Palpable fears in Benue govt House over testimonies of INEC, others at Tribunal

Nigerian Concord Newspaper

Nigerian Concord Newspaper can authoritatively report palpable fears at the Benue State Government House as a result of the testimonies of the Independent National Electoral Commission and other witnesses at the Benue State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.

The palpable fears are not unconnected to the closure of case by the People’s Democratic Party and her governorship candidate in the March 2023 governorship election, Rt. Hon Titus Uba at the Tribunal with testimonies by witnesses from the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and others.

Our investigation showed that there has been a serious unrest in the camp of Governor Alia and the state chapter of the All Progressive Congress led by Austin Agada due to the shocking revelations made by officials of the FCT High Court, INEC, who were all subpoenaed witnesses, as well as that of Mr Samuel Irabor and Dominic Anagbe, who were witnesses called by the petitioners.

In the petition marked EPT/BN/Gov/01/2023, Titus Uba and the PDP are the first and second petitioners respectively, while INEC is the first respondent, Alia is second, Sam Odeh is third and APC is the fourth respondent.

In the petition, Uba and the PDP have stated that the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Sam Odeh presented a forged certificate to INEC.

The petitioners say Odeh
obtained Form EC-9 (Affidavit in support of Personal Particulars) from INEC, filled, signed and presented/submitted the Form to INEC, falsely certifying that the said INEC Form EC-9 was sworn to before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Uba and PDP also aver that through their counsel, Samuel Irabor, via a letter dated 27th December, 2022 to the Chief Registrar, High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja sought to verify the authenticity of the said INEC Form EC-9.

According to the petitioners, in response to the said letter of 27th December, 2022, the office of the Chief Registrar in a letter dated 9th January, 2023 stated that, “There is no Revenue Receipt Number on the said document, there is no Court Seal on the said document and the name of the Commissioner for Oath did not appear on the said document.
Therefore, the said document was never sworn to before the Court.”

When the PDP opened its case on Tuesday, July 4th, 2023, a staff of the FCT High Court, who is the custodian of the signature bank of the FCT High Court, Abuja, Mr Dan-Musa Williams tendered a letter from the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court, expressly stating that the oath form of Mr Odeh, now Deputy Governor of Benue State was never sworn to before the court.

While answering questions from S. I Ameh, SAN, who is counsel to the Governor of Benue State, Hyacinth Alia, Mr Williams stated that Oath form in the FCT High Court must carry the name of the commissioner for oath.

Another witness from the FCT High Court, Mr Vincent Ifeachor, who was a deputy director and was also part of the investigation of Odeh’s oath form before his retirement in March, 2023, told the tribunal that during the investigation, it didn’t take him up to five minutes to know that the oath form in question was not from the FCT High Court.

Still on the alleged presentation of a forged certificate to INEC, Mr Irabor whose letter of December 27th, 2022, to the Chief Registrar of the FCT High Court, while under cross examination from counsel to Sam Odeh, Mamman Mike Osuman, SAN, told the tribunal that he stands 100 percent with his statement that the Deputy Governor of Benue State submitted a forged certificate to INEC because the issuing authority has confirmed it is forged.

Another ground of the petition by Uba and the PDP is that, Alia and Odeh were not sponsored by the APC within the period prescribed by law (that is, not later than 180 days to the governorship election in Benue State).

They further aver that as at February 3rd, 2023, when Alia and Odeh were purportedly sponsored, it was just 44 days to the date of governorship election in Benue State and it had become too late, and the prescribed period for claims, objections and actions by members of the relevant constituency had elapsed.

To prove this allegation, a staff of INEC identified as Kingsley Mague who was at the tribunal by virtue of the subpoenaed issued on the National chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, tendered INEC Form EC-9 of Alia, Ode and Uba as well as the letter dated 3rd February, 2023 which submitted Alia’s name 44 days before the election rather than 180 days stipulated by the Electoral Act, 2022.

While cross examining the witness, counsel to INEC, asked Mr Mague if he was aware that a certain Vembe Gbihi Isaac was the deputy governorship candidate of the APC in Benue State submitted his letter of voluntary withdrawal as deputy governorship candidate on August 1st, 2022? The witness said he was aware.

According to legal minds, the submission by counsel to INEC and response of the witness which were in agreement has strengthened the case of the petitioners (Uba and PDP).

The INEC form EC-9 in respect of Sam Odeh which is in question is dated July 25th, 2022. If INEC has confirmed that the deputy governorship candidate, Vembe Gbihi Isaac, withdrew on August 1st, 2022, how is it possible for Mr Odeh to have an oath form dated July 25th, 2022, attached to his INEC form? Form EC-9 is issued to someone only after his party has submitted his name to INEC. The question is, did Odeh become the deputy governorship candidate before the voluntary withdrawal of the person he replaced? Is that possible?

The petitioners closed their case by calling another witness, Mr Solomon Anagbe, whose testimony corroborated the submissions of the other witnesses.

Interestingly, all the five witnesses called by Uba and the PDP in proof of their petition are lawyers. It is also necessary to state that, the respondents in the petition vehemently opposed the admissibility of all the witnesses, and informed the court that they would raise their objections in their respective final written address.

Since the petitioners closed their case, all has not been well in the camp of the APC in the state. Some party members who erroneously concluded that the case against their party was based on majority of lawful votes cast in the governorship election in Benue State have been stunned since they got to know that the grounds of the matter border on non-compliance (in relation to time of conducting party primaries) and alleged forgery of a court document which the issuing authority has distanced itself from the document.

The respondents are expected to open their defence today, Fridayay, July 14, 2023.

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