…dismisses INEC’s motion to set aside subpoena

The Election Petition Tribunal hearing the dispute arising from the last governorship election in Ekiti State has dismissed an application by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to set aside a subpoena earlier issued against the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).

The Tribunal had earlier issued the Subpoena Duces tecum ad Testificandum on 30th August against the Resident Electoral Commissioner, an officer and employee of INEC to bring some electoral documents and materials and testify before the Panel as requested by the Petitioners.

The Petitioners in the case are Chief Segun Oni (1st) and the Social Democratic Party (2nd) who lost the June 18, 2022 governorship election.

The Respondents are the Governor-elect, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji (1st), the All Progressives Congress (2nd), Alhaji Mai Mala Buni (3rd), INEC (4th) and the Deputy Governor-elect, Mrs. Monisade Afuye (5th).

The Tribunal in a ruling delivered by a member of the three-member Panel, Justice Sa’ad Zadawa, dismissed the the application application by the 4th Respondent to set aside a subpoena compelling the appearance of the REC in the interest of justice.

The Panel ruled that election petition matters are “sui generis” (time-bound) hence parties must must be allowed to present their grievances without any hindrances on technical grounds that have tendencies to clog the wheel of justice.

Citing relevant authorities in the ruling including cases decided at the Supreme Court, the Panel that those days of applications to delay or impede the course of justice “are gone for good.”

On the issue of non-signing of the preliminary objection raised by counsel to Respondents, the Panel held that such arguments commands no judicial value or validity.

The Panel further held that Order 20, Rule 19 of the Federal High Court Rules has taken care of issues of conditions to be met before witnesses on subpoena could be brought to court to give evidence and payment of prescribed fees

After the ruling was read by Justice Zadawa, Counsel to 4th Respondent, Mr. Chris Onwugbonu, said there would be need to inform his clients on the ruling most especially in preparation to give evidence and bring the required documents and materials.

Counsel to the Petitioners, Mr. Obafemi Adewale (SAN) said his clients had specified the documents and materials needed from INEC which he said are explicit enough.

But the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Wilfred Kpochi, in a short ruling, said the Panel still stands by its directive as issues in the Pre-Hearing Report that hearing in the petition shall be seamless.

The Panel Chair said in view of this, the , the 4th Respondent would be given reasonable time to prepare hence hearing would be adjourned to Thursday, 13th October on day-to-day basis.

The sitting of the day commenced at about 9.35am when the 4th Respondent, INEC moved its application which had been pending at the Registry of the Tribunal which the Petitioners had kicked against describing it as a ploy to delay the course of justice.

The 4th Respondent had earlier in the day moved and adopted a Motion on Notice seeking an order of the Tribunal to set aside a subpoena compelling the appearance of the state Resident Electoral Commissioner to give evidence before the Panel.

The electoral agency was also seeking an order granting it leave to bring the application outside/after the Pre-Hearing Session of the Tribunal.

According to counsel to 4th Respondent, Mr. Chris Onwugbonu, the motion on notice was brought pursuant to Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Paragraph 4 of the 12th Schedule of the Electoral Act.

The grounds upon which the application was brought, according to INEC counsel, was on Page 2 and supported by 14-paragraph affidavit and accompanied by three exhibits.

He also said a written address was filed on the same day on compliance with the rule of the Tribunal which he adopted as his argument praying the Tribunal to grant same.

Counsel to the Petitioners, Mr. Owoseni Ajayi, said he has filed a notice of preliminary objection and a 14-paragraph counter-affidavit in opposition to the motion of the 4th Respondent.

Ajayi said he also filed a written address which he adopted and relied on as arguments urging the Tribunal to refuse the motion of the 4th Respondents.

He told the Tribunal that he was served with the 4th Respondent’s reply on point of law earlier in the day describing the application as “the most contemptuous and unserious” he had ever seen.

Ajayi said the application was filed by INEC “merely to justify their contemptuous act” and alleged disobedience to the order earlier issued by the Tribunal.

While urging the Tribunal to dismiss the application, Ajayi said the reply on point of law has nothing to do with the case at hand. He added that the Petitioners would have closed their case had the latest application not been filed by INEC.

A new twist was added to the scenario when the counsel to the 1st and 5th Respondents, Prof. Kayode Olatoke (SAN) told the Tribunal that the Petitioners’ preliminary objection he was served had no author and not signed by anybody.

He also urged the Tribunal to take note of the fact that the copy he was served had only one page.

Counsel to 2nd Respondents, Mr. Ibukun Fasanmi adopted the submission of 1st and 5th Respondents’ counsel while not opposing the application. He also said he observed that the copy of the Petitioners’ preliminary objection was not signed.

Counsel to 3rd Respondent, Mr. Umar Abdulhameed, said he was not opposed to the application of the Petitioner’s.

In response to the observations made, Ajayi maintained that the preliminary objection was signed and stamped with the stamp of the counsel describing the position of the 1st and 5th Respondents’ counsel as “mere technical argument.”

He urged the Tribunal to dismiss the INEC application “with substantial cost.”

The Tribunal rose at about 11.40am directing parties to return to the courtroom at 3.00pm for the ruling on the INEC application.

Earlier in the day, Onwugbonu had withdrawn an application, M12, which was subsequently struck out by the Tribunal awarding a cost of N5,000 to the Petitioners.