The much anticipated commencement of the trial proper to determine the petition filed by the All Progressive Congress, APC, challenging the declaration of Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the April 11 governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), turned out to be a non event, when a motion by the respondents, (Governornor Okowa, PDP and INEC) challenging the appearance of a particular witness listed by the petitioners (O’tega Emerhor and APC) stalled proceedings.
The sitting which started later than usual, following what was later revealed as a delay request by Chief Alex Iziyon, SAN, lead Counsel to Governor Okowa, that he had been unavoidable held up as a result of unforeseen circumstances, was poised to commence after the witnesses for the day from the contending parties, had been called in and had taken their seats.
The Three-man Tribunal panel led by Justice Nasiru Gunmi then appeared and took their seats but before the case of the day would be read out, Chief Iziyon, SAN, took leave from the Judges to apologise, with great humility, to both the Tribunal and his co-counsels, over the delay of the commencement of proceedings, occasioned by his late arrival.
His apology was accepted by all but, despite all its well intentioned and genuine honety, it turned out, to be a kind of smoke-screen for what was to transfire, subsequently, as following the introduction of the case and the announcement of appearances by all the contending cousel, Chief Thomson Okopko, lead counsel to Olorogun O’tega Emerhor/APC, promptly informed the Tribunal that he had been served Three motions that very morning, by the Three respondents, challenging the appearance of a particular witness he had already listed and he needed time to respond.
Counsel to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, PDP and INEC, Dr. Alex Izyion (SAN), Chief A.T Keyinde (SAN) and M Nasiru, representing Damien Dodo, SAN, respectively, had filed an application through motion -on- notice, challenging the locus standi of APC and Otega to call a particular witnesses without availing them the opportunity of seeing a deposition of the witness’s statement.
Dr. Izyion, SAN, ably supported by co-lead counsel Chief Ken Mozea, SAN, had argued that, “we were ready to start the trial today as already scheduled, but we were suddenly confronted with subpoena for four witnesses on Thursday, after their application for leave to call additional witnesses had been turned down by the tribunal. We have raised objection to the four new witnesses they are proposing to call, particularly the ones they intend to call today but we ready to commence with the other witnesses they have listed.
“Even the witness statements have not been served on us, so the issue is whether the witness summons was appropriate in the circumstance and that is what we have raised the objection for consideration”.
Izyion however expressed readiness to proceed with the trail with the other witnesses on the list adding that, “we are ready to continue with the substantive trial and continue with the other witnesses and take on the one we are challenging, once the information we are seeking about witness are made available to us. We are ready to commence the trial. Let us open the box and see what is in it, my Lords,” he posited confidently.
Speaking in the same vein, PDP lead Counsel, Chief A.T Kehinde, SAN, even went a step further by vowing to swear an affidavit that he would forgo all other activities, in view of the 180 days slated for the trial, to avoid any further time wasting and ensure that the trial commenced immediately with other witnesses, while the deposition statement of the contentious witness was being addressed by the petitioners.
However, Chief Thomson Okopoko, SAN, lead Counsel to Emerhor/APC, was very particular about the order in which he intended to present his witnesses, saying, “My Lords, I have the right to decide the order in which I want to present my witnesses. The respondents do not have the right to tell me how to do my case. The witness they are challenging is my first witness and it is on his evidence that every other witness evidence will be laid as evidence in chief and that is how I want to proceed with my case.”
Speaking further Chief Okopko said that since his first witness has been challenged by the respondents and there was no way he would respond to their application immediately, he needed time to prepare his response.
“My Lords, I was served these motions by Three Senior Advocates, only this (Monday) morning and considering the fact that I have seven appeals, filed by the same Three Senior Advocates, to address at the Court of Appeal in Benin on Tuesday (the next day), which is expected to take the whole day, the earliest I can prepare my response to their motions challenging my witness will be on Wednesday.”
Suggestions by Dr Iziyon and Chief A.T Kehinde that he should continue with the rest of the witnesses and that he has vibrant junior partners in his chambers he can despatch to handle the appeals matter and thus did not need to appear physically in Benin, were bluntly turned down by Chief Okopko, who insisted that he could not alter the pattern of his case and he needed time to respond to the motions.
After listening to the arguments of all the counsels, the Justice Gunmi led Tribunal adjourned to Thursday, August 20, 2015 for the hearing and possible ruling on the the motion from the respondents.