The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos has concluded hearing and adoption of written addresses from the petitioners and respondents in the suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate Senator Jeremiah Useni against the victory of the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Governor Simon Lalong. MUHAMMED TANKO writes.
The written addresses
After weeks of presentation of witnesses, arguments and counter-arguments, the petitioners and the plaintiffs adoption of written addresses, finally comes to a halt Thursday before the tribunal headed by Justice H.A Suleeman, who, after listening to the parties in the matter, declared that the day of the judgment would be communicated to the parties
Useni and his party, PDP, had challenged the declaration of Gov Simon Lalong of All Progressives Congress (APC) by INEC as duly elected governor of Plateau in re-run of March 9 at the tribunal.
When the case came up Thursday for adoption of written addresses, Lalong, APC and INEC asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition, which they asserted was lacking in merit.
Mr Clement Onuuenuunor, INEC counsel, argued that based on the evidence of Prosecution Witness (PW) 71, INEC Head of Operations, the governorship election was free, fair and credible contrary to the position of the petitioners.
“According to the witness, the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the electoral Act and INEC laid down guidelines.
“In view of this, the petitioners have not been able to prove their claims and so we urge this tribunal to dismiss the application for lack of merit”, Onuuenuunor prayed.
Also speaking, Mr. L.U. Fagbemi, SAN, Lalong’s counsel, asserted, “we submit that the petitioners have failed to prove any entitlement to any of their reliefs sought in their petition, therefore the petition should be dismissed.”
Fagbemi also claimed that evidence of PW12, who was not listed among witnesses of the petitioners should be expunged based on the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
“We are also applying that the evidences of PW2, PW15, PW46, PW47, PW49 to PW63, who were not also on the list be discarded and expunged. In the light of this, I submit that the case of the petitioners should be dismissed,” he stated.
APC states its case
Mr Garba Pwul, SAN,APC counsel, told the tribunal that he concurred with the submissions of Onuuenuunor and Fagbemi and therefore asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition for lack of merit.
Pwul argued that there was a pending Preliminary Objection (PO) challenging the competence of the petition and some documents tendered by the petitioners.
According to him, the petitioners could prove any discrepancies and over voting that took place during the elections and that there was no time any witness demonstrated that there was such and “without that there can’t be any case of over voting.”
“The petition deserves to be dismissed and let the voice of the people the Plateau people be allowed to count, “ Pwul solicited.
Useni’s counsel takes the stage
But Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), lead counsel to Useni, said that the electoral process must be respected so that voice of the electorate would not only be counted but allowed.
Ozekhome described Lalong as a pretender to the throne of Plateau people and should be asked to leave for the rightful owner takes his place in the palace/Government House.
“There can never be two boss in a community, therefore a Lalong should be asked to leave the seat for Jeremiah Useni , who is the rightful owner. For the fact that Lalong got to the seat through the window does not mean he should be allowed to enjoy illegality.
“The 1st and 2nd Respondents, Onuuenuunor and Fagbemi, virtually said nothing as to this petition because the case of PW12 can’t affect the other 20 witnesses, whom they asked their evidences tone expunged.
“Again, PW71, who is a INEC staff testified before this tribunal on most of the documents we tendered and so the case of dumping documents to the tribunal doesn’t arise.
Alleged use of false documents
“He also attested to the falsification of documents by Lalong, who when filing his nomination form, told INEC that he had never change his name even when he has three different names.
“In one of his certificates, he is known as Sule Simon, in the second, he is Sule Simon Lalong and in the third one he is called Simon Baki Lalong.
“Surprisingly, Lalong didn’t do anything to show that was the one and same person bearing all those names because that form he filled is the only document that qualified him to contest the election.
“This issue can’t be said to be a pre-election matter but a post election matter as it is frowned at by section 66(1) and section 285 of Electoral Act,” he argued.
Ozekhome also disagreed with the claim that the evidences of the other 20 witnesses be expunged alongside that of PW12 arguing, “the Appeal Court only made reference to PW12 and no other more so that respondents didn’t object to any of them.”
According to him, “over voting and irregularities have been proved in nine LGAs out of the 17 LGAs in the state by most of our witnesses and that of the respondents.”
“All we are asking is for the tribunal to a consequential order that the Lalong be disqualified and the person who came second in the election in the person of Retired Lt. Gen Jeremiah Useni, be declared as winner of the election and be sworn in as governor of Plateau state, “ he solicited.
Judge lauds counsels
After listening to all the submissions made by all counsels in the matter, Suleeman thanked them for their cooperation right from the commencement of the case to the end of the matter.
“We hereby wish to commend and thank all the counsels involved in this matter for your cooperation and support to us in reaching this level of our assignment.
“All we want from you now is for you to quickly make available to us all your authorities to enable us do justice to all that presented before us,” she declared.
Responding on behalf of other counsels, Ozekhome, also thanked the penal for their patience with them in all their submissions and prayed for God’s wisdom to them to justice that would satisfy God and the people of Plateau.