A’Ibom Tribunal Rejects INEC’S Objection On Destroyed Ballot Papers; Witness Admits Knowledge Of Directive On Card Reader

Udom, Akpabio

Inibehe Effiong

The Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal in Abuja on Wednesday September 16, 2015 overruled an objection by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the state of the ballot papers which were allegedly used during the April 11, 2015 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.

Counsel to the Petitioners, Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN had asked the Defence Witness 26, Mr. Dominic Okenna, the Electoral Officer for Onna Local Government Area, under cross examination whether he had kept the ballot papers for Onna safely and securely after the election as prescribed in exhibit 338 paragraph 1.1.2, which is the Manual for Election Officials, and he said yes.

Mr. Umoh then asked him to identify the ballot papers used for Onna local government from among the rest since the ballot papers used for the entire state was in court. Feeling uncomfortable with the question, counsel to INEC Mr. Alex Ejesieme objected to the question. He contended that the Petitioners did not plead the state of the ballot papers in their petition and that by the Practice Direction, it was wrong for the Petitioners to seek to cross examine the witness on the issue as that will amount to taking the Respondents by surprise. He further contended that if the Petitioners wanted the witness to produce the ballot papers in court they should have served him with a notice to produce same.

In their contributions, counsel to the 1st and 2nd Respondents, Messrs Paul Usoro, SAN and Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, governor Udom Emmanuel and the Peoples Democratic Party, respectively, said they had no objection to the question on the state of the ballot papers and declined to support INEC’s objection.

Responding, Mr. Umoh referred the Tribunal to paragraphs 15, 22, 27, 37 and 51 of the Petition and submitted that the issue was sufficiently pleaded and that the objection should be overruled by the Tribunal. The Tribunal asked the counsel to INEC to read the paragraphs of the petition referred to by the Petitioners counsel which he did. In its ruling, the Tribunal held that the issue had been pleaded by the Petitioners and overruled the objection.

Continuing with his cross examination, Umoh asked the INEC witness whether he has seen the inscription on exhibit 345 (1), a bag containing ballot papers, which reads Onna Local Government Area and he answered that he has seen it. He then asked him to bring out the ballot papers for Awa Ward 1 in Onna. The witness confessed that the ballot papers were mixed up and could not identify the ballot papers. This obviously contradicted his earlier testimony that he had safely secured the ballot papers unit by unit and ward by ward as stipulated in the INEC Manual for Election Officials.

Not done, Mr. Umoh asked him to look at exhibit 317 (2) which was the extra one bag of ballot papers brought out from the Tribunal’s Registry and asked him to identify which local government they were used for. The witness took out a sample of ballot paper from the bag and looked at it for a long time but could not say the local government it was used for during the election. Finally, Mr. Umoh asked the witness to read the total number of accredited voters for the state as recorded in exhibit 317. After some hesitation, he read it which stood at 437,128. Also, he was given exhibit EE4 which is the total votes declared for the state and asked to read it out. The witness said that what he saw there is 1,158,624.

Embarrassed by the outcome of the cross examination, the counsel to INEC pleaded with the Tribunal to adjourn the matter for two hours as he will not be able to present his next witness immediately because the next evidence of the next witness will take time. Responding, the Petitioners counsel said that although he was not opposing the application for two hours adjournment he knows from experience that such application is usually made when a case goes against the expectation of the party making the application. This caused laughter in the court.

The Tribunal granted the application and adjourned for two hours.

When the Tribunal reconvened at about 3:15pm, the second and last witness for the day was called. The witness, Mr. Austin Nwana, who is the DW27 acted as the Electoral Officer for Nsit Ubium Local Government Area where the 1st Petitioner, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, hails from. He was led in evidence by the counsel to INEC to adopt his statement on oath dated 25th May, 2015. Leading the witness in evidence, counsel to the 1st Respondent applied that exhibit 321A be played for the witness. The long video was earlier tendered by the 1st Petitioner. In the video, Mr. Umana Okon Umana was seen addressing the media on the massive incidents of hijacking of election materials throughout the state by thugs employed by the PDP and protected by security forces based on the reports he was receiving across the state. Umana in the video stated that in his unit, INEC supplied only 450 ballot papers whereas the voters register contains 1, 571 voters.

The video also shows the Petitioner complaining bitterly to the witness who was the Electoral Officer for his local government on the violence and massive irregularities that characterised the election and calling for its cancellation. The witness was seen in the video saying that he had done his part as distributing materials and that it was not within his ability to ensure that materials arrived the polling units. When the video ended, Mr. Paul Usoro asked the witness to look at exhibit JJ (1-10) which is the result for the Wards in Nsit Ubium and identify where there was no election. The witness said that there was cancellation in 7 units out of the 88 units in the local government and that he visited over 75 of those units. He denied the claims by the Petitioner in the video that there was no election. He admitted being the person in the video.

Under cross examination by the Petitioners counsel, Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN the witnessed was told that he did not use anything like Incident Forms during the election and he said that he used it. “I put it to you that by the time you finished writing the Incident Forms the Coppers had dispersed that is why they were not signed”, Mr. Umoh pressed further, but the witness denied. “Where are the Incident Forms, I challenge you to produce them”. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria fired, but the witness kept mute.

The high point of the cross examination seemed to be when Mr. Umoh asked the witness about the press statement of 2nd April by INEC that only Card Reader should be used. The witness like all the previous INEC witnesses had denied knowledge of the existence of the press statement while being led in evidence by counsel to PDP. However, when Mr. Umoh confronted him with the issue he confessed that “it was pasted on the INEC’s Notice Board”. The Tribunal erupted because of this statement. It took the intervention of the registrar of the Tribunal and some lawyers for calm to be restored.

Lastly, Mr. Umoh gave the witness exhibit JJ4 which shows that even the result declared by INEC indicated that there was no election in the polling unit of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Umana Okon Umana. The witness confirmed it.

At this point, counsel to INEC pleaded with the Tribunal to adjourn the case because according to him, his next witness had “suddenly developed some health challenges”. This caused laughter in the court. The application was not opposed by the other parties.

The Tribunal adjourned the case to Thursday 17th September, 2015 for continuation of hearing.