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Ekiti Tribunal: SDP fails to provide evidence of alleged election malpractices

The Election Petition Tribunal hearing the dispute arising from the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti State on Wednesday resumed hearing as the witnesses of the petitioners presented their evidence.

The first witness, the state Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr Dele Ekunola, was the first to enter the witness box where he was grilled for one hour, thirty-five minutes by lawyers to the Respondents.

It was the continuation of the hearing of the petition filed by the SDP candidate at the last governorship election.

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Segun Oni, is challenging the return of the Governor-elect who stood as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Biodun Oyebanji as the winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Oyebanji is the 1st Respondent while the Deputy Governor-elect is the 5th Respondent. Mai Mala Buni is the 3rd Respondent while INEC is the 4th Respondent in the petition.

Under cross-examination by the counsel to the 2nd Respondent, Akin Olujinmi (SAN), Ekunola failed to mention the names of the units and the wards where electoral malpractices he alleged in his witness statement on oath took place.

Ekunola also failed to mention the names of individuals he referred to as the agents of the 2nd Respondents whom he accused in Paragraph 16 of his witness statement on oath of allegedly distributing between N5,000 and N10,000 to voters on election day.

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The SDP Chairman also failed to substantiate his allegation in Paragraph 32 of his witness statement on oath that the 1st Respondent, Oyebanji and the 2nd Respondent, APC, supplied some voters with voter cards to give undue advantage to the ruling party at the poll.

Ekunola was also taken up on a pre-election case with Suit Number FHC/AD/CS/5/2022 filed by Senator Dayo Adeyeye admitting that he (Ekunola) was not a party to that suit which he cited as a reference in his witness statement on oath.

When asked by Olujinmi whether he was aware that the suit had been withdrawn, Ekunola told the Tribunal that he was not aware of the withdrawal of the suit as he was not a member of APC.

Olujinmi sought to tender the Certified True Copy of the proceedings of that case as an exhibit before the Tribunal which was opposed by counsel to the Petitioners, Mr. Obafemi Adewale (SAN).

Adewale told the Tribunal that he would reserve the reasons for the opposition to the admissibility of the documents for the address stage.

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Under cross-examination by counsel to 1st and 5th Respondents, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), Ekunola admitted that he did not ask for a prayer that the candidate of his party, Oni, be declared as winner on his witness statement on oath even though he had made such prayer during his examination-in-chief.

Even though Ekunola tendered the APC constitution before the Tribunal, he admitted, under cross-examination by Fagbemi, that he was not familiar with the provisions of the ruling party’s constitution.

He also admitted under cross-examination by Fagbemi that Dare Akinwale and Mr. Oluwapelumi Afowoju were in the SDP Situation Room on the day of the election.

Ekunola further admitted that Exhibit A4-A12 and Exhibit A17-A24 were not listed nor attached to his witness statement on oath.

The party chair told the Tribunal that he was at his polling unit in Okemesi Ekiti in Ekiti West Local Government on the election day and that he was aware there was a ban on human and vehicular movement on that day.

He agreed with the 1st Petitioner’s counsel that all political parties held their primary elections where they chose their candidates including the governorship primaries.

Responding to questions from counsel to 3rd Respondent (Buni), Mr. Umar Abdulhameed, Ekunola agreed that governorship candidates emerged from the state congresses conducted by political parties.

He also agreed that it was the duty of the parties to transmit the names of the winners of the primaries to INEC for confirmation and further documentation.

Answering questions from counsel to 4th Respondent (INEC), Mr. Chris Onwugbonu, told the Tribunal that he voted peacefully at his unit and nobody stopped him from voting.

When asked how he performed his franchise, Ekunola said he walked into the voting cubicle after being accredited and given ballot papers. He said it was not every voter that underwent the normal steps before voting.

Cross-examined further by INEC counsel to mention the names of voters who did not go through the normal process, Ekunola failed to mention any name in his evidence. He added that he didn’t visit any other local government area apart from his native Ekiti West on poll day.

Ekunola was discharged from the witness box at about 12.40pm for the Tribunal to continue hearing at 2.30pm.

Earlier in the day, Ekunola during his examination-in-chief by counsel to Petitioners, Adewale, described himself as a “professional politician” after which he sought to tender some documents.

Lawyers to all the Respondents objected to the admissibility of the documents which include letters written by Ekunola in his capacity as SDP Chairman.

Lawyers to Respondents said they would defer their reasons for objection to the address stage.

Earlier, Onwugbonu told the five-member panel that he had applied for a motion on notice to set aside a subpoena issued by the Tribunal which he said, was filed on October 3.

Adewale who informed that his client was served on October 4 said he intended to vigorously oppose the application with the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Wilfred Kpochi directing that the panel should go ahead with the business of the day as parties were given sufficient time to file their processes.

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