The Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, on Tuesday, ruled that it would not terminate the trial of the petition filed by Iyiola Omisore, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the August 9 election, until the substantive matter before it has been heard.
The ruling was sequel to the application filed by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, seeking the order of the tribunal to dismiss Mr. Omisore’s petition because the Reply to Respondent’s Reply and the Pre- trial session form TF007 were filed out of time set by the Electoral Act, 2010.
The Chairman of the Tribunal, Elizabeth Nkpejomi, who noted that the application had to do with its jurisdiction to handle the petition, ruled that the rule guiding it was to save the time of the court.
She said the issue of jurisdiction was 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 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.
“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,” Ms. Nkpejomi said.
Following the ruling, the Tribunal moved to the Pre trial Conference, PTC, during which parties to the case agreed to file issues distilled for determination on Wednesday while further proceedings in the petition was adjourned till Thursday.
Akin Olujinmi and Kemi Pinheiro, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria and counsel to Mr. Aregbesola and that of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Ayotunde Ogunleye, had opposed the application filed by Chris Uche, counsel to Mr. Omisore seeking order of the tribunal to limit the time of cross-examination of witnesses to
five minutes each.
The duo 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 Mr. Uche.
They 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.
Mr. Olujinmi argued that if the tribunal if the request for the five minutes cross-examination were to be adopted, not more than one question would be asked from every witness before the time allocated would lapse.
He 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.
Aligning himself with Mr. Olujimi, Mr. Pinheiro, who said the APC had front loaded 605 witnesses, assured that he would streamline the number of witnesses the APC would call by the time Mr. Omisore and the PDP closed their cases.
He said the tribunal did not have discretion in the application of the rule and 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.”
Mr. Pinheiro also opposed the application by Mr. 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.
He 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.
He told 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 must be relaxed for the cross-examination of expert witnesses,” Mr. Pinheiro said.
“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 utilize.”.
The counsel to INEC also requested for a minimum of 30 minutes for each of the expert witnesses to be called to give evidence before the Tribunal.
Consequently, Ms. Nkpejomi adjourned the petition to Thursday in other to give ruling on the various contentions raised during the Pre-Trial Conference.
Meanwhile, there was a mild drama at the venue of the tribunal as Mr. Omisore avoided the former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola during the proceedings.
The PDP candidate had arrived at the venue at about 9.15 am and took his seat in the west wing of the court room but refused to exchange pleasantries with Mr. Oyinlola, who arrived 20 minutes earlier and was already seated in the same wing.
Some leaders of the PDP, including Sunday Ojo-William, who were also at the venue, warmly embraced and greeted the former governor.