Osun Election Tribunal: The Drama, The Facts, The Verdict By Adekunle Owolabi

LAW2Friday, 6th February, 2015 must have gone down well as another day of defeat for the Osun State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). If anything, it amounts to an icing on the cake for the victory secured at the poll by the Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.

It was a day the PDP lost on all grounds in the 17 local governments it contested the outcome of the August 9, 2014 governorship election. PDP had approached the Election Petitions Tribunal to challenge Aregbesola’s victory in the August 9th 2014 governorship poll.

Couple of days to the judgment, PDP executives had reportedly procured colourful uniform attires (aso ebi), distributed to their members and bought cows which were to be slaughtered in celebration of an anticipated victory at the tribunal.

Alas, their expectations were not met; they went home empty-handed. The rest is history as the PDP suffered its second defeat in a row within six months.

But beyond the victory is the conduct of the tribunal, the soundness of the judgment and the thoroughness with which the tribunal members handled all the matters before it.

To start with, the PDP governorship candidate challenged the result of the elections in 17 out of 30 local governments in the state.

And on judgment day, the 3-man election tribunal left no one in doubt that the judgment will not be brief because of the litany of issues involved even though early enough, the tribunal had given clear indications of where the pendulum was swinging.

The judgment thus lasted seven and half hours with every issue closely scrutinized before pronouncement. Again, the tribunal chose to pronounce its judgment and went on also to adduce facts and give reasons for arriving at the judgment they gave.

For instance, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Elizabeth Ikpejieme, in her judgment on the eligibility of the petition brought by PDP and Omisore ruled that Omisore failed with his inability to file his reply within the five days stipulated under the law.

The tribunal Chairman held that the five days the appellants had, according to 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) commenced on the day they were served on 9th October, 2014 and lapsed on 13th October, 2014 saying the days under the law included Sunday which the appellant tried to exclude from the five days.

According to her, the filling of the case by the Appellant of the reply on 14th October ran counter to the law, saying that the law is settled when it stated the method and dates to follow in filling reply.

Beside the issue of abandonment of the case by the Appellant, the tribunal noted that for the purpose of fair hearing, the tribunal would go on in delivering its judgment on the substantive case.

In essence, the petition ought to be thrown out ab initio for failure to file the petition as and when due as stipulated by law.

Yet, the tribunal, in an attempt to uphold one of the pillars of natural justice – Fair Hearing – did not throw out the petition based on technicality.

Rather, it chose to look at the petition on its face value and then pronounce on it. Good for the judiciary that this panel did not do a shoddy or lazy job or go on an adjudicating jamboree.

In their unanimous decision, the tribunal gave reasons for its decision in all the contentious grounds.

It was after this painstaking examinations that the tribunal pointed out in its judgment that the PDP and its candidate, Iyiola Omisore failed abysmally to prove their case in the 17 local governments being challenged, holding that the petition lacks diligent prosecution and substantial evidence.

Not done, the chairman held that, for the petitioner not to have satisfactorily proved his case in any of the 17 local governments, the panel has no reason to void the election.

Hence, the tribunal returned Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola the duly elected governor in the August 9 election and dismissed the case of the petitioner.

Given the theatrics that preceded the delivery of the judgment by the. tribunal, it was no surprise that the entire Osun state went wild in jubilation in apparent applause of what was believed was another instance in the Judiciary holding its head high up in a country where sleaze has crept into every aspect of national life.

It was a matter of anxiety whether the judiciary would upturn what the people who voted were convinced was the accurate outcome of their electoral decisions on August 9 2014 or justice would be seen to have been served.

The current attempt by the Judiciary to cleanse itself of the bad eggs is a as a result of the many cases of perversion of the cause of justice in recent political history of the country. That the National Judicial Commission (NJC) had wielded the big stick on some erring judges over amazing perverted verdicts are ample reasons to believe that sleaze had entered that revered arm of the government.

Could the PDP have bought the judgment of the tribunal and that was the basis of their jubilation ahead of the actual delivery of judgment? That was the question on the lips of many as they watched with bated breath the decision of the tribunal.

Agreed that there was no substance in the Omisore/PDP petition which was the position that the tribunal eventually took, the orchestrated jubilation days before the verdict was delivered became a matter of concern to the mass of the Osun people who could not but wonder on the basis of the pre-judgment celebration by the PDP loyalists.

It would definitely go down as a classical case of illusory grandeur; one ballooned by ignorance, crass ambition and baseless optimism to have ever dreamt that something good could come out of the candidate’s journey to the tribunal.

This was why even INEC’s counsel alongside other two counsel also submitted that Omisore’s petition lacked merit and should be thrown out because of paucity of evidence.
It therefore will amount to standing logic on its head for the PDP and Omisore to laugh last as they built nothing on something. In law, this can’t stand.

And when the judgement was finally delivered, the evidential castle upon which Omisore and PDP had built on a quicksand crumbled like a pack of cards.

Beyond rhetoric, the Osun Tribunal has set a standard for other tribunals in the forthcoming elections.

Explicit judgement like that of Ikpejime, many have come to admit, would accentuate the appeal of such petitions at the Court of Appeal should the Appellant proceed to the appellate court.

The people of the state await what Omisore’s next move will be. Appeal, if he heads towards that, is a foregone conclusion with the Ikepime judgement of February 6.

Owolabi, a journalist and Law Student, writes from Osogbo, Osun State