The Governorship Election Tribunal in Makurdi has reserved judgmenton the petition brought before it by Prof. Daniel Saror, the All Nigeria PeoplesParty (ANPP) candidate in the 26th April, 2011 governorshipelections in Benue state who is challenging the qualification of Benue State governorDr. Gabriel Suswam to stand the elections. Saror, ANPP have joined GabrielSuswam, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Independent National ElectoralCommission, INEC and Benue State Commissioner of Police as respondents in thepetition.
Prof. Saror believes that Mr. Suswam has presented a forgedGeneral Certificate of Education, G.C.E. to INEC. While making his case beforethe Justice Halima Mohammed led Tribunal recently in Makurdi, The ANPPgovernorship candidate tendered three news paper publications- the September 2010edition of Power Steering Magazine, January and February 2011 edition ofNational Life news papers-in which it was reported that governor Suswam wasusing a forged G.C.E O’Level, a Federal law Suit initiated by Terver Kakih, thePDP governorship aspirant in the 2011 polls against Gabriel Suswam forCertificate forgery as well as formCF001 submitted to INEC by Gabriel Suswam but without evidence of certificateof secondary education as exhibits to make his case.
He told the court under cross examination that although INECdid not specifically mention that candidates should enclose photocopies oftheir qualifications, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeriademands that candidates for the office of governor must poses at least senior schoolcertificate and emphasized that there must be documentary evidence to show forones claim of same.
Saror wants Tribunal to hold that Mr Suswam was notqualified to stand the April 2011 polls.
But the PDP’s only witness in the petition, Hon. Bem Dzohowho is the state Secretary of the PDP in Benue denied that Benue State governorDr. Gabriel Suswam did not submit any certificate to INEC stressing that INECdid not make provision for candidates to enclose their school certificates.
Suswam who was appeared for in court by a legal team led byDamian Dodo (SAN), A.A. Ijohor (SAN) and 17 others adapted the testimony ofHon. Bem Dzoho as his testimony in the petition.
Both INEC and the Benue state commissioner of Police did notcall any witness but relied on the submission of Suswam’s and PDP’s lawyers.
Both parties have filed and adapted their final writtenaddresses in the petition.
Justice Halima Mohammed, chairman of the governorshiptribunal in Makurdi has reserved judgment in the petition and said a date for judgmentwill be communicated to parties in due course.
In a related development, Justice Mohammed has fixed 13thFebruary, 2012 for ruling on the application by the governorship candidate ofthe Action Congress of Nigeria (A C N), Prof. Steve Ugbah. The application isseeking the restoration of ground three of his petition which was earlierstruck out by the erstwhile Justice Munir Ladan’s led panel. The said groundthree is challenging the qualification of Mr. Suswam to contest last year’selection. He also wants the court togive him judgment by default.
Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu(SAN) who appeared alongside 30 others for the petitioners while moving the applicationtold the court that ground three of his petition remains relevant following theorder of the Supreme Court to which he brought the application. He said itbecame necessary to bring the application since the Justice Mohammed’s panelwas reconstituted to hear his petition on its merit arguing that the panel isnot bound to adapt the proceedings of the previous panel contrary to theposition of respondents’ lawyers who insisted that parties should adapt entirelythe proceedings under Justice Ladan.
Akeredolu told the court that governor Suswam was using threeG.C.E O’Level certificates purported to have issued him by the West AfricanExamination Council (WAEC) and submitted that the court has the duty todeclare, if shown that the governor forged certificate, that Mr. Suswam was notqualified to contest last year’s election. The application is premised onsection 182(1j) of the 1999 constitution (as amended).
The petitioners also want the court to enter judgment bydefault in their favor against governor Suswam whom they said failed to replyon the issue of forgery leveled against him.
But Damian Dodo (SAN), Dr. A.A. Ijohor (SAN) and 17 others whoappeared for Suswam in opposing the application urged on the tribunal todismiss the application. Dodo argued onissue one of the application which sought the leave of the tribunal toentertain the application outside pre-trial that the petitioners have failed tosatisfy the requirements of section 47(1) of the first schedule to theelectoral act which states conditions under which an application can be broughtoutside pre-trial. Besides, he argued that the court is caught by the principleof fontus oficio on the issue. He attached to his counter affidavit exhibit onewhich according to him is the earlier ruling of the tribunal on the saidapplication.
Dodo further argued that the court has no powers underelection matters to give judgment by default and cited Appeal Court case noCA/S/EPT/SN/8/2011 in which the court held that under no circumstance shouldelection tribunal give judgment by default and described the application as themost vexatious abuse of process while urging on the tribunal to dismiss theapplication with substantial cost.
Both the PDP lead counsel, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and INECcounsel J.S. Okutepa (SAN) have filed a counter affidavit in opposition to theapplication and haven adapted same as their argument on the motion urged thecourt to dismiss the application with substantial cost.