The long awaited but much delayed commencement of the trial to determine the petition filed by the Labour Party, LP and its governorship candidate, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru, challenging the declaration of Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the winner of the April 11, Delta State governorship election, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, finally swung into action on Saturday, August 29, 2015 before the three member Delta State Election Petition Tribunal panel, sitting in Asaba and headed by Justice Nasiru Gunmi.
The Chief Ogboru/LP legal team lead by Chief Femi Adesina, SAN had formulated 7 (seven) issues concerning the April 11, 2014 Delta Guber elections, including the central role played by the card reader in the conduct of the polls to anchor their petition and it was little wonder that Labour Party Counsel for the day, Mr. Robert Emukpoeruo Esquire had called an INEC staff with the ICT department, Mrs. Nnenna Essien, as its first witness.
Mrs. Nnenna Essien is the Head of INEC Software Developer, Systems Design and Analysis, of the information unit of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Abuja, and in her testimony under cross examination, confirmed to the Tribunal that card readers were substantially used during the governorship election in Delta State.
She made the disclosure during a cross examination by lead counsel to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chief. Timothy Kehinde, SAN and also revealed that due to occasional systems failure during the election, the information unit could not capture some data from the field officers that used card readers hence the instruction that the voters register should be used were card readers failed.
Mrs. Essien, who was under subpoena by the tribunal, to give evidence at the trial said, “It will be wrong to say that card readers were not used in Delta State elections. Card readers were also used at the collation centres. The collation officers at the collation centres also looked at the register to cross check the results of the form EC8A”.
Essien said, “The design is that the card reader must identify the card (PVC), the bearer of the card and other information about the voter. We did not make provision for swapping of PVC on the card reader and no provision for the introduction of external scanner for finger print into the card reader”.
She further revealed that the INEC servers (information collation center) was shut down six weeks after the governorship election in Delta State was conducted following the instruction from former INEC boss, Professor Attahiru Jega.
“We did not receive all the transmitted data in one day after the election. The servers were shut dawn on the 25 of May 2015, six weeks after the governorship election in Delta State. I am not aware that data were still being transmitted after the server has been shut down and we do not have records of failed or nil data transmission in our system”.
She said about 1.9 million PVCs were distributed in Delta State adding that, 4,878 polling units were created in Delta State, including voting points. She further disclosed that about 2.3 million voters were recorded in the state.
An interesting drama suddenly ensued shortly after Mrs. Essien had stepped out from the witness box and Justice Gunmi had directed Chief Ogboru’s counsel, Mr. Robert Emukpoeruo to call his next witness, an INEC official, into the witness box, for introduction, cross examination and re-examination.
It was at this juncture and after a brief adjournment to enable the expected witness to mount the box that Counsel to Ogboru/Labour Party, LP, Robert Emukpoeruo Esquire, raised the alarm that a fresh statement from their own INEC witness, which they, as the petitioners, had neither seen nor deposed to, has just been served on him and as a result, urged the tribunal to adjourn till Monday to enable him study the document.
The request generated another round of objections from the counsels to Okowa, PDP and INEC, Dr. Alex Izyion (SAN), Chief. Timothy Kehinde (SAN) and Professor Onyinyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), respectively.
The well respected Prof. Ikpeazu who was a familiar presence but was appearing for the first time in the matter as lead counsel with alongside Mr. Dodo (SAN), told the tribunal that they cannot afford to wait till next Monday for the continuation of trial. The learned counsel argued that INEC had assembled all the needed document they want for the trial.
Damien Dodo, SAN on his own part, told the tribunal that already, ten trucks bearing INEC documents are standing-by and ready to be moved into the court room for examination, adding that any further delay will not be in the interest of the parties in the petition.
Dr. Iziyon, SAN in his own argument, had drawn the attention of the Tribunal panel to the fact that adjourning till Monday would be of no consequence as the statement by the witness had already been deposed to under oath and filed before the court and would not change, delay or no delay.
Chief Kehinde, SAN, also drew the attention of the Tribunal that contrary to the argument of the petitioner, it was the witness that was responsible for whatever statement was deposed to as it is the witness rather than his counsel, who would instruct the deponent on what to write and also verify that all he has said has been properly reflected in the statement before the deponent would sign on behalf of the legal team representing him in court.
According to Keninde, the witness was solely responsible for his own statement, which is only given legal authority by the deponent. It was not the duty of the counsel to take responsibility for a witness statement, because it is the witness that would be invited to the witness box to adopt the statement he has deposed to. “I am properly guided by the law on this matter, my Lords”, Kehinde concluded.
After listening to the arguments of the counsels, Justice Gunmi adjourned the matter to Monday, August 31st for continuation of trial.
Mixed reaction however greeted the decision by the tribunal to adjourn the matter till Monday August 31 st as requested by the Labour Party and its counsel, Robert Emukpoeruo Esquire.
A chieftain of the Labour Party, LP, Mr. Turner Ogboru noted that it was legally strange for counsel not to be aware of the statement of its witness, when it was that same counsel that is representing the witness in a trial.
“Is it possible that our lawyers will not be aware of the statement of our witness? How can they serve us this statement we have not seen before today by our own witness and expect us to continue with the trial? The Tribunal has done the right thing by adjourning till Monday to give us time to study the statement and respond appropriately”.
