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…we have not received any relocation notice from anyone- Tribunal

The Akwa Ibom State Governorship elections petitions tribunal sitting in Uyo has rejected an application by the candidate of the Young Progressives Party,YPP, Senator Bassey Albert to have the Governorship Elections Appeal Tribunal relocated from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital to the nation’s capital, Abuja.

Subsequently the tribunal has ordered the petitioners’ counsel to make sure his client, the first Petitioner, who was in court on Wednesday, was brought back to court the next morning for cross examination.

The Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Adekunle Adeleye, who delivered the ruling on Wednesday during the resumed hearing of the tribunal, said the tribunal has not gotten any notice of stay of execution or relocation from the President of the Court of Appeal.

To this end, the tribunal ruled that hearing on the Petition filed by the YPP candidate challenging the election of Pastor Umo Eno of the PDP would continue in Uyo on Thursday.

The hearing could not continue on Wednesday as the three man Election Petitions Appeal Tribunal panel did not form a quorum at the resumed hearing following the absence of a member of the panel.

According to Justice Adeleye; “We do not have any directive on stay of execution or relocation of this tribunal and so this hearing in this court will continue”.

“As of today we do not have the required quorum to hear this matter. Hearing in this matter is adjourned to tommorow (Thursday) at 9:am”.

Earlier, Tunde Falola,Esq, counsel to the petitioner had reminded the court that their petition to the president of the Court of Appeal for the relocation of the tribunal to Abuja, is pending as there is no response from the Appellate Court President yet.

Mr Falola admitted that they had received the hearing notice of the tribunal and only came to show respect to the tribunal, adding that their petition for the relocation was as a result of the threats to their client’s life and the lives of members of their legal team.

However Counsel to 1st Respondent, INEC, Abdul Mohammed,SAN, opposed the position of the petitioners insisting that the petition to the Appeal Court President was not to their notice.

“YPP cannot come and claim that because of the pendency of a letter nobody knew about, they can’t continue with the case. It’s not in all cases that when application is made that such application is granted.

“And parties cannot come and hold the tribunal to ransom because of a petition to the president of appeal court that she may not even be aware of.

“There is no evidence that such application will be granted. There is no evidence in law that suggests that the proceeding of the tribunal should stay until such application is granted.”

The INEC Counsel insisted that, “while there is no time frame for the appeal court president to respond to the letter, whereas there is a lifespan for the tribunal to conclude its assignment.

“As he rightly said he’s waiting for the tribunal’s direction, I urge this tribunal to direct the petitioners to immediately call their witness to enter the dock for fireworks to begin. We are urging the court to strike out the application as we are eager to prove to the court that the election we conducted was free and fair”, the INEC counsel added.

Paul Usoro, in support of the 1st respondent, INEC, cited relevant judicial authorities, and told the court that it was unethical for a person or counsel to write to a higher court without communicating with the other parties in a case.

“Furthermore, he claimed his letter is based on threats to lives of petitioners and his counsel. He is a counsel in court today, and he has not been harassed. He doesn’t appear alone but as a team. He has not mention that any of his team members have been harassed. They are in court with their supporters today without any harassment.

On the 21st of June when the petitioners were absent in court, one of their counsel was in court. There was nothing to suggest any insecurity. We stand by the fact that the 1st petitioner should enter the witness box, and if he does, before 12 noon we will finish and he will leave without any problem”, Paul Usoro ,SAN submitted.

On his part, Tayo Oyetibo,SAN, counsel to PDP said, “we only saw the purported letter online claiming it was written to the appeal court president and the tribunal chairman, without serving other parties in the matter.
We urge the tribunal to ignore the letter because it is manifestly unethical and stands disregarded for the purpose of this proceeding.

“Secondly, the publication was said to be written as far back as 22nd June 2023. Today is 5th July, 2 weeks after the letter was written to the appeal court president.

“It therefore means that the appeal court president has adopted the judicial precedent of that same court, by ignoring the letter in obedience to its rules because it was manifestly unethical, and In law if something is manifestly unethical you don’t respond to it.

“That means the president will not write any reply. She has ignored them”’ Oyetibo added.

“The first petitioner is in court, the second petitioner is in court. The lead counsel to the petitioners who travelled all the way from Abuja about 4 of them are here. So what are we waiting for? There is no atmosphere of violence here at the tribunal. There is no threat here or any likelihood of threat. Paragraph 46 sub 5 and 6 on the first schedule of the electoral act apply here on this matter now.

“Since the first petitioner who gave evidence in-chief on 20th June, is physically present in court today and protected by the Grace of the Almighty God, he should be ordered to enter the witness box for cross examination.

“If he fails to do so, the court should close the case of the petitioner inline with the provisions of the electoral act. Particularly because he was their last witness.”

After hearing the position of all parties, the Tribunal adjourned till Thursday by 9am for continuation of hearing. The tribunal claimed that it did not have any communication with the President of the Court of Appeal to stay proceedings and as such urged the counsel to the petitioners to make their witness available tomorrow.

Also adjourned today to July 11, was the petition of the APC and its Governorship candidate, Akanimo Udofia against Governor Umo Eno and the PDP.

Counsel to the APC governorship candidate and APC, has requested an adjournment to enable them get some documentary exhibits from INEC and enable the court sit when it has formed a quorum.