Aregbesola, Omisore And Burden Of Proof

Omisore-and-Aregbesola-360x225In this piece, FEMI MAKINDE examines the outcome the judgment delivered by the Justice Elizabeth Ikpejimi-led Osun Election Petitions Tribunal in Osogbo

Shortly after suffering a heavy loss in the August 9, 2014 governorship election in Osun, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Iyiola Omisore, headed for the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Osogbo, where he sought to upturn the victory of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, who garnered 394,684 votes.

A few days to the judgment of the tribunal headed by Justice Elizabeth Ikpejimi, tension hung in Osun political space with supporters of both parties bragging about the chances of their candidates. The singsong in a typical PDP setting was, “You these APC people, it is all over for you. You will be flushed out on Friday. Omisore’s government of peace and abundance will be sworn in on May 29. Nothing will change it!” The typical mantra among APC supporters was, “There’s no more PDP in Osun State! We must never hear you shout power again. APC is running an eternal government in Osun. Aregbesola has turned Osun around for the better.”

As Justice Ikpejimi, in a verdict that lasted for seven and a half hours, knocked off, one by one, the grounds on which Omisore’s petition was predicated, members of the APC within the court sent text messages to others at home, sending them into wild jubilation.

Aregbesola swept the polls by winning in 22 local government councils while Omisore won in eight. Subsequently, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced Aregbesola as the winner of the poll but a dissatisfied Omisore, who came second, headed for the tribunal, praying the three-member panel to sack Aregbesola and declare him winner or order a rerun.

The petitioner, who scored 292,747 votes, said in his petition that the election was vitiated by corrupt practices by agents of the first respondent ( Aregbesola), who had contended that the petition lacked jurisdiction.

Three issues were placed before the tribunal for determination with the issue of jurisdiction being the first one. In the judgment, Ikpejime held that the panel resolved the issue of jurisdiction against Aregbesola who is the first respondent and proceeded to hear the petition.The petitioner challenged the election results in 939 polling units of 142 wards in 17 local government areas. The disputed local government areas are Ayedaade, Atakumosa-East, Boripe, Ede-North, Ede-South, Ejigbo, Ifelodun, Ilesa-East and Ilesa-West. Others are Irepodun, Irewole, Iwo, Obokun, Olaoluwa, Olorunda, Oriade and Osogbo local government areas.

The determination of the issue of jurisdiction in favour of Omisore, notwithstanding, the tribunal went ahead to expose the weaknesses in the allegations contained in his petition. The two other issues were whether the election was marred by corrupt practices alleged by the petitioner and secondly, whether Aregbesola won the majority of lawful votes.

The two main pillars of the petition failed the test presented by the three-member tribunal as the judges held unanimously that Omisore failed to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt.

In the eyes of the law, the large number of security personnel deployed in the state to monitor the August 9 poll made it extremely difficult for anybody to perpetrate electoral malpractices and virtually all election observer groups who monitored the conduct of the poll said nothing in their reports to indicate that the election was rigged.

Aregbesola said he knew from the outset that Omisore ought not to approach the court because he had no evidence to substantiate his allegations of corrupt practices during the poll.

The governor said, “It is pertinent to state here that ab initio, those who went to the tribunal knew that the petition lacked any substance whatsoever. It is a sheer waste of the time of the judiciary. And they knew it. One is appalled by the fact that a candidate, who knew that the entire state rejected him and the political party he represents performed abysmally in the buildup to the election, during the election and compounded his woes by failing to meet up with the required deadline set by the rule of the court, would be taunting us with any fake victory. We must salute the courage of our people, who in the face of overwhelming intimidation, harassment of unimaginable proportion, stood by their government and ensured the re-election. This is a further affirmation of the fact that any government that makes the people the centre of its policies will always find the people solidly behind it.”

Omisore did not personally comment immediately after the verdict but his campaign organisation, which reacted to the judgment, rejected the verdict and raised allegations bothering on the integrity of the members of the panel. The Iyiola Omisore Campaign Organisation, in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Mr. Victor Oriola, said that there was an indication that the judgment was procured because supporters of the APC started jubilating round the state even while the judgments were still being read.

The statement read, “We had thought that the tribunal members were of impeccable character when our supporters were calling our attention to unholy liaison between Aregbesola’s agents and the tribunal members. An indication that the judgment was procured emerged shortly after the tribunal began its ruling around10.00am on Friday when the APC supporters were jubilating that they had won. It is instructive to note that the tribunal commenced its ruling at 9.10am and rounded off by 4.38pm. The question to ask is: If the APC was not privy to the judgment, why were they jubilating when the tribunal had not pronounced its judgment? The National Judicial Commission should beam its searchlight on unscrupulous judges who had compromised and desecrate the judiciary with a view to rid our law courts of corrupt judges who have a penchant for perverting justice. We approached the tribunal with the abiding faith in God that justice will be done no matter how long it takes and we are unwavering in our belief that the appellate court would do justice to the petition. We want to urge our teeming supporters not to despair despite this momentary setback as we shall surely retrieve our mandate in due course.”

However, Omisore, in a statement on Sunday, said that he would not disparage the judiciary because the verdict did not go his way. The statement was signed by the media aide to the petitioner, Mr. Victor Oriola.

Omisore said, “Let me expressly state my abiding faith in the Nigerian judiciary to do justice at all times without fear or favour and the pronouncement of the tribunal, though against us, has not shaken that belief, and would not, even if there were no higher courts to review the tribunal’s judgment. The preceding political activities of the ruling party in the state hours before the judgment, which went in tandem with the party elements’ prediction, necessitated the call on the National Judicial Council to take another look into the bewildering scenario which was now being interpreted by our opponents as a call for the probe of the judges.

“Going by the laws guiding elections in the country, two layers of appeal are still available unto us, which we are currently exploring. As earlier mentioned by our lawyers, we are proceeding to the Court of Appeal and we have total faith in the higher court to dispense justice in the matter. Despite my disavowal of the said judgment, I have taken it in good faith since other avenues of seeking redress are open and (are) being explored.”

The Justice Ikpejime-led tribunal has not been accused of bias from any of the parties involved in the case since it was constituted and one of the lawyers to the petitioner, Mr. Nathaniel Oke (SAN), while closing the petitioner’s case, hailed the wisdom of the members of the panel who he said had remained ‘clean’ before all the parties. Oke also reiterated the same position about the integrity of the tribunal members on the judgment day but he said there were areas of disagreements in the verdict.

It will be recalled that the President of the Court of Appeal had constituted a three-man panel headed by Justice I.M. Bako to try the petition but Bako was removed following a petition written against him.

Justice Sulieman Ambrusa was subsequentlyappointed to lead the panel after Bako’s removal but the APC kicked against this and petitioned the NJC that Ambrussa should be replaced.

The entire panel was dissolved and a new panel headed by Justice Ikpejime was constituted to hear the petition. Other members of the Ikpejimi panel tribunal were Justices Vincent Ofosi and A. I. Kutigi.

The people of the state are waiting to see how the case will be eventually settled as Omisore has vowed to pursue his petition to the Supreme Court which is now the final bus stop for governorship election petition.