But for legal stumbling blocks, Sir Celestine Omehia, former governor of Rivers State and governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, during the April 2011 governorship election, would have testified on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, before the election tribunal set up to retry the petition filed by him against the victory of Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
A large crowd escorted him to the tribunal to give his evidence.
However, the legal stumbling blocks prevailed and the former governor could not testify as was expected.
As the case was called up, Counsel for Governor Amaechi and Engr. Tele Ikuru, I. A. Adedipe SAN, leading, O. A. Dare and R. Isamotu, told the Tribunal that he had filed a simple motion dated February 4, 2012, praying for leave to bring the application to the hearing session, seeking to strike off some paragraphs of the claimants applications.
Adedipe argued that when there is an issue pending, it is not right to keep it in abeyance and then coming back to it.
“A motion in a case must be determined before proceeding. It is not in tandem to keep it in abeyance,” Adedipe stated.
J. C. Ezike, counsel to Sir Omehia tried his best to convince the Tribunal to continue with the issue of the day. He said the motion was just served the previous day and that it was simply brought to shoot the matter on its foot
“Let the trial go on while the motion is on too. Delay will defeat the cause of justice as we have only seven days. The motion is not ripe for hearing but the matter is ripe,” Ezike tried to convince the judges.
However, just as he was struggling to defeat the first motion, E. C. Ukala, SAN, counsel for INEC, leading N. F. Odire Gafa and Dike Udenna, got up and stated that he too filed a motion to strike out some paragraphs.
“They made allegations of crime. The issue is one of competence in the sense that it is founded on fundamental right to fair hearing. This is the appropriate time to raise it being pre-hearing. It is based on S.36 of the constitution. The allegations of crime against some persons not here, has to be struck out,” Ukala stated.
He said it is necessary for them to know the extent they would go during cross-examination and that it is there right to fair hearing to know the issues they are facing.
Ezike argued that they were served right in the court and that the case would go on as they are not entitled to be heard as a matter of urgency.
“In circumstances where time is of essence, the court can proceed and come back. It can be sorted out in the course of the substantive trial proceedings. He served us right now and wants it heard. He had seven days and never asked for extension. We have 13 witnesses. There is no time. They are not entitled to be hard as a matter of urgency”, Ezike pleaded.
The counsel for the PDP, Ighodalo Ahmadu-Bello, leading L. O. O. Ope, H. A. Fajemije and E. O. Kalu, told the court the importance of what Adedipe and Ukala were insisting on.
“They are saying that the issue is indispensable. The party has not been joined. When you have allegations against persons not joined, that must be determined first,” he stated.
The judges retired to their chamber and resumed an hour later and ruled that the applications be taken before trial.
The case was adjourned till Friday February 10, 2012.
J. C. Ezike, led Chief S. Elekima, Dennis Dema, T. U. Mma, K. S. Elenwo, M. I. Okonny and C. O. Ejezie.
The former governor, Sir Celestine Omehia, had instituted petition No. EPT/GOV/PH102/2011 against Governor Amaechi, Engr. Tele Ikuru, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, protesting against the declaration of Gov. Amaechi as the winner of the April 2011 governorship election.
An earlier tribunal dismissed the petition of Omehia prompting him to run to the court Appeal which ordered the retrial of the case by another tribunal.
When on Monday, December 12, 2011, the tribunal resumed hearing, the defendant vehemently argued against the retrieval.
“The crux of the matter is an interpretation of section 285(6). This petition is dead, notwithstanding the order for retrieval,” I.A. Adedipe, SAN, counsel for governor Amaechi, argued against the retrial, adding “The petition was filed on 17th of May, 2011, today is 12th December, your Lordship is not entitled to hear it.”
He was supported by Ighodalo Ahmadu Bello, counsel for the PDP, who stated, “Your Lordship cannot revive a petition that has elapsed. The court of Appeal sent it back to be tried within the confines of section 285. We urge your lordship to strike out the petition.”
Resuming on Monday, January 23, 2012, the election Tribunal disregarded the arguments of the defendants and ruled in favour of Sir. Omehia, thus opening the gates for a retrial.
The case came up again on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 and this time the Independent Electoral Commission fought to stop the witnesses of Sir Omehia from giving evidence.
Again, Sir Omehia scaled through and the tribunal ruled against INEC’s plea and fixed February 6, 2012 for parties to present their cases.
APGA asked for four days to prove its case. INEC and PDP also requested for four days, while Gov. Amaechi, and his deputy, Tele Ikuru said they needed five days each.
The adjourned date fell on a public holiday and Wednesday, February 8, 2012 was taken for Sir. Omehia to open his case.
As usual, it would be battle royal again as each party gets set to fire all arsenals to convince the Election Tribunal to adopt its argument.