The Lagos State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal on Thursday held that the Alliance for Democracy (AD) cannot file additional evidence against the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at the ongoing proceedings challenging his victory at the March 9 gubernatorial polls.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Sanwo-Olu, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the INEC residential electoral commissioner were listed as respondents to the petitions.
Other respondents are the returning officer for The Lagos State Governorship Election, the commissioner of police and the Nigerian Army.
Mr Bola Aidi, Counsel for AD; its gubernatorial candidate, Chief Owolabi Salis, the Labour Party (LP) and Mr Ifagbemi Awamaridi, its gubernatorial candidate had via a motion, sought to file an additional schedule to his final written addresses.
Aidi said that vital facts essential to guiding the tribunal in arriving at its judgment were omitted, due to the set limit of 40-pages for final written addresses provided in Section 5(a) of the Election Petitions Tribunal Practice Direction, 2011.
The three-man panel, in two separate rulings, however, stated that the two separate applications of AD and LP, seeking to file additional evidence lacked merit.
Justice T. T. Asua, the Chairman of the Tribunal, while ruling on LP’s petition challenging Sanwo-Olu’s victory, said the application was in breach of the practice direction of the tribunal.
“It is not clear why the vital facts sought to be introduced were not made available in the evidence and pleadings of counsel.
“The petitioners have by their own showing established Section 5(a) Election Petitions Tribunal Practice Direction, 2011 with their final written address being 40-pages. Raising the pages of the final written address will clearly be a breach.
“We agree that granting their application will be tantamount to smuggling evidence, the application lacks merit and is hereby struck out.”
Justice A. M. Anka, while reading the ruling for AD’s petition challenging Sanwo-Olu’s victory noted that the law does not make provision for filing of vital or additional facts.
“Mr Bola Aidi did not at the time of taking a date did not notify the tribunal of any plan to request for the filing of schedules.
“The request of the petitioner, if granted will lead to an amendment which will not be allowed at this stage.
“This application is regarded as time wasting, lifeless, dead on arrival and deserves a befitting burial,” Anka said.
Following the rulings, the counsel to the petitioners and respondents in the two suits adopted their final written addresses.
Asua, the Chairman of the tribunal, reserved the date of judgment to be communicated to counsel by the registrar of the tribunal.
On Aug. 6, the Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos had ordered the tribunal, sitting in Ikeja to resume hearing of the petitions filed by the two candidates.
A five-man panel of the appellate court led by Justice Hussein Mukthar upturned the June 17, 2019 decision of the tribunal.
The tribunal had dismissed the petitions by Salis and Awamaridi on the grounds of abandonment and failing to file an application for pre-hearing conference within seven days as prescribed by the law.
The appellate court, however, held that the tribunal failed to check its own record of proceedings before giving the verdict.
Earlier during Thursday’s proceedings, Aidi, Counsel to AD and LP had made applications seeking to file additional evidence.
During the hearing of AD’s petition, Aidi had via an application dated Sep. 1, sought an order to file additional schedule to the final written address already served.
“I will also be seeking further orders the tribunal may deem fit to make in the circumstance,” he said.
Mr K. Ekwueme, the Counsel to INEC, INEC residential electoral commissioner and the returning officer for The Lagos State Governorship Election, however, opposed Aidi’s application.
Ekwueme argued that the application was aimed at distorting procedural fairness.
“At the eleventh hour, they brought an application in order to overreach the respondents and receive a procedural advantage.
“The law is settled that the court will not admit a litigant to ambush others,” he said.
Opposing AD’s request to file additional evidence, Mr Biodun Owonikoko (SAN), Counsel to Sanwo-Olu, said “the petitioners have filed their final written address and the respondents have responded.
“They now want to introduce new facts, data and extensive schedules. It is obvious that they are not entitled to this application,” Owonikoko argued.
During the hearing of LP’s petition, Aidi the counsel for LP had asked for an order extending time within which to file the reply to the seventh defendant (the Nigerian Army).
Aidi had also via a second application dated Sep. 2 and supported by a 12-paragraph affidavit, requested for an order seeking leave to file additional schedules to the final written address of the petitioners that have been already filed.
However, counsel to the APC, Mr Tunde Falola, had along with other counsel to the respondents, opposed Aidi’s application to file additional evidence.
“This application is premised on inadmissible evidence; the deponent of the affidavit is not competent to make those facts.
‘He is neither a counsel to this petition and he did not state the circumstances upon which he received the information, contrary to Section 115(4) of the Evidence Act.
“Secondly, the Election Petitions Tribunal Practice Direction does not accommodate introduction of further evidence after the conclusion of the case,” he said.