There is palpable tension in Abia State as lawyers to Labour Party and Mr Alex Otti struggled desperately to have the governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Umuahia needlessly postponed in order to prevent the testimony of key INEC and NYSC witnesses who were present to validate the official communications of their respective organisations previously tendered and admitted as exhibits in the suit filed by Chief Okey Ahiwe and People’s Democratic Party against the declaration of Mr Alex Otti as winner of the March 18 2023 governorship election.
It will be recalled that INEC through a letter signed by its Secretary, Rose Oriaran-Anthony confirmed that Labour Party did not submit her membership register in Abia State as required by law and that the party failed to notify the electoral body of the date fixed for its congress hence the commision did not monitor any congress purportedly organised by Labour Party in the state.
The Abia State Labour Party candidate, Mr Alex Otti also failed to submit his NYSC discharge or exemption certificate but rather presented a reference letter to INEC while filling his governorship form.
The two witnesses from INEC and NYSC had arrived on Thursday but were asked to return for proceedings on Saturday, 5th August 2023. But no sooner had they arrived at the Abia State High Court, Umuahia, venue of the proceedings, than the drama started with various applications by counsel for Labour Party and Alex Otti making frantic efforts to have the testimonies of the INEC and NYSC officialspostponed or truncated all together.
The drama which started on Friday when the Petitioners (Chief Okey Ahiwe and PDP) served the Respondents with a motion to present the official witnesses of fact for their oral evidence against which the Respondents’ lawyers argued that they could not cross examine the witnesses on the same day because they needed time to study the application. On that note, the tribunal adjourned the matter to Saturday, 5th August 2023 for the motion seeking leave of court to allow the official witnesses adopt the documents they brought through their written depositions.
Today was ordinarily for matter to continue, but the Respondents’ lawyers begged the court for yet another adjournment because Barr Anayo Nwakodo who is one of the lawyers representing Labour Party wrote the court that he suddenly took ill and that none of the other lawyers in their team, including four Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, could cross examine the witnesses in his absence.
Counsel to the petitioners vehemently opposed the motion for adjournment stating that the witnesses came from outside the state and that the respondents were merely playing to the gallery in their bid to frustrate the case and delay the wheel of justice. He contended that the Respondents were petrified by the weight of the evidence of the official witnesses hence the ploy to use technicalities to delay the inevitable.
The Petitioners’ lawyers prayed for the hearing to continue.
After listening to both parties, the tribunal adjourned the matter to Thursday, 10th August 2023 for the witnesses to be led in evidence and warned against further use of any form of delay tactics to stall proceedings as the court was working to conclude the case within the period stipulated by the Electoral Act.
Shortly after the adjournment, counsel to the respondents who claimed to be ill and hospitalized was spotted around the high court premises discussing with some Labour Party members who were at the tribunal, a development which irked PDP supporters present.
A PDP Chieftain who spoke with our reporter at the tribunal described the attitude of the respondents as being “aimed at delaying the inevitable sacking of the interim government in the state”
According to him, “with defeat staring them in the face, LP and her interim Governor are doing everything to compromise tribunal members and witnesses sent to validate official documents issued by INEC and NYSC but we will make sure that justice prevails even if it means remaining perpetually vigilant”. He further alleged that the respondents were trying to stop the key witnesses from testifying.