STOLEN EXHIBITS: ACN RAISES ALARM OVER MISLEADING MEDIA REPORTS
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has drawn the attention of the governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Makurdi to media publications alleging that it (ACN) 'stole' exhibits from the custody of the tribunal.
Counsel to the ACN, Simon Orkuma, who made the observation during yesterday's sitting, said the petitioner takes serious exception to the 'unwarranted attacks', adding that the campaign of calumny had been going on unhindered both in the media, on the internet and across the state.
Responding, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Halima Mohammed, recalled that during the first sitting of the tribunal, the panel solicited all parties and the press to be objective in their reportage of proceedings.
She said though the tribunal was not ready to join issues with the press, some of the stories emanating from the court proceedings so far were wrong.
'At the beginning, we solicited the support of the press not to give wrong information to the public but to report exactly what happens and not the other way round. We read newspapers and we also listen to news. Some of those stories the press published are wrong but we don't want to join issues with the press.'
Earlier, counsel to Governor Gabriel Suswam, Damian Dodo (SAN), had raised the alarm over illegal inclusion of exhibit C29 in the exhibit, which the ACN collected from the tribunal.
Dodo, who was initially represented by his legal colleague, Donal Denwigwe (SAN) disclosed that when the parties met to reconcile exhibits last Friday as directed by the tribunal, it was discovered that one exhibit C29 was included which was not in the original copy of the record with the tribunal.
'Our position is since issues arose from the inspection of the exhibits in respect of the very first local government being inspected and since we do not have any master copy with which to verify the other ones, we accept that the exhibits be returned to the custody of the tribunal where they belong so that the parties will have the opportunity to address them during the final address.'
Both counsel to the PDP and INEC, Solo Akuma and Jibrin Okutepa while adopting the submission of the first respondent said: 'We cannot vouch for the exhibits anymore. We also noticed that the tribunal secretary did not have a list of exhibits as required by law and so, we do not have a checklist.'
Okutepa, who pointed out that at the time the exhibit was applied for and collected by the ACN, the trial of the petition had not been concluded, however, hinted that he had written to the tribunal to get a copy of the letter which was written by the ACN to collect the exhibits.
Meanwhile, the petitioner's counsel, Orkuma noted that on Friday during the joint inspection of exhibits by counsel of all the parties as directed by the tribunal, it was discovered that the tribunal secretary mistakenly omitted exhibit C16 and marked it as C29.
He maintained that all the exhibits were 28 in number and not 29 as alleged by the PDP counsel, stressing that since the respondents' counsel had all agreed that the exhibits be retained in the custody of the tribunal, 'we shall so retain them in the custody of the tribunal. Since they would not want to take part in the joint inspection any longer, we have no objection.'
The petitioners also brought a motion which borders on the jurisdiction of the tribunal to hear the case while the respondents' counsel prayed the court to grant them seven days to respond to the motion.
The tribunal Chairman, Justice Mohammed while maintaining that the case should finish by February, directed that all exhibits be returned to the custody of the tribunal. He said counsel were at liberty to address the court in their final address and adjourned sitting till February 9, 2012 for definite hearing.