The Lagos State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal has disqualified a witness, Erastus Ofoma subpoenaed by Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the Labour Party (LP) from testifying in his petition challenging the election of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Dr Obafemi Hamzat in the March 18 election.
The chairman of the three-man tribunal committee, Justice Arum Igyen Ashom ordered Ofoma to “step down as he cannot be allowed to testify” in the matter.
The tribunal held that the witness’ statement on oath was uploaded out of time and outside the 21 days stipulated under the Electoral Act.
The tribunal ruled on the matter after taking submissions from counsels representing parties in the petition.
Other members of the tribunal are Justice Mikail Adubulahi and Justice L. P. Braimoh.
The sole petitioner, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour was represented by Dr. Olumide Ayeni (SAN).
The first respondent, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was represented by Prince Eric Obigor and the 2nd and 3rd respondents, Gov. Sanwo-Olu and Dr. Hamzat were represented by Bode Olanipekun (SAN) while the 4th respondent, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was represented by Norrison Quakers (SAN).
Earlier, Dr. Ayeni, representing the petitioner had informed the tribunal of his intention to call the subpoenaed witness, Ofoma.
He said the witness had deposed to his statement on oath and served the respondents.
While INEC’s counsel, Obigor confirmed service, Olanipekun representing Gov. Sanwo-Olu and Dr Hamzat and Quakers representing APC, objected to the witness.
They said the witness was not one of the witnesses listed in the list that accompanied the petition.
Olanipekun said there was no indication on the list that any witness was going to be subpoenaed to appear before the tribunal.
He said the tribunal had found itself in the situation the Court of Appeal found itself in the case of Ararume vs INEC, 2019 LPELR 48397@33.
He argued that in the case, an objection was taken to evidence being deposed outside the 21 days permitted for the presentation of the petition.
He said all the justices of the appellate court were unanimous in their decision that the subpoenaed witness whose statement was not front-loaded could not give evidence.
Quakers who aligned with Olanipekun further stated that during the pre-action protocol of the tribunal on June 5, the list of witnesses presented did not suggest that a subpoenaed witness was going to be presented.
Citing provisions of the Electoral Act, 1st schedule, paragraph 4, he said, “It is a mandatory provision to comply with that election petition shall be accompanied with a list of witnesses to be called and their statement on oath.
“The petitioner cannot ambush respondents and the tribunal. At pre-hearing protocol, all applications have been closed.
“I urge the tribunal to discountenance the witness purportedly being subpoenaed in the person of Ofoma. It is a violation of the Electoral Act.”
After a series of arguments and counter-arguments, the tribunal upheld the pleadings of the respondents.
Earlier one of the witnesses of the petitioner Oluwaseun Okanlawon when questioned based on his statement on oath by counsel to the second and third respondent, Bode Olanipekun (SAN), told the tribunal that the event on the election day, March 18, was pre-planned.
Okanlawon told the court that he was testifying as the INEC-appointed ward coordinator and collation officer.
He said, “INEC appointed me to coordinate the ward although I did not report what happened to them. I was appointed as a collation officer and the entire polling unit agents report to me.”
When asked how he knew the events were pre-planned, he said, “On the eve of the election, he saw people gathered in clusters in different parts of his ward in Surulere, so it was obvious that the event had been pre-planned.”
Olanipekun took the witness up on paragraph eight of his statement on oath where he said voters were intimidated and threatened and asked if the voters were still alive to which Okanlawon answered that they were still alive.
Olanipekun also asked the witness how he knew the number of registered voters was outnumbered and how many non-accredited voters were allowed to vote in respect of the 52 polling units in his ward.
Okanlawon responded that he doesn’t know.
Okanlawon kept mute when questioned by Quakers based on paragraphs eight, six, and 26 of his statement on oath on his claim that the first and second respondents, sponsored thugs who were armed to the teeth, conspired to attack voters who did not intend to cast their votes in their favor and the third respondent gave in to the pressure and demands of the thugs sponsored by them.