The Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on Tuesday, 4th November, 2014, ruled that it would not terminate the trial of the petition filed by Senator Iyiola Omisore until the substantive matter before it has been heard.
However, the scenario before the commencement of the legal theaterics, was of interesting dimension. Former Governor of Osun State now chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola who entered appearance for Governor Aregbesola’s defence team, arrived the court early around 8.55am. Prince Oyinlola sat at the west wing of the court room.
Senator Omisore entered the Tribunal venue at about 9.15 am and went to take his seat in the same west wing. However, he avoided the former Governor.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate must however be miffed with scores of PDP leaders, including Otunba Sunday Ojo-Williams, who came in with him, apparently having benefitted from the Okuku prince while in power, swum over him, throwing banters with him, embracing and showed their respect to the man who had given them succour in the past.
The ruling was sequel to the application filed by Governor Rauf Aregbesola seeking the order of the Tribunal to dismiss Omisore’s petition because the Reply to Respondent’s Reply was filed out of time and the Pre- trial session form TF007 was filed out of time set by the Electoral Act, 2010.
Chairman of the panel, Justice Elizabeth Nkpejomi who noted that the application had to do with the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to handle the petition ruled that the rule guiding it was to save the time of the court.
According to the Tribunal, the issue of jurisdiction is fundamental but in cases where time was of the essence, the application seeking to terminate the petition and the main petition should be heard together in order to do substantial justice to all the parties.
The Tribunal chairman noted further that the respondents would not suffer any miscarriage of justice if the application was heard alongside the petition citing the case of Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Nzeribe as the authority that gave basis to the decision.
Nkpejomi ruled further that “we cannot locate any injury that any of the parties would suffer if we hear the application alongside the petition. Election petitions are sui generis in nature where time is of the essence”.
The Tribunal moved quickly to the Pre trial Conference (PTC) immediately after the ruling where parties agreed to file issues distilled for determination on Wednesday, 5th November, 2014 while further proceedings in the petition was adjourned till Thursday, 6th November, 2014.
Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), leading counsel to Governor Aregbesola, Mr. Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) and Ayotunde Ogunleye for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had opposed the application by Chief Chris Uche (SAN), the leading counsel to Omisore seeking the order of the Tribunal to limit the time of cross-examination of witnesses to five minutes each.
The two silks had rather sought a minimum of 20 minutes for general witnesses and 30 minutes for expert and star witnesses as opposed to the five minutes requested by Uche.
The counsel agreed on the documents to be tendered with consent while those that would be disputed were also to be listed alongside the processes to be filed before the Tribunal.
Olujinmi had noted that if the Tribunal were to follow Uche’s proposal of five minutes cross-examination for witnesses, not more than one question would be asked from every witness before the time allocated would lapse.
The SAN also noted that members of the Tribunal were writing with long hands and were not using verbatim reporting to take records of the proceedings which would not serve the end of justice.
Pinheiro who aligned with Olujinmi’s argument promised to streamline the number of witnesses to be called by the All Progressives Congress (APC) only after Omisore and PDP had closed their cases.
The silk maintained that the court had no discretion in the application of the rule insisting that “we have unequivocally asserted that we are not consenting to any document. Let the record of the court show that. We have given a record of the documents we will be disputing. We may streamline our witnesses after the closure of the petitioners’ cases”.
According to him, the APC had frontloaded 605 witnesses but would only streamline them after Omisore and PDP had closed their cases before the Tribunal.
He opposed the application by Uche that the first and second respondents be merged into an allocated period of ten days to call their witnesses since they were similar parties.
Pinheiro observed that his client was sued and joined in the petition adding that he was not ready to sleep on any of his rights allowed by the law in the name of trying to save time.
His words: “We have frontloaded 605 witnesses and have given notice that we will call additional witnesses. We want to claim our entire ten days having been sued and joined in this petition. We do not want to be subsumed in any other party’s ten days. Your lordships have no discretion on this matter”.
The SAN then called the attention of the Tribunal to the fact that expert witnesses would be appearing before the Tribunal including ordinary witnesses who would need the services of an interpreter pleading that time must be relaxed for their cross-examination so as not to occasion any miscarriage of justice.
Time, he noted further, “must be relaxed for the cross-examination of expert witnesses. The same should apply to interpreters.
My lords, aside from the fact that you are recording long hand, we may be using an interpreter. The request for five minutes per witness may injure our ability to effectively cross-examine any of the witnesses where an interpreter is being utilized”.
The same arguments were pursued by counsel to INEC who also requested for a minimum of 30 minutes for each of the expert witnesses to be called to give evidence before the Tribunal.
Justice Nkpejomi then adjourned the petition to Thursday to give ruling on the various contentions raised during the Pre-Trial Conference.
It is inconceivable that an expert witness will be examined for five minutes. We will be objecting to the competency of the entire petition