From Lateef Taiwo
The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Enugu State has commenced sitting on the petition filed by the Labour Party LP and its candidate Mr Chijioke Edeoga against the election of Mr Peter Mbah as the governor of the state.
Edeoga and his party are challenging the election of Governor Mbah on grounds that he did not secure the highest lawful votes cast in the March 18 governorship election and that the respondent, submitted a forged NYSC discharge certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission in an effort to secure his election.
Tribunal had earlier subpoenaed NYSC following Petitioners’ application to appear before the panel to certify as true or not its document the respondent (Mbah) had submitted to the electoral umpire before the election.
Testifying before the tribunal on Friday evening, NYSC tendered among others documents including the alleged forged discharge certificate, as well as the original discharge certificate which Mbah ought to have collected.
The NYSC also tendered a letter written by Oma and Partners, an Abuja-based law firm, which had asked the Corps to scrutinise the discharge certificate submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission by the governor.
The Petitioners, represented by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, who is the lead counsel, alongside Dr Valerie Azinge, SAN, Ifeanyi Ogenyi Esq, and others, led the Petitioners Witness 1 (PW1) in evidence.
The petitioner’s witness 1 is the Director of Certification, NYSC, Aliyu Abdul Mohammed, who adopted his written deposition on oath.
Awomolo sought to tender the witness’ deposition on oath as evidence before the tribunal. The third respondent, Peoples Democratic Party PDP, Counsel, Anthony Ani, SAN, objected to the admissibility of the document and opted to move a motion dated and filed on the 7th day of July 2023, which seeks to pray the tribunal to strike out the written deposition on oath of the PW1 on the ground of incompetence.
The 1st respondent, INEC, as well as the 2nd respondent (Peter Mbah), aligned themselves with the submission of Ani and prayed the court to strike out the written deposition of Mohammed (PW1) for lack of competence.
Relying on the Court of Appeal decision in the case of ANDP & anor V INEC as well as that of Damina & anor V Adamu and ors, the respondents’ counsels asked the court to strike out the written deposition on oath of the PW1 for lack of competence.
In response, the petitioners’ lawyers relying on the case of Ararume & anor V INEC, which according to them, is a conflicting decision with the authorities cited by the respondents’ counsel, asked the court to admit the written deposition on oath of the PW1.
In a short ruling, the tribunal admitted the document and reserved ruling on the objections raised by the respondents for final judgement.
The PW1 was then taken in for examination-in-chief. Mohammed told the tribunal that he acted on a subpoena served on the Director General of the NYSC or any other official to appear before the tribunal to give evidence in order to clear some issues bothering on the certificate purportedly issued by the agency.
The subpoena was admitted in evidence without objection from the respondents and was marked as exhibit PTC/01/06.
Mohammed also tendered his official identity card as a staff of NYSC which was admitted in evidence and marked as exhibit PTC/01/07. In paragraph three (3) of the Petitioners’ Witness’s deposition on oath, the witness stated that in obedience to the subpoena by the tribunal, he came with the authentic discharge certificate of the governor, as well as the one is purportedly given to him. The respondent’s counsel objected to the admissibility of the documents and reserved their reasons for final written addresses.
The tribunal admitted the documents and marked them as exhibits PTC/ 01/08 a and b.The Petitioners also fielded another witness, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mary Nneoma Elijah, a principal partner in the law firm of Oma and Partners. She is the Petitioners’ Witness 2. The Petitioners’ counsel sought to tender her written deposition on oath as evidence, which was objected to by the respondents’ counsel, citing the same grounds raised in the first stage.
The court admitted the document and reserved the ruling during the judgement.
She also adopted the subpoena of the tribunal dated the 21st day of June 2023, which was admitted and marked as exhibit PTC/01/09. The witness’ letter to INEC, as well as the reply given by INEC, was sought to be tendered by the petitioners’ counsel amid objections from the respondents’ counsel.
However, the letters, as well as the discharged certificate were admitted and marked as exhibits PTC/01/11 a, b & c respectively. Also, a letter addressed to the presiding justice of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, for the production of the appointment letter dated 14 July 2003, appointing Barr. Peter Mbah as the Chief of Staff to the then governor of Enugu state, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani in the same year he (Mbah) claimed he was serving, also admitted in evidence amidst objections and marked as exhibit PTC/01/13 a&b.
During cross-examination, the 1st respondent’s counsel, Mr Abdul Mohammed, applying for the subpoena, asked “confirm to this tribunal that the subpoena did not ask you about anything at the Federal High court”. In response, PW2 said, ” True”. Mr Abdul Mohammed further asked the PW2: “Confirm to this tribunal that you have given to the petitioners the contents of these letters at the time they were preparing this petition”.
In reply, the PW2 said, “It’s false, the letters are public documents which are in the public domain. Anybody can ask for the letters and they will be given to him. The matter was adjourned to Tuesday, 11 July 2023 for further hearing.