Ugar Ukandi Odey, Jos
It was a clash of the substance of law and the technicalities of court procedure at the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos as two Senior Advocates of Nigeria and one NEC Lawyer deploy technicalities and procedural traditions of practice to save Professor Nora Ladi Daduut, who ‘won’ election to represent Plateau South in the Senate last December. Sitting at the West of Mines High Court premises in Jos, once the Tribunal clerk called Suit No: EPT/PL/PH/01/2020, Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice D.H. Khobo announced that the business of the day was continuation of hearing of the Petitioners case.
Upon the conduct of the senatorial bye-election in the Plateau South Senatorial District to fill the vacuum created as a result of the sudden death of Senator Ignatius Longjan, the People’s Democratic Party candidate in the same election, Honourable George Edwards Daika, explored the opportunity of the Election Petition Tribunal to lodge a petition in which he challenged the election of the APC candidate, Professor Nora Ladi Daduut, noting that apart from not winning the election, the APC candidate was not validly nominated and that some of the information she supplied to the INEC was either false or contradictory in some cases.
Rising to address the tribunal, counsel to the petitioner, Barrister Sunday Oyewale, who announced appearance with Joshua Emmanuel and two others, told the lord justices of the petitioner’s readiness to tender more documents for the Tribunal to admit and mark in evidence, and urged the Tribunal to accept same and mark them accordingly for consideration during the final determination of the petition. Granted, on behalf of the petitioner, Barrister Sunday Oyewale tendered, among others, the INEC Election Manual, INEC regulations for conduct of elections, Form EC8e of the 2020 Plateau State Senatorial bye-election, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, party constitution.
Oyewale also tendered the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as Amended, an APC letter dated September 11, 2020 to the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, in which several other documents were attached such as certificates and affidavits of Professor Nora Daduut, the nomination form of the candidate otherwise branded as INEC Form EC13c, and certified true copies of the APC elected National Executive Committeen, among others.
Noting however that the procedure in law is that response to pleaded documents is reserved till final address, counsel to the first respondent, INEC, Ibrahim K. Bawa, added that if a document is unpleaded, objection can be entertained instantly.
Accordingly, he raised objection to the additional documents brought forth by the petitioner, insisting that they were neither pleaded nor listed in the earlier documents called forth by the petitioner. He cited an earlier attempt by the petitioner to amend documents tendered which was rejected by the Tribunal, and maintained that to turn around to accept the documents will amount to mockery of the Tribunal.
In their responses, counsel to the second respondent, Pius Akubo (SAN), and that of the APC as third respondent, Garba Pwul (SAN), simply leaned on the frame of objection already established by the counsel to INEC, Ibrahim K. Bawa, saying in effect, documents EC9c and the attachments thereto were objected to as having not been pleaded earlier.
Pius Akubo said what was not contemplated during pre-hearing session, and is tendered in the course of hearing, will tantamount to “trial by ambush by the petitioners”. Garba Pwul concurred, saying that “any document that is not listed and pleaded in the first instance is expressly and automatically excluded”.
Dismissing their objections as an attempt to pull a wool across the face of the Tribunal, Oyewale urged the justices to grant the position of the Petitioner and entertain the documents.
Tribunal chairman, Justice D. H. Khobo has however reserved ruling on the matter.