KOGI WEST: I Did Not Call Witness Because Melaye Proved My Case, his agents admitted lying on oath
In this report, KUNLE OLASANMI looks at the drama in the hearing of the petition filed by Senator Dino Melaye, against the winner of the Kogi West Senatorial election, Senator Smart Adeyemi, at the Kogi State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal
In November 2019, after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Senator Smart Adeyemi, winner of the Kogi West Senatorial District election, his opponent in that election, Senator Dino Melaye, failed to congratulate him.
Rather, he threatened to drag Senator Adeyemi before the State Election Petition Tribunal, alleging irregularities at the polls.
Less than two weeks after the elections, he made good his threat by approaching the tribunal to lodge complaints about how voters and his supporters were deprived from exercising their electoral duties.
While Senator Melaye contested the election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, his opponent, Senator Adeyemi vied for the position on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Since the tribunal began sitting in January, Senator Melaye called 70 witnesses who testified before the tribunal. He however, closed his case on April 23, 2020.
The tribunal was supposed to sit in Lokoja, the state capital but moved its sitting to Abuja, because of security concerns.
INEC, the 1st respondent in the petition was supposed to open its case but told the tribunal that it will not be calling any witness because the evidence given by the petitioner’s witnesses supported its case.
Counsel to INEC, Barrister Chris Alashey, told the tribunal, led by Justice Isa Sambo, that the case of the commission had been well established with the evidence of the petitioner’s witnesses while under cross-examination.
The electoral umpire closed its case on April 30, 2020 and adjourned the case to May 5, 2020 for Senator Adeyemi’s counsel, Dr. Oladapo Otitoju, to open his defence by calling witnesses before the tribunal to give evidence.
Just as INEC did, Dr. Otitoju too did not call evidence on the ground that he was able to adduce evidence from the witnesses called by the petitioner to support his case.
According to him, the witnesses of the petitioner did more damage than good to their case and therefore, calling witnesses to give evidence is needless.
He said, ”It’s a waste of time calling witnesses in our case because the witnesses of the petitioner have proved our case for us. Infact, if I may say, the evidence they gave is useless to their case because most of them admitted that they lied before the tribunal. There is a particular witness who admitted that he used a fake name duringvthe election. He was confronted with document before the tribunal and he admitted that he used a fake name”, he said.
He told Justice Sambo led tribunal, ”There have been different categories of of witnesses called by the petitioner who have come to low before this Honourable tribunal and on the basis of these, we will be resting our case. Since we’ve been able to elicit piece of evidence that supports our case, we will not be calling witnesses”.
He also said shortly after the tribunal sitting, ” The petitioner, who the onus fell on to prove that the election was marred by irregularities failed to establish that fact.
”Rather, the evidence given by the 70 useless witnesses he called supported our case. We were able to adduce evidence from them under cross-examination and that is why we did not call witnesses. The witnesses called by the petitioner have actually proved our case”.
According to Dr. Otitoju, most of the witnesses gave contradictory evidence before the tribunal.
One of the witnesses,
Adebowale Abayomi, a civil servant and resident of Yagba East Local Government Area of the state in his evidence had told the tribunal that he voted during the election.
He told the tribunal that he voted at Ward10, units 004 and also served as the polling agent of that unit.
He told the tribunal that voting took place up to the point where results was announced on his presence.
After a while, he was given exhibit P25:9, which was the voters regostwr to show to the tribunal where his name appeared on it. But after looking through the document for about 15 minutes, he told the tribunal that he could not find his name in the register of voters for unit 004 where he claimed he voted. He admitted that he was not a registered voter and that he lied to the tribunal.
The petitioner and candidate of the PDP in that election, e n, Senator Melaye, in his evidence said he was in all the 564 polling units on the election day.
Before the petirioner was called tonthe witness box, some of his agents in the election who were also witnesses at the tribunal had testified before the tribunal, saying the election was free, fair and credible.
When asked by Dr. Otitoju, if he was aware of the testimonies his agents had given before the tribunal, Melaye said his agents cannot speak for him just as he cannot also speak for them.
When asked where he got the information about irregulaties in the election he presented to the tribunal, he said: ”I was everywhere in the 564 polling units on the election day .”
