Is it not absurd that INEC, the first respondent or rather, defendant, in the Edo State 2016 Governorship Election Petition trial would want to play judge before the Tribunal? What else can one infer from its counsel’s assertion that they are relying on the oral evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses as their defence, and for which reason they decided not to call any of their witnesses from the pool of over 500, as determined by the deposition of the petitioners’ witnesses?
Is it not a demonstration of crass hypocrisy for INEC, through its counsel, to predicate their defence on their vain declaration of contradictory evidence of the petitioners’ witnesses? This is more so for the simple truth that they hid their own witnesses to avoid making them contradict themselves under the cross examination of the petitioners’ counsel.
Can we then not conclude that INEC’s position from the point of law, is lacking in equity and smacks of hiding under one? Is it not obvious that this is an attempt at covering up their perceived mistakes made by their staff or personnel?
At any rate, who made INEC the judge in this matter, that it would attempt to make a judicial pronouncement on the performance of the witnesses of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the PDP? By what parameters did the INEC Counsel arrive at the prejudicial conclusion that the petitioners’ witnesses’ evidence is inclined in favour of the respondents?
Nonetheless, in spite of the funny attempt by INEC to play judge and jury, we should not lose sight of the fact that INEC is the first respondent in this case, accused of having manipulated or rigged the conduct and results of the Edo State 2016 Governorship Election, through its proxies, the electoral officers, in favour of Mr. Godwin Obaseki, candidate of the APC, and the APC. To prove this allegation, the petitioners have gone the length to provide evidence with deposed election materials, oral testimonies of its election-day agents and of course, the recounting of the ballot papers of some seriously compromised polling stations. Therefore, irrespective of what INEC would want us to believe of the oral presentations of the petitioners’ witnesses, the stark reality is that the documented evidences, made up of certified true copies of INEC voters registers and result sheets examined, indicate unfortunate discrepancies. And knowing very well that it has been found out, INEC, in its response admitted that their documents are faulty, but tried to justify them on the grounds of “honest mistakes” which it presumes is not sufficient to discredit the election.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that INEC could not have put in the witness stand, agents that would invariably have been forced to admit to committing “honest mistakes”, alien to the Electoral Act, or to have disowned the INEC documents. Either way, INEC risked ridicule in open court; thus it opted to keep its witnesses away from scrutiny.
INEC closed its case on a no witness submission. While doing that, it presented to the Tribunal, the election results already tendered by the petitioners and a booklet containing Election Guidelines for 2015 General Elections, upon which it probably seeks to justify its flawed accreditation and voting processes.
Now, if INEC believes that the accounts of the witnesses in court are relevant to resolving the petition, as it wants us to believe that the petitioners’ witnesses had done in its favour, regardless of the documented evidence, why did it not present its own witnesses to disprove the allegation of their complicity in the alleged electoral fraud? INEC cannot do that for obvious reasons. However, its behaviour in the instant case is as of a yam thief in the market who tries to hide the stolen yam by keeping his hands behind his back.
It is the more irritating that INEC indulged in wasting everybody’s time within the framework of the ten days allocated to it to present its case. Instead of submitting on the first day that it was not going to present evidence, it pretended to be mobilising its witnesses. It only ended up, as stated before, tendering result sheets from the wards, local government areas and state collation centres, while conveniently omitting the polling units result sheets.
Could it be said any other way than to say that INEC failed to put up a credible defence? According to its counsel, they adopted the petitioners’ defence. What a way to argue against an accusation.
If it is taken for granted that INEC, by its abdication, has tacitly admitted guilt as charged, to what intent and purpose would the evidence of the second and third respondents be? Perhaps, it would be to prove that INEC did not compromise the election to benefit them? The question then would be: in whose interest did INEC act? We should leave that to the impartial members of the Tribunal to determine, even though the answer is not farfetched. INEC clearly abandoned her pleadings before the Tribunal and hiding under the impression that they need not call witnesses because of the cross-examination by their counsel of the petitioners’ witnesses. The allegations in the petition are actually against INEC who conducted the election without substantial noncompliance with the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Manual for Election Officials. 2016, with particular reference to none accreditation and over-voting, and for which reason the implicated polling units ought to be discounted. It is only INEC that should debunk these allegations of substantial noncompliance but they failed to do so and therefore left the 2nd and 3rd respondents in the dark.
Consequent upon the foregoing, the relief sought by the petitioners is explicit. It is, that Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu ought to, and should be declared the winner of the election, having scored the majority of valid votes cast by Edo people in the September 28, 2016 Edo State Governorship Election. Could we not be right to say that INEC by its hypocritical stance has given justification to this claim? Well, the ball, in the practical sense, is in the court of Justice Ahmed Gbadamasi and his honourable companions. Let justice be done.
Mr. Nosa Omorodion , a public affairs analyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.
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