Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), Counsel to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, has closed his defense against the petition filed by the All Progressive Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate O’tega Emerhor, challenging Okowa’s declaration as winner of the April 11, 2015, Delta State Governorship election by INEC, after having called four witnesses in the matter to prove his case.
But typical of the manner which the defense case had gone since it commenced, the outstanding Dr. Iziyon the matter with the usual element of legal surprise which watchers of the three-man Delta State Election petitions tribunal sitting in Asaba and headed by justice Nasiru Gunmi, had come to expect from the wily legal Tzar.
“With the greatest respect my noble Lords, there is an African proverb which says that you can continue to flog a dead horse until the horse wakes up and tells you to let it rest in peace. My Lords, I have consulted extensively with my co-respondents and mindful of the need to speed up the trial in view of the time constrains, I have decided to close the case of the First respondent today my lords,” he told a shocked and surprised tribunal court room, packed to the brim with party loyalists and spectators, already seated in eager anticipation for the resumption of the legal tussle between the respondents counsels and the lead counsel to the petitioners, Chief Thomson Okpoko, SAN, which had hallmarked the case since the commencement of the defense.
Chief Okpoko himself had sauntered into the tribunal courtroom a few minutes before the commencement of the day’s proceedings; decked in a smart grey suit, with typical traditional authority, complete with his ever present walking stick and woolen fez cap (papa’s cap), and after taking in the respectful greetings of the juniors, scanned the courtroom with intent to see if his legal adversaries had come in and satisfied that they had not arrived, quickly summoned his ever present man-Friday and legal protégé for this case, I.M Fafowora, whose soft beauty belies a tough, resilient personality and the sharpness of a brilliant legal mind.
Together, they had, with the rest of the petitioners legal team, huddled in a strategic conference to review their case so far and prepare for any booby traps, which three respondents counsels Senior Advocates arrayed against him; Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN (Okowa), Chief A.T Kehinde, SAN (PDP) and Damien Dodo, SAN (INEC), would spring up, considering the seemingly bruised egos and frosty acrimony which had pervaded the entire atmosphere of the sitting the day before.
Tribunal watchers would recall that the cross examination of two previous witnesses of Dr. Iziyon and the First respondent, Festus Ovie Agas and Mercy Ekhitamelo by the petitioners counsel, Chief Okpoko, had provoked heated verbal exchanges, amidst some very clever legal manouvres from both teams.
In the first instance, the interventions of Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, had saved the Secretary to State Government (SSG) Chief Ovie Festus Agas from the tenacious grilling and combative questions fired at him by Chief Thomson Okpoko (SAN), who had taken on Agas under cross examination, literally firing questions at him which the SSG had initially answered brilliantly and with precision.
The cross examination however became very uncomfortable when Chief Okpoko attempted to compel Agas to do a comparative analysis of some figures relating to some election report sheets against the number of voters accredited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election.
In answering one of the questions, Agas had admitted that there were contradictions in the governorship election results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC and the results uploaded by same election body cyber network recorded in the card readers.
Chief Okpoko, SAN, had put before the Delta SSG, the result emanating from INEC which awarded Senator Ifeanyi Okowa 724,680 votes, as against 709,700 which had been uploaded by the card readers machine which puts governor Okowa’s scores more than that the numbers of the voters accredited.
Responding to the question Ovie Agas admitted that actually there was a discrepancy in the results but added that it was only on the surface. saying: “In Exhibit R27, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa scored 724,637 votes and was rightly declared to have won the election.”
But when Chief Okpoko referred him to Exhibit P and P1a, Agas had responded that: “In Exhibit P and P1a, the total number of voters which INEC accredited in Delta state as the purported figure in Exhibit P1a reads on the surface 715,392.”
Chief OKpoko had then put it to Agas that from the two figures in view, whether the number of votes for Okowa is not more than the figures of voters accredited by INEC to vote?
But sensing a clever legal trap, Dr. iziyon rose instantly at this point, objecting to Okpoko’s line of questions, which he said was wrong as the exhibits he tried to make the witness to read were not the witness’ documented evidence deposed to oath, adding that the petitioners’ counsel should limit his questions to the evidence deposed to by the witness, which is already before the tribunal.
Iziyon submitted that if the petitioner’s counsel found usefulness in the INEC documents, he could refer to them in his address to the tribunal. The Tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Nasiru Gunmi sustained the objection and told Agas not to answer the question.
In the second instance, a staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mercy Ehikhametalo, who had appeared as the first respondent’s third witness, confirmed that, while there was strict compliance with the Electoral guidelines in the conduct of the April 11, 2015 governorship election in Delta state, the mistake made during the election were not strong enough to substantially affect the outcome of the election.
Ehikhametalo, while being led in evidence by the lead counsel to the governor, Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), had told the tribunal that electoral guidelines were substantially complied with during the governorship election in the state, even as she stated that that card readers were used during the election and that about 67.7 percent of data from the card reader were uploaded into the server in Abuja, at the head office before the server was shutdown.
She also told the tribunal that INEC experienced some challenges with the use of the card readers during the elections, due to poor net work from service providers and that while the card readers had customized sim cards already configured from Abuja, they cannot be fraudulently manipulated, there was no guarantee that they may not function at full capacity and data uploaded can reach the main server in Abuja, in the event of a network.
Ekhihametalo insisted that during the just concluded governorship election, neither the contestants nor the political parties tempered with the card readers and that it was only after the elections that the INEC staff uploaded results from the polling units to the server at their headquarters in Abuja, pointing out that uploading of data was not automatic, neither was it done simultaneously with the accreditation process.
While stressing the fact that voting points were created in some polling units with large number of voters which meant that such polling units were provided with more than one card reader to ensure that all eligible voters voted during the election, Ehikhametalo informed the tribunal that, INEC embarked on training of ad-hoc staff on the use of the card reader and that not much mistakes were recorded during the election that could affect the outcome of the election.
She equally admitted that, while she had not recorded any failure of the card reader in her Isoko South polling unit/ward, the other results from the card readers, which had been uploaded but had not yet been recorded as at the time the server was shut down, had now been generated from the server, but was not in her possession as she had submitted the printout to the tribunal.
But she had also needed to be saved by Dr. Iziyon, when Chief Okpoko trapped her in a suffocating corner, over the exact INEC manual and guidelines for the conduct of the 2015 elections, she had employed during her training of INEC ad-hoc staff and also the conduct of the elections.
Her long hesitation in answering the question had once again brought Dr. Iziyon quickly to his feet on a rescue mission, to inform the tribunal that all the documents were before the tribunal so there was no need to insist on an answer, as the tribunal judges would identify whatever differences, if any in the documents, but the accusation by Chief Okpoko that she was only ‘filibustering’, had ignited a fierce verbal exchange over the word, leading the tribunal Judges to as usual wisely call for an adjournment till the next day for tempers to cool down.
But all the tension was deflated, when Dr. Iziyon, SAN had surprisingly appeared the following day and announced that he was closing the case for the First Respondent, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, to the obvious relief of the tribunal judges, but stunned surprise of Chief Okpoko who, while haltingly accepting the closing of the First Respondent’s case, however grudgingly accepted the suggestion by the Second Respondent PDP and its counsel, Chief A.T Kehinde, SAN, to commence his own case against the All Progressives Congress, APC and Olorogun Otega Emerhor, on Friday 18th ,September, 2015, which is the next adjourned date by the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led three-man tribunal panel, for resumption of the hearing.