Mr. Ogboru, who equally confirmed that the witness was duly listed as a petitioners-witness, however hinted at some conspiracy and suggested that there may have been a switch as the person they had been discussing with in INEC and had expected to be the witness they intended to invite, may not have been the same person who was introduced to the Tribunal and whose statement was served on them today, even as he added that they intended however to continue with the witness on Monday, after they must have studied the statement comprehensively.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was however not very pleased with the attempt by the Labour Party to waste further time in the trial by asking for an adjournment to study a statement which was deposed to by their own witness.
A visibly unhappy Chief A.T Kehinde, representing INEC, re-echoed his earlier position on during sitting, where he drew attention to the fact that Counsel to a matter cannot claim to be ignorant of the statement of its own witness.
Kehinde said: “How can they claim not to know what their own witness has deposed to? It is the duty of counsel to follow up his client and witnesses and ensure that what is finally brought before the court is what they want to be brought before the court. The Labour Party has been conducting their case with propaganda and this is another ploy in its propaganda strategy to create an impression and a diversion that do not know about their witness statement.
“They should have made sure that what was deposed to by their witness was the statement they wanted to submit to the court. The witness is their witness and it is their prerogative to continue with him or not. The statement has already been deposed to and the Tribunal has done the right thing to adjourn till Monday to give them time to study it. We are waiting for them, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate action if there is any hint or suggestion of foul play labelled against us as part of their propaganda strategy in this particular matter”, a visibly angry Kehinde hinted.
POLICE REPORT INDICTS LABOUR PARTY
Flashpoint News online however gathered that the decision of the Labour Party, to suspend the invitation of the said INEC witness, may not be unconnected with several paragraphs in the witness’ deposed statement, which categorically linked several persons connected with the Labour Party to an alleged theft of election materials, which according to a Police report attached to the deposed statement and already made public as far back as June 2015, may greatly improve the election fortunes of whoever was in possession of such materials.
Delta State Police Command has arrested and detained some officials of Labour Party (LP) over the possession of sensitive electoral documents of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in relation to the just concluded governorship and House of Assembly elections in the state.
The witness had categorically averred in his statement had categorically that he, amongst other things, had the authority of his bosses to issue the statement; that elections had been conducted in all the 25 LGA’s in Delta State and results had been collated at the INEC Headquarters in Asaba; that the election materials had been kept in the custody of INEC where interested parties involved with the elections had applied and had been given access to the materials; that since the volume of requests had overwhelmed the capacity of INEC, the commission had graciously allowed parties to come with their photocopiers to make copies of the said materials.
The statement then said that it was in the process of making these photocopies that the said materials had been stolen by persons identified and linked to the Labour; that the police had been notified of the theft and granted permission to investigate the matter further; that it was discovered after a verification search of the INEC materials, that a substantial number of results had been removed from the INEC by the said thieves.
Police investigations, according to the police report attached to the statement of the witness had revealed that some amongst the seven suspects, arrested or interrogated in connection with the alleged theft had links with the Labour Party, LP, as well as others who were identified as INEC staff that aided and abetted the theft of the alleged stolen INEC electoral materials for the 2015 general election.
A certified true copy of the police report, attached to the witness statement, signed by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Hafiz M. Inuwa and addressed to the Delta State commissioner of police, states that a prima-facie case of forgery and falsification have been established.
According to the police report, with reference number CR3000/DTS/SD3/VOL/3/230, dated 25th June, 2015, the police acting on a tip-off swooped on a popular hotel located in the metropolis of Asaba, the Delta State capital and searched a room said to be occupied by the suspects in possession of INEC original copies of results relating to the just concluded governorship election in the state and found the said documents
The report further stated that, “the recovered and identified result sheets are sensitive materials that should not be found outside the custody of INEC or officials of INEC and that the person that stole the result sheets is the person that stands to gain advantage at the Electoral Petition Tribunal, if INEC could not produce the result sheets when the tribunal demands for it”
The report listed the items recovered to include; “47 completed copies of original result sheet, otherwise known as, form EC8A, for the governorship election held in parts of Warri South; 16 completed copies of original result sheets, otherwise known as form EC8A (1), for House of Assembly elections held in parts of Warri South; 7 completed copies of original result sheets, otherwise known as form EC8 for governorship election held in parts of Ugheli North”.
Other items removed also include, “5 completed copies of original result sheet, otherwise known as form EC8A (1), for House of Assembly election held in Ugheli North and one copy of original form EC8B (1) for summary of results from polling units in Warri South. Also recovered were 149 original copies of polling unit material receipt forms, otherwise known as form EC25B; 139 copies of forged forms EC25B among others”.
Among those arrested and interrogated in connection with the incident are Chief Tony Ezegwu , who is the Delta State Labour Party Chairman and Onodawerho Esiri, the prime suspect in the report.
The report indicates that two staff of INEC staff allegedly conniving with the agents of the Labour Party were interrogated, adding that, “following the discovery of these exhibits, INEC did a stock taking of its strong room and discovered that a total of 117 results sheets for governorship election and 20 of the house of Assembly election are missing from their strong room”.
The police, according to the report, had established grounds on which each of the suspects would be charged to court and concluded plans to charge the suspects to court for conspiracy to steal, forgery and receiving of stolen INEC property.
It was this police report, attached to the Labour Party’s own witness statement, which has already been deposed to and filed in court as the witness statement that may have panicked the Labour Party and its counsel, Robert Emukpoeruo, to seek an adjournment till Monday, August 31, 2015.