When asked which polling unit he voted and what was the result of the election, he told the tribunal that he could no longer remember adding that he was not aware that result was recorded in his polling unit.
He was later confronted with the form EC8-D1 containing the result of the polling unit and was asked to read it but he claimed he could not see it clearly because his glasses got broken when the tribunal went on break.
Also, a key witness called by Senator Melaye, Mark Samuel was diqualified by the tribunal from giving evidence.
The tribunal, disqualified the witness on the grounds that his statement was not presented as required by law. The tribunal upheld the argument of Dr. Otitoju, to the effect that the witness and his statement were not properly presented. Otitoju had argued that Samuel’s written statement was not pleaded as additional witness statement in the petition
He also argued that Samuel, who claimed to be a lawyer, failed to attach his seal, as a lawyer, to the statement. Otitoju noted that the witness’ statement, sought to be adopted by Samuel, was filed on February 26, 2020, 21days after the period allowed under Section 285(5) of the Constitution. He contended that allowing the statement will amount to the tribunal extending the days permitted by the Constitution for the filing of a post-election petition.
Another witness, Tolu Segun, said he acted as the petitioners’ agent in Okekoko Ward, Kabba/Bunu LGA. Segun told the tribunal that he voted at polling unit 009 after which he visited nine other polling units. He said the results and other information he got from the polling units were given to him by the agents, and that they were later forwarded to the Local Government Chairman of the PDP.
For Philemon Enoch, another witness, there was no over-voting during the Kogi West Senatorial election in Kogi state, he told the tribunal. Enoch, a carpenter and the party agent of the PDP in that election, in his evidence before the tribunal admitted that ballot boxes were not also snatched during election. ”There was no over-voting during the election. No ballot box was snatched in my unit. I was the one who signed the result for PDP during the election”, he said.
For Gimba Timothy, a farmer, another party agent, who testified for for the petitioner said he could not remember the score of the PDP in that election in unit 008 where he acted as agent.
He also said the result sheet he signed, he did not take a look at it before signing. When challenged by Senator Adeyemi’s lawyer, Dr. Dapo Otitoju, that he was never an agent of the party since he could not remember the score of his party at the election, he insisted that he was the agent. ”I could not remember what my party score of my party at the election because it has been a long time the election took place. O am the agent of PCP but can’t remember what happened again. I did not read the document given to me after the election before I signed.
During the teibunal sitting, there was a mild drama when some of the petitioner’s witnesses denied their statement on oath. At the hearing of the petition, one of the witnesses who said his name is Magi Abraham Shade delt a blow to their case when he mentioned he was from Okedayo rather than Kakun that was in his written statement.
While being cross- examined, Dr. Otitoju, demanded for the witness to sign his signature but it was found to be different from the one appended on his written address. The witness also made another gaffe when he stated that he was PDP Ward collation agent during the election, though he did his voters card registration in Kaduna and later transferred it to Kabba. Counsel to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Barr. Abdulahi Esq, also queried the witness to identified himself from the voters register, but the picture of the person’s whom he claimed was entirely different from his person.
The witness, Ibrahim Jimoh said he served, during the election, as a Collation Agent of the petitioners – the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Dino Melaye, in Ijumu Ward. Jimoh, who had earlier adopted his written statement, said under cross-examination, that he was absent at the venue of the declaration of result after votes were counted. He admitted relying on the result as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, after the election. When asked by lawyer to Smart Adeyemi (All Progressives Congress’ candidate and winner of the election), Oladapo Otitoju, whether he witnessed the counting of votes in his ward, Jimoh said no.
On whether the ballot papers were counted in his presence, the witness said no, but that he relied on INEC report and what other agents told him. When asked how he got the results of the election, Jimoh said, ”I was not there. I was not on ground. Yes, it was the second agent that came to tell me the figures.” Jimoh equally admitted that the election went on peaceful and was without violence. Another petitioners’ witness, Ademola Samuel, who claimed to be a farmer, adopted his written witness statement upon mounting the witness stand. On being cross-examined by Otitoju, Samuel told the tribunal that he examined the results after the election.