INEC CHAIRMAN, PROFESSOR ATTAHIRU JEGA
ABUJA, SEPTEMBER 28, (THEWILL) – Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, will no longer be appearing before the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja, following the Court’s ruling that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) implicitly abandoned the subpoena it earlier secured, and was, therefore, no longer entitled to it.
CPC’s latest loss comes as a technical blunder that may have swung the petition out of its reach. The party had secured an order of court compelling Jega to appear before the Tribunal with certain vital documents, including national biometric data bank containing names of voters, Forms EC 8A, EC 8B and EC 8C ‘evidencing’ returns from states, and data ‘evidencing’ serial numbers of ballot papers across the nation, among other others, used for the conduct of the April 16 election.
But after the inability of the bailiff to effect the subpoena on Jega personally as ordered by the court, the petitioner asked the court for an order for substituted service, a prayer that was accordingly granted. However, all parties reached an agreement for the subpoena to be issued on the office the Chairman of INEC, and not on Jega as a person. The petitioner then asked for subpoena to be served on the INEC Director of Legal Services right in court, a request that was duly granted. While this subpoena was yet to be fully complied with by the INEC chairman, his counsel, Chief Awomolo (SAN) filed an application on September 21 for its variation.
However, during proceedings on Tuesday, counsel to President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the court that the CPC, having closed its case without taking further steps to actualise the subpoena, could be deemed as having abandoned it. He argued that the subpoena had become an academic exercise for every intent and purpose, because the case had been closed and could not be reopened. Counsels of INEC and the PDP, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) and Joe Kyari-Gadzama (SAN), respectively, agreed with Olanipekun’s position, the former averring that the subpoena had become “spent in the circumstance of the petition,” and should be struck out.
Delivering the ruling on behalf of the five-man panel, Justice Kumas Akaas held that while it is the duty of the court to compel attendance of a witness, it is the duty of the party applying for the subpoena to ensure compliance. “The petitioner was wrong to have assumed that the only duty it had was getting the court’s order; they had a duty to bring to the attention of the court any infraction on the subpoena. The effect meant that they have abandoned the subpoena evidence,” he said. “Accordingly, the subpoena is deemed to have been abandoned and is hereby struck out.”
Dissatisfied with the ruling, a CPC counsel, Abubakar Malami (SAN) straightaway said that the party would challenge it at the Supreme Court.
An official statement from the office of the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Rotimi Fashakin consequently described the ruling as “bizarre,” accusing the Tribunal of complicity in a plot to conceal INEC’s treachery, and the Judiciary of slipping into abyss. “The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has noted with unmistakable sadness the un-interrupted descent of the Nation’s Judiciary to the Abyss. The Trajectory of the conduct of the ongoing presidential election petition after the illegal removal of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami, further reinforces the belief that this may just have been a decided charade,” the statement said.
It noted that the Tribunal had earlier given a subpoena order for the Chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, to appear before it on Tuesday, 20th September, 2011 at 9am, bringing along a total of 19 documents. Subsequently, it further analysed, the INEC counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) brought an application seeking a variation of the order; invariably seeking appearance of the INEC Chairman without any of the aforementioned documents, an application that was opposed by the CPC.
“In a bizarre twist and unwarranted volte face, the Tribunal unconventionally jumped into the arena and ruled that the subpoena be dismissed, a relief that the Tribunal magnanimously gifted to the applicant. The dismissal of the Subpoena (which was unanimously assented to by all the Tribunal Justices) was not sought by the applicant but ordered as part of the orchestrated arrangement not to give Nigerians the opportunity to scrutinize the integrity of the April 16, 2011 Presidential Elections,” it alleged.
Berating the Tribunal for “lending its weight in assisting the leadership of INEC to cover up its perfidious conduct with subterfuge,” the statement reinforced the resolve of the party to pursue the case till the very end. “Our party is not under the illusion that this crop of players in the Judiciary, with entrenched ‘cash and carry’ culture, can do Justice. However, as an article of faith to the Nigerian People, we shall continue to ‘hang in’ there; using the instrumentality of the Law to expose the banality of our Justice system. We shall continue to hold our heads high in the hope that these current retroactive elements in the Judiciary shall soon fade away.”
Meanwhile, the 3rd and 4th Respondents, President Goodluck Jonathan and his deputy, Architect Namadi Sambo, on Thursday open their defence, having lined up over one hundred witnesses to refute CPC’s claim that they are not the rightful winners of the election.