The Benue State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the state capital, will resume sitting on September 7 to determine whether Governor Samuel Ortom was legally nominated by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Petitioner, Mr. Terhemen Tarzor is asking the Tribunal to nullify Dr. Ortom’s election and declare him (Tarzoor) as governor.
Certain legal and factual issues have, however, developed and may work against Tarzoor. First, in Suit No. FHC/MKD/CS/09/2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had filed a pre-election action at the Federal High Court, Makurdi raising the same issues and claiming similar reliefs as the petition of Tarzoor was to later claim relief in his petition.
On May 21, this year, while Tarzoor’s matter was still pending, the Federal High Court, Makurdi dismissed the suit filed by the PDP. To date, the PDP has not appealed the final judgment.
This development prompted Senior Counsel to the APC, Sebastine Hon (SAN), to amend the APC’s reply to the petition and raised the defence of res judicata, since the PDP and Tarzoor are co-joined in the disputed governorship election. Res Judicata means a matter that has been decided by a court of competent jurisdiction, which the Tribunal needs not waste its time on.
In the motion on notice, Hon raised the issues of res judicata, abuse of court process, and lack of locus standi, saying Tarzoor, pried into the internal affairs of the APC and other issues going to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal have been slated for hearing on September 7, when parties are expected to adopt their final addresses before the Tribunal gives its final judgment.
Apart from res judicata, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN) and Prof. Anthony Ijohor (SAN), counsel to Ortom and the Independent National Election Petition (INEC), have raised similar points going to jurisdiction and their motions on notice and these will be entertained by the Tribunal on September 7.
Besides, Tarzoor called only one eyewitness to the rescheduled APC State Congress of December 10-11. He is Mr. Terkaa Andyar, a staff member of INEC, the body charged with monitoring party primaries.
As the only eyewitness to the rescheduled APC primary election, who was said to have co-signed a report that no such Congress had taken place, the Tarzoor camp was very upbeat about the potency or decisiveness of the evidence of this witness. Thus, when Andyar stepped into the witness box on August 3, to testify, there was tension in the courtroom.
This witness identified and tendered Exhibit P7, the INEC report and also adopted his statement on oath.
Under cross-examination however, this witness made startling admissions that sent shock waves to the audience. Responding to a question from Hon, he admitted that said report, Exhibit P7, had nothing to indicate that it emanated from INEC. He further admitted that it was not written on INEC letterhead and that the word ‘INEC’ either in full or in abbreviation could
All Progressives Congress (APC),be found on the report. The worst case scenario arose when he agreed with Hon that the signature on the report was not his own!
All other witnesses called by Tarzoor adduced hearsay, since none of them was an eyewitness to the APC Congress that produced Ortom as the APC flagbearer.
On the part of the defence, the APC called Baba Dala, a lawyer, who was the Chairman of the state Congress of the APC, who gave graphic evidence of how Ortom emerged as the APC flagbearer as a consensus candidate and how this was ratified by over 3,000 of the 4,013 delegates who attended the Congress.
All eyes are, therefore, on the Justice Elizabeth Karatu-led Tribunal as it reconvenes on September 7, for the parties to adopt their final written addresses. Thereafter, the Benue people who are very much expectant will know who their real Governor is, when the Tribunal will delivers its judgment.