The Federal Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, on Wednesday heard the appeal petition of Senator Rashidi Ladoja and the Accord party, following his dissatisfaction with the decision of the gubernatorial election petition tribunal, which declared Governor Abiola Ajimobi winner of the April 11, 2015 election in the state.
The governorship candidate of Accord and former governor in the state had filed the appeal along with the party and their briefs were adopted on Wednesday by the Appeal Court Justices.
Representing Ladoja and the party in the suit were Chief Robert Clark (SAN) and Prince Aderemi Olatubora. Ajimobi.
The All Progressives Congress and the Independent National Electoral Commission were represented by Chief Wole Olanipekun, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and Mallam Yusuf Ali (SANs).
After listening to the briefs and counter arguments from the counsel to Ajimobi and the All Progressives Congress, the court reserved its ruling on the two appeals.
In the suits, marked: CA/IB/EPT/GOV/31/2015 and CA/IB/EPT/GOV/31A/2015, Ladoja and the Accord party had challenged the judgment delivered on October 27, 2015 by the three-man Election Petition Tribunal headed by Justice Muhammed Maiyaki, which declared Ajimobi winner.
At the sitting composed of Justices H.M. Ogunjimiju, H.S. Tsammani, Uchechukwu Oyemenam, J.O.K. Oyewole and M.L. Shuaibu, which lasted over five hours, each counsel was allotted 15 minutes to argue their briefs.
Ladoja’s lead counsel, Clark, prayed the court to dismiss the judgment of the tribunal against his clients on the basis that the lower court excluded the evidence of his clients’ principal witness.
Clark informed the court that the tribunal excluded the evidence of the principal witness (PW1, Bimbo Adepoju), which was vital to the petition.
He added that PW1 tendered 129 exhibits within five days, which was not objected to by the counsel to the respondents, wondering why the plethora of evidence provided by PW1 was not accommodated in the judgment.
He said the tribunal was wrong to state that the documents were merely dumped on the court and that the PW1 was not an expert.
He made reference to the fact that there were many Appeal Court judgments which never stated that one needed to be an expert before inspecting electoral materials.
Clark hinged his arguments on the fact that PW1 holds a Master’s degree in Statistics contrary to the judgment of the tribunal, which referred to him as a mere farmer.
He then urged the court to allow the appeal and dismiss the judgment of the tribunal.
Addressing the court, Clark said: “The fundamental issue is the rejection of the evidence of PW1, which is the foundation of our case.
“Once you rejected the evidence, which you yourself admitted, it means you were not ready to look into the merit of the case.
“This is because the important thing is that he did not only give oral evidence.
“He submitted documentary evidence and we felt even if you say that there are contradictions in his evidence, the documents speak for themselves and they should have looked into the document.
“We based our brief on three grounds.
“First, PW1’s evidence, which was rejected by the tribunal.
“We feel the tribunal was wrong in excluding his evidence, having admitted them in the procedures, and later on not giving credibility to it.
“Secondly, the tribunal claimed that PW1 just dumped all the exhibits he brought on them and did not give evidence, which belies the record that we have presented before the court today.
“Thirdly, the evidence submitted by PW1 were procured during the pendency of the tribunal and which law does not apply to this particular type of civil matter.”
In his response, Olanipekun, counsel to Ajimobi, maintained that the evidence of PW1 of the appellant was irrelevant, noting that there were contradictory evidence by him during cross examination, an area he said the appellant failed to appeal against.
Stressing that PW1 was even not the leader of the team that inspected the material, Olanipekun further prayed that the application brought before the court to substitute the name of the leader of the team that inspected the electoral material during the hearing of the case should be struck out.
He urged the court to dismiss the appeal and uphold the judgment of the tribunal.
He also moved against re-arranging and change of parties by the appellants during the proceedings.
In their separate submissions, counsel to APC and INEC, Rotimi Akeredolu and Yusuf Ali, aligned with the submission of Olanipekun.
According to Akeredolu: “All what we want is that the appeal should not be granted.
“We (counsel to respondents) are saying don’t grant the appeal and the appellant is saying grant the appeal.”
In his submission, lead counsel to the Accord party, Prince Aderemi Olatubora, prayed the court to declare Ladoja as the governor of Oyo State.
According to Olatubora: “This Court of Appeal should re-evaluate the documentary evidence placed before the lower tribunal, which it failed in its duty to evaluate.
“The lower tribunal took umbrage in what it termed as contradiction in witnesses’ statements.
“What we are saying is that those witnesses’ statements were based on documents tendered before the tribunal and then the tribunal failed to evaluate and even to test the veracity of those oral evidence using the documentary evidence as hanger as the law requires them.
“We are asking the court to re-evaluate those documents or re-evaluate the evidence placed before the lower tribunal and allow the appeal to set aside the decision of the lower tribunal and declare Ladoja the winner of the governorship election of Oyo State.”
Justice Ogunjimiju thereafter informed the counsel that the court would communicate the date of its ruling to them, while no specific date was fixed.