• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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APC, Sylva seek disbandment of Bayelsa guber tribunal over alleged bias

APC, Sylva seek disbandment of Bayelsa guber tribunal over alleged bias

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Timipre Sylva, its governorship candidate in the November 11, 2023, Bayelsa poll, on Monday, have sought the disbandment of the state’s election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja over alleged undue bias.

The APC and Sylva alleged that the tribunal, headed by Justice Adekunle Adeleye, was biased in the conduct of proceedings, findings and decisions.

According to report, they, therefore, demanded its outright disbandment and reconstitution.

In a petition to the president of the Court of Appeal, the party and its candidate accused the tribunal of denying them their constitutional right to a fair hearing as required by law.

They claimed that they had lined up 234 witnesses to establish their petition against Governor Douye Diri’s declaration as the poll winner.

In the petition dated March 4 and signed by Sylvester Elema, SAN, they alleged that the tribunal turned the table against them with an order that the 234 witnesses must be called within seven days only.

The lawyer said they agreed to call 25 witnesses daily and lamented that the tribunal allowed them to call only eight witnesses daily.

He said it was against this backdrop that they had no option but to hurriedly close their case on February 27 after calling only 49 out of their 234 witnesses.

Elema submitted that the tribunal’s action was a clear breach of the petitioners’ rights to a fair hearing by preventing them from calling all their witnesses when the panel still had three months to sit.

Besides, he alleged that in the records of proceedings they obtained, the tribunal made several comments and observations in writing, pointing to the fact that the tribunal had made up its mind to go the way of the respondents.

He claimed that the tribunal distorted the oral testimony of their witnesses in the record of proceedings and had also made findings and decisions regarding the authenticity and weight of polling unit election results they tendered.

The tribunal was accused of coming to the wrong conclusions in its findings that “the pattern of writing witness statements on oath employed by the petitioners was same and done by the same person.”

He also accused the tribunal of being grossly unfair to them in its written comments that “comparisons done on two exhibits showed the same lettering.”

The senior counsel, therefore, demanded the immediate dissolution of the tribunal and reconstitution of a new one that would conduct unbiased proceedings in the remaining three-month life span of the petition.

In a separate letter they brought to the tribunal through their counsel R. O. Balogun, APC and Sylva demanded that the tribunal adjourn proceedings indefinitely pending the time the Court of Appeal president would decide on the petition.

Upon the resumed hearing on Monday, Justice Adeleye informed lawyers of various parties of a petition questioning the members’ neutrality and integrity and seeking indefinite adjournment in the case hearing.

The judge said he did not know where the tribunal members had gone wrong, as alleged by APC and Sylva, and called for reactions.

The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) lawyer, Charles Edosomwan (SAN), said APC and Sylva were unfair to the tribunal in their allegations of bias and distortion of facts.

In the same vein, similar views were expressed by Chris Uche, SAN, who appeared for Diri; Chukwuma Machukwu-Ume, SAN, counsel to Deputy Governor Lawrence Ewhrujakpo, and Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, who represented the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

After brief reactions, they agreed that the adjournment be granted as requested by the complainants.

Justice Adeleye thereafter adjourned the matter sine-die (indefinitely) to await the decision of the Court of Appeal president on the allegations of bias and denial of fair hearing as raised by the petitioners.

While the APC and Sylva filed the petition marked EPT/BY/Gov/04/2023, INEC, Messrs Diri and Ewhrujakpo, and PDP are respondents.