconveniences, was as smooth as as my current stay in the nation’s capital. The adventure debunked my long borne belief about Dana Air, which rendered one of the smoothest domestic flights I have ever embarked on in Nigeria.
As I checked into my hotel, a state -of -the -art facility in the Central Area of Abuja, I was greeted by a cushioning ambience in my suite -a cynosure of refreshment, reinforced my experience, as it provides space for my ‘mobile office’, and the opportunity to “feel at home.”
I arrived the FCT High Court 8 which happens to be venue of the tribunal by 8:45 am on Wednesday 2nd September, 2015. At that time, the doors of the court room were not opened, but i wished to be among the first 10 persons to enter the court room, a feat I achieved without much ado.
At exactly 10:30 am, the body of judges led by Justice Sadiq Umar, were ushered in with an air of dignity, entered the court room and the proceeding of the day began.
Permit me at this point to acknowledge the sagacity and lego-technical capability of Paul Usoro (SAN) lawyer to the first respondent who commenced proceedings by introducing members of his team, ditto the lawyers to the Second and Third respondents as well as The lawyer to the petitioner. Thereafter the witnesses entered the dock for evidence-in-chief and cross-examination.
The testimonies presented to the court by witnesses of Governor Udom Emmanuel were startling- a negation of what the propaganda machinery ofAPC has been spewing out to the general public and I would dwell on the testimonies presented by some of them and of which the APC, in their ignorance of legal processes have attempted to twist in order to mislead the innocent public.
The most interesting and chilling moments of the session was when Umana’s lead Counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun pleaded that the ballot papers totaling over 1.2 million which were packed into 9 ‘Ghana-must-go’ bag (big size) be recounted so as to be sure that the number of ballot papers in the bag corresponds with the total number of votes counted by INEC in the April 11gubernatorial election.
On the contrary, lead counsel to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Paul Usoro (SAN), argued that although his client had nothing to lose in the verification of the ballot papers, it would only amount to another rigorous process of recounting that may take more valued time of the tribunal.
Again, the APC counsel Dayo Akinlaja made a submission to the tribunal to use another witness’ written statement which has not been adopted in the tribunal to discredit a PDP witness. This was objected by Gov Udom Emmanuel counsel, Paul Usoro (SAN) and objection was upheld by the 3-man tribunal led by Justice Sadiq Umar.
It was a brilliant display on the path of Governor Emmanuel’s witnesses at both evidence-in-chief and cross-examination in respect of defence by the 1st respondent, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State against a petition by the APC Governorship Candidate Mr Umana Okon Umana to the effect that no election took place in Akwa Ibom.
The defense was initialized when Governor Emmanuel’s lead counsel Paul Usoro (SAN ) called for witnesses namely, Godwin Ntukudeh, Maxwell Ojoko, Elder Imo Okon and Isaiah Abia. All of them contended that the governorship election took place and they all voted.Their PVCs were all admitted as exhibits.
If Wednesday, September 2, 2015 was so interesting, then the second day, Thursday 2nd, September, 2015, was particularly revealing with the PDP parading some very key witnesses whose testimonies stunned the tribunal judges and rendered the APC’s petition toothless.
Ufot Toby Nkangude, a former commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Etido Inyang, Commissioner for Special Duties in Akwa Ibom State, Hon Ezekiel Jacob Obot, a two-time councillor from Oruk Anam Local Government Area, among others.
In a similar pattern, having tendered their PVCs as exhibits, as admitted by the court, attempts by APC’s lawyer, Dayo Akinlaja to establish that “no election took place in Akwa Ibom” hit the brick wall, as the witnesses proofed beyond reasonable doubts that elections were properly conducted and they voted.
All the witnesses also established, against the recycled insinuations by the opposition APC, that no violence took place in the state during the election.
One argument which came up during Ufot Nkangude’s cross -examination was that his name was not ticked on the INEC register. But that is too weak an argument in the sense that it doesn’t explain ‘that election did not take place ‘. That is because an anomaly in a particular unit, ward or local government is insufficient to generalize that same took place everywhere and that elections did not hold in the entire 31 local government areas of the state.
