In a move not unconnected with the Moslem Sallah celebration and holidays, as well as the unexpected absence of a witness and non arrival of a critical document for its case, the Delta State Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting in Asaba, has adjourned the earlier scheduled commencement of the Defense by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC against the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress, APC and its governorship candidate, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, slated for Tuesday, September 22, 2015, to Wednesday September 30, 2015.
The All Progressive Congress, APC and its governorship candidate, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, had filed a petition challenging the declaration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as winner of the April 11 Delta State governorship election, by INEC.
The adjournment at the resumed hearing of the petition, followed an oral application from the bar, by INEC lead counsel for the day, Onyinye Anumonye Esquire, who was expected to open its defense but instead, pleaded to the tribunal that the document INEC sought to be tender was not available with him in court and the INEC witness, who was billed to testify at the tribunal, called to say that she was indisposed.
He also told the tribunal that his lead counsel, Damien Dodo, SAN had called the night before to inform him that he had already discussed the matter of the adjournment with the petitioners lead counsel Chief Thomson Okpoko, SAN, and that was what had informed the need for the application.
“We experienced some challenges that made it impossible for us to start today. Our intention was to tender a document, call one witness and close our case today, but we were able to receive the document on which we intend to rely our case and our witness sent word that she was indisposed and would be unavailable today. It is therefore with a deep sense of responsibility and profound apology to the tribunal and our most revered and respected senior SAN, that I make this application for adjournment from the bar to Wednesday 30 September, 2015, to open and close our case”, Anumonye pleaded.
But Counsel for Emerhor and the APC, Chief Thomson Okpoko (SAN), quickly objected to the application on the grounds that the excuses given were not tenable, noting that the tribunal had less than 30 days to deliver its judgment.
“I am afraid of what is going on here. This excuse of lack of document is not sufficient to call for an adjournment. They have filed all their documents so I don’t see how this single document can cause an adjournment. This whole trial will be over by the 28 October and we have barely a few weeks left”, a visibly angry Chief Okpoko said.
He further informed the tribunal that he had discussed with D D Dodo, SAN who had not only described the document in question to him, but had also assured him that INEC had no intention of calling any witness, as their case would be to just tendered the document and then close their defense, adding that he, Chief Okpko had even volunteered to help transport the document to the tribunal if it was properly sealed, in order to avoid any further delays.
Supporting the application however, Chief Ken Mozia, SAN, lead counsel to the First respondent, Senator Okowa, while praising Anumonye Esquire as a hardworking young counsel who not hesitate to tender the document if it was available, told the tribunal that obvious absence of both the witness and document means that an application for adjournment was inevitable, especially given the fact that even Chief Okpoko himself had previously applied and had been granted several adjournments, based on tendering certain documents of his own, by the tribunal.
Lead counsel of the day for the Second respondent, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Kehinde Ogunwumiju Esquire, who was having his second bite at leading case for the PDP, in place of lead counsel A.T Kehinde, told the tribunal that while the petitioners had already had for adjournments already granted them in the course of the trial, including two whole days used to sort documents at the insistence of the petitioners, this was only the first adjournment that INEC as Third respondent was asking for and it would only be fair in the interest of equity to grant them this one application, especially since they had at least four days to doo their defense and yet had pledged to commence and conclude their case on the same day.
Giving their consolidated ruling, the three-man tribunal panel led by its chairman Justice Nasiru Gunmi, while faulting the adjournment sought by INEC, given the short time left to conclude the hearing and especially on the grounds that it was the third respondent that chose the specific day, however granted the application with the caveat that it would award costs against INEC in form of reducing the time earlier allotted them to prepare their final written address.
“We frown on this adjournment sought by the third respondent (INEC) to the fifth respondent when the tribunal does not even have up to 35 days or thereabout to deliver its judgment. We however grant the application for adjournment but with costs to the third respondent since we have about two weeks to sort through all the sensitive documents and listen to the final address,” Justice Gunmi said.
The sitting was then adjourned to Wednesday September 30, 2015, to also accommodate the forth coming Moslem Sallah celebration and holidays.