There was no shortage of drama at the sitting of the Delta State elections petition tribunal, as the long awaited and much anticipated testimony and cross examination of Mr. Turner Ogboru, Petitioner Witness 4 and younger brother of the Labour Party, LP, Governorship candidate, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru, finally commenced at the resumed hearing of the petition filed by the Labour Party and Chief Great Ogboru, challenging the declaration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as the winner of the April 11, 2015, Delta state governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on September 15, 2015.
The appearance of Mr. Turner Ogboru as a witness for the petitioners, had provoked several reactions and responses from the respondents; INEC, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. First, there had been a very frontal agitation to disqualify him as a witness in the trial on the grounds that he had sat through several witness cross examinations, which was against the rules of proceedings, but the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led Three-man tribunal panel had over looked the suggestion.
Then there had been another attempt by the respondents to prevent the tendering of the polling unit by polling unit results from the 25 LGA’s in Delta State, as well Forms EC8 A, B,C,D,E from the bar and then using Ogboru as witness to identify the documents and this had also suffered a rejection when the three man tribunal ruled that there was the need for him to identify the documents in the interest of justice since the identification would establish a link between the witness and the petition as deposed in his witness statement.
With these two attempts out of the way, Turner Ogboru was now cleared to give evidence and subject himself to cross examination, but his testimony was to commence only after the tedious process of identifying the tendered documents, which had initially come in form of 21 envelopes, had been meticulously carried out between Ogboru himself and his lead counsel, the energetic and highly cerebral Dele Adesina, SAN, who took over proceedings on the day from the quite impressive Robert Emakpoeruo Esquire.
But Turner Ogboru’s cross examination did not go beyond the lead respondents counsel, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, on the first day, after several verbal altercations over Ogboru’s insistence on follow-up explanations to direct questions, compelled the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led Three-man panel to caution him severally and finally issue a veiled warning that he should not stretch their patience too far.
The chairman of the tribunal, Justice Nasiru Gunmi while presiding over the cross examination of the 13th witness to the petitioners; the Labour Party (LP) and its gubernatorial candidate, Chief Great Ogboru, repeatedly cautioned Turner Ogboru over his deliberate disobedience to tribunal procedures and rules and refusing in most instances to give a direct answer of “ yes or no”, to questions put to him by the respondents counsels during cross examination.
Efforts by counsels to PDP, INEC and Okowa ; Mr. Timothy Kehinde (SAN) , Damian Dodo (SAN) and Alex Izyion (SAN) to make him comply proved abortive as he opted to launch into lengthy, passionate yet unsolicited explanations in an attempt to firmly establish the irregularities and malpractices contained in their petition challenging the victory of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa in the April 11, 2015 Delta State Governorship elections.
Turner Ogboru’s approach and conduct exasperated the panel of judges after he had been warned severally to comply with instructions, prompting cautions from the tribunal judges individually.
Justice Nasiru Gunmi, Chairman of the Three-man panel summed up the consolidated feelings of the tribunal on Ogboru’s behaviour thus: “Don’t stretch our patience, maybe we have to take an adjournment and ask your counsel to advice you on how to behave. You are a witness in this matter. Whatever relationship you have with counsels does not count here and you should answer the questions directly. So please help us. I want you to know that the evidence you give will determine your case, if you do not comport yourself. I do not know how you are helping in this matter if you choose to continue like this,” the tribunal told Ogboru.
However, a few clear answers were established in the rare moments and intervals of calm during the cross examination, as Turner Ogboru established that elections were conducted with the use of card reader and manual voters register during the accreditation process.
When confronted with contradicting figures in his depositions, Ogboru pleaded with the tribunal to expunge pages 60 and 61 of his statement on oath saying “there is an error in the chat. It is not correct. Please expunge that portion”.
He acknowledged the error in is reports and statement on oath before the tribunal, which he said arose from his failure to consult the voters register while compiling his report, adding that his deposition on oath was not wholly his idea as his counsel assisted in preparing the statement.
Turner also informed the court that similar mistakes were noticed in the report deposed to by the Labour Party (LP) chairman, Mr. Toni Ezeagwu, because it followed the same pattern of being doctored by their counsels.
Matters finally got to a head when Ogboru pointedly accused INEC and its legal representative, Mr. Adeyemi Esquire, of deliberately refusing to provide the petitioners with the complete voters register of all the LGA’S instead of the 12 that INEC had made available; an accusation which quickly brought the INEC lead counsel Damien Dodo, SAN to his feet in apparent anger over what the entire team of senior advocates regarded collectively as “a slight on the legal profession and a malicious, wicked, unwarranted and horrendous affront and attack” on the personality of Adeyemi Esquire, for which he demanded a withdrawal and an apology from Ogboru, who retorted in response that an apology to Adeyemi would amount to telling a lie before the tribunal and he had sworn on oath to tell the truth.
Issues were thus irrevocably joined on several fronts, including professional, reputational and strategic by all the Senior advocates, while Mr. Turner Ogboru looked on with a benign smile on his face, as all efforts by the three-man tribunal to restore calm failed.
Peace only returned after Dele Adesina had apologized to Damien Dodo, SAN and Adeyemi Esquire both of INEC, on behalf of his client, and the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led Tribunal wisely opted for an adjournment till the next day, September 16, 2015, to afford Dele Adesina, SAN the opportunity to impress on his client Turner Ognoru the need to treat the senior Advocates with respect and answer questions as directed during his cross examination.
This was exactly what happened the next day, at the resumed sitting of the tribunal, on September 16, when the respondents counsel waltzed through the remaining cross examination of a much humbled and more responsive Turner Ogboru and also the smart Efe Duku, who was the last petitioners witness of the day for Labour party.