For instance, Hon Jacob Obot was during his evidence -in -chief and cross-examination referred to a petition by Chief Don Etiebet and Okokon Etiebet to the effect that no election took place in Oruk Anam. With precision and cogent responses, Hon Ezekiel took his time to educate the lawyer on the political dynamics of Oruk Anam.
A dramatic turn ensued when it was apparent that the petitioner’s lawyer staggered for apparent lack of substance in his cross examination. He resorted to the advise of his team members for a while and told the trial judge: “My Lord, permit me use a proverb that says, one must seek collective wisdom to avoid being called a fool”. Thrilled by the witness’ superlative performance, the trial judge advised the petitioner’s lawyer thus: “you need some tutelage in politics from this honorable witness”.
Engr Etido Inyang’s testimony could at best be described as ‘a masterly display’ during evidence -in -chief and cross-examination, in that “it nailed the final coffin” of the APC in the tribunal.
When asked if he participated in the elections, the former Slumberger staff responded in the affirmative. He took his time to educate the tribunal on the peaceful conduct of the election throughout Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District and reiterated that after he heard on the radio of his party’s victory, he received guests that trooped into his Ikot Ekpene home to express solidarity.
In an effort to discredit Engr Inyang’s testimony, the APC lawyer “manufactured” a police report which showed that someone was murdered during the election and that shootings took place somewhere in the senatorial district.
That the police report was rejected by the judge as exhibit is not the crux here, what is nonsensical and illogical in the lawyer’s argument is that the murder of one person and shootings at a particular ward in a senatorial district could not impinged on the credibility of the election.
Friday 4th September, 2015, was as usual, thrilling as 3 witnesses were presented at the tribunal. They include, Barr Bassey Okon Willie, Hon Uwem Ita Etuk, Commissioner for Lands and Town Planning and Mr. Jude Effiong Edem a trader from Ibesikpo Asutan. Mr. Willie, a local government agent of the PDP was able to tell the tribunal that materials in most of the coastal remote communities in his locality arrived as late as 10pm, warranting the INEC officials and Security agents to advise that all collation be done at the Local Government collation center instead of the respective ward collation centers. This he convinced the tribunal was why most ward agents had left before the units arrived with the materials, which is why the PDP mandated the Ward 7 agent to also stand in for the party in Wards 8, 9, and 10 in the presence of the electoral officers in the area.
At the tribunal which lasted between the hours of 10:45 and 1:45, the kernel of defense was that election was held in Akwa Ibom. All the witnesses proofed beyond reasonable doubt that they all voted after accreditation and their PVCs admitted and marked as exhibits. Even Mr. Jude Effiong who clearly ascertained that he had voted after being accredited with the use of a card reader by the election officials, displayed anger when his attention was drawn to the fact that his name on the voters' register was not ticked, but he asked the PDP lead Counsel who led him in evidence, to channel the blame to the electoral officials since his role was only to follow their directives.
The tribunal was adjourned to Monday 7th September for continuation of defense.
Based on the strength of the above, certain questions should be pondered on: did the governorship election actually take place in Akwa Ibom State on the 11th of April, 2015? No doubt the answer is YES.
Does the murder of 1 person and the prevalence of shootings in one or two villages as contained in a “manufactured” police report tantamount to “widespread irregularities” in a state that has 31 local government areas? The answer again is NO. Is it the fault of the electorate if an INEC official faltered in his duties in ticking the names of the voters on the register? Does the endorsing of more than one result form by a ward agent contravene the electoral law ?
Can it be said that manual accreditation was NOT tenable in the 2015 general elections, the card reader having failed in several locations in the country ? The answer to this is NO because the presidential election which INEC had authorized the use of manual accreditation serves as a precedence in law.
Finally, does propaganda and mendacious falsehood have the propensity to affect the verdict of tribunal judges? The answer to this is NO. That is because the law relies on fact, or the strength of an evidence – having been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
To end this, may I make appeal to the APC in Akwa Ibom to make heed to the words of Hunter Thompson that,
“We cannot expect people to have respect for the law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws”
This submission was aptly reinforced by Chief Paul Usoro (SAN) in his response to journalists. According to him, “I do not care about the quantity of witnesses , but their quality and the strength of evidence”.
Written by Uwemedimoh Umanah, A Diplomatic Scholar, Peace & Conflict/Development/Public Affairs Expert.