By Titus Atondu, Makurdi
The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital has adjourned for 24th June, 2019 for trial, in a petition brought by Hon Emmanuel Jime who is challenging the return of Samuel Ortom as Governor of Benue State.
Hon Justice Adebola Olusiyi, chairman of the panel who issued the order at the end of pre-hearing level, said the “coast is now clear and the stage is set for full trial of the petition.”
According to Justice Olusiyi, there shall be strict compliance to the number of days all parties to the petition are entitled to on submissions before the tribunal”
He noted that there is only one pending Motion on Notice which will be taken outside pre-hearing.
Ortom’s lead counsel Sabastian Hon SAN, who responded on behalf of the Bar assured the panel of their cooperation towards ensuring that trial is conducted in line with the law.
He thanked their Lordships for the conduct of proceedings thus far.
Earlier, while ruling on application by INEC for an order stricking out certain paragraphs of Jime’s reply, Justice Olusiyi held that the panel cannot depart from its earlier position, to defer ruling until the substantive petition is heard.
The chairman further held that there is no compulsion on the Tribunal to deliver ruling on applications before hearing the substantive petition.
He accordingly differed ruling on the application pending hearing of the substantive petition.
Similarly, Ortom’s application which was struck out last week and re-filed was argued and deferred for ruling at the conclusion of hearing.
The fresh motion, which is dated 31st May, 2019 was filed on 1st June, 2019, is predicated on five grounds and supported by an 8 paragraph affidavit and also, another fresh supporting affidavit today.
According to Barr. Hon, the application is targeted at two things: First is to strike out certain paragraphs of Jime’s reply to the second respondent’s reply to the petition and secondly to strike out additional witness statement on oath in the petitioner’s reply to the second respondent’s reply to the petition.
Ortom’s counsel argued that in replying to the second respondent’s reply to the petition, the petitioner offends the law by introducing new pleadings.
According to Sabastine Hon, introducing new issues by the petitioner amounts to gross abuse of court process.
In his reply on points of law, Barr. Hon submitted that no paragraph of his reply contains prayers, objections or conclusions as posited by the learned counsel to Jime Kehinde Kolawole Eleja SAN.
He submitted that his deposition contains raw facts which fit into the requirement of Section 285(5) of the Evidence Act.
- Hon, who insisted that the witness statement and certain paragraphs of Jime’s reply to second respondent’s reply to the petition offends the law urged the Tribunal to struck them out.
Both PDP and INEC did not oppose the application.
However, the lead counsel appearing for Jime, Eleja, SAN, opposed the application by filling a counter affidavit, supported by a written address on 4th June, 2019, in praying the Honourable Tribunal to strike out paragraph 2(a-b) of the affidavit in support of Ortom’s motion.
He also prayed the Honourable Tribunal to strike out paragraph 4(I) and Paragraph 5 and 10 of the affidavit in support.
His contention is that the said paragraphs are in contravention of Section 115(2) of the Evidence Act.
Eleja argued that Section 115(2) clearly spelt out what an affidavit should contain, that is to say: It should not contain prayers, conclusions and objections.
He contended that Ortom took up the job of the panel when he went on to draw conclusions based on his findings. It was his contention that Jime’s reply to the second respondent’s reply to the petition was properly filed and urged the Tribunal to dismiss Ortom’s application.
Ruling on the application, Honourable Justice Olusiyi insisted that ruling on the application will be delievered after conclusion of trial in the entire petition.
Speaking with journalists after the sitting Oba Maduabuchi SAN, who appeared for the PDP said he has appealed the earlier ruling of the panel on his application to strike out certain paragraphs of Jime’s reply.
He said by the Tribunal’s ruling, he has been shut out from replying Jime.
Ortom’s lawyer, Barr. Hon also said he will appeal the ruling.
However, Eleja told journalists that the decision to reserve ruling on the application is to prevent the situation whereby vital issues will be left out.
While admitting that he is aware of an appeal filed by the PDP, Eleja said he do not forsee an order of stay of proceedings.
According to Jime’s lead counsel, it is far from truth that his client is bringing witnesses through the back door.
He explained that the paragraphs and witness statements to which INEC, Ortom and PDP are praying the Tribunal to strike out are issues that sprouted following an order of the Tribunal allowing Jime to inspect election materials.
According to him, “the witnesses we are going to call are in line with that.”