The Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Jos, Plateau on Thursday ordered the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Mr. Haruna Maitalla, to open and close their defence on Friday.
Mr. Jonathan Dabo, and his party, the PDP are challenging the victory of Maitalla at the March 9 re-run for Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency of Plateau.
The tribunal, which gave the order after accepting some documents tendered from the Bar by Maitalla as exhibits, said that time was against them and there was need for them to open and close their defence in one day.
When the case came up for hearing on Thursday, Maitalla, through his counsel, Mr. Garba Pwul, SAN, tendered some documents which were accepted and marked as exhibit R1 to R72.
Pwul, prayed the tribunal to consider the documents as deemed read and consent given, a request which triggered serious arguments among parties involved in the matter.
He (Pwul) had claimed that by virtue of paragraph 46 (4) of the first schedule of the Electoral Act 2015, there was need for the petitioners to give their consent on the documents as deemed prayed so as to save time and in the interest of justice.
“I submit that inherent to that provision, consent can’t be withheld or refused to a party perpetually or whimsically because that will be killing the spirit of that provision, which is aimed at the petition’s expedition and speedy disposal.
“Your-lordship, consent can only be refused by the petitioners on sound and good reasons, which will advance the course of justice. I submit that the juris will still have the discretion to allow the documents tendered as prayed, “ Pwul solicited.
Mr Leo Ebi, Counsel to APC, the 3rd Respondent, also supported Pwul’s line of argument and insisted that the petitioners cannot withhold their consent on the documents “tendered through the Bar by the 2nd respondent.”
“Giving consent will amount to judicial attainment of that priceless objective, which is a need to do justice. If l may ask, on what reason should they (petitioners) refuse consent?
“I hereby urge your Lordship to refuse such objection and grant the application of the 2nd respondent, “ Ebi said.
Also supporting that line of argument, Mr Uoskay Heavens, counsel to INEC, claimed that the petitioners had made reference to the same documents in pages 200 and 201 of their petition and “equally relay on them.”
“It’s therefore not equitable for them to ask the tribunal to disregard the application of the 2nd respondent,” Heavens argued.
Responding, Mr. Sunday Oyawole, lead counsel to the petitioners, described their arguments as “out of place” as “that provision (para 46(4) of electoral Act 2015) was totally misinterpreted.”
“Notwithstanding, that law doesn’t expect the party to give reasons as it’s of the very essence of making the this application of taking documents tendered from the bar as read is to circumvent the dire consequences of dumping the said documents to this tribunal.
“Furthermore, if this application is granted, we would have been shut out from testing the veracity of the contents of those documents through cross examination, which is a right guaranteed by the 1999 constitution as part of fair hearing.
“If the documents are taken as read, the 2nd respondent will as well go home without calling even one witness and will just say he has closed his case, and the documentary evidence wouldn’t have been tested and we will be in for it, “he lamented.
Oyawole reminded the tribunal of its earlier firm decision on such a situation and “therefore we want this tribunal to hold that these documents can’t be taken as read.”
According to him, “justice shouldn’t be slaughtered on the basis of speed because it will be injustice to take these documents as read.”
He told the tribunal that “we want this tribunal to refuse the application and to put these documents to test as our humble application.”
After listening to all the arguments put up by all parties involved in the matter, the tribunal dismissed the application of Maitalla, Pwul and ordered them to prepare their witnesses to defend their case.
The tribunal declared, “The application of the 2nd respondent is hereby refused because it will amount to shutting the petitioners from testing the veracity of those documents tendered.
“Consequently, the defense is hereby ordered to prepare their witnesses in order to open and close their defense on Friday, August 16 as we adjourn today, Thursday,” the Tribunal declared.