A Positive Step

•The Court Of Appeal Verdict Awakens New Hopes For Osun State

THE ruling of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan on Monday raised hope of obtaining substantive justice on the Osun State governorship election. It seems the mist is being cleared as the light is shining bright.

The Appeal Court ordered fresh trial of the petition filed by Rauf Aregbesola, the candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in the April 14, 2007 governorship election in the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared the incumbent governor, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the winner, on questionable grounds, when the facts and logic point to a different direction.

Aregbesola was quick to approach the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal for redress, but, to everyone’s chagrin, and in what would go down in the annals of election petition in Nigeria as the height of travesty, the tribunal awarded the petition to Oyinlola.

The tribunal in its judgment of July 15 last year had dismissed the witness of Mr Adrian Forty, a forensic expert from the United Kingdom, who was able to demonstrate through analysis of election materials that the elections in 12 local governments were manipulated. It became curious because the tribunal, ab initio, gave the go-ahead for the forensic analysis of Mr Forty but turned around to reject its admission as evidence.

The Justice Thomas Naron tribunal also refused to admit as evidence, the police report on the election which corroborated Mr Forty’s witness on the ground that it constitutes official secret.

But, in a unanimous decision delivered by the residing judge, Justice Victor Omage, the Court of Appeal held that the refusal of the tribunal to admit the two evidences amounts to a miscarriage of justice. In his words, “it is necessary to avoid a perverse judgment. The appellant should have been allowed to support his appeal with all the documents tendered. Documents are the best evidence in election matters, as they assist in determining the case”. On Forty’s forensic evidence, the higher court argues thus: “I have diligently looked at the interlocutory appeal and found that dismissing the application for submission of the report was wrong”.

In concluding, the court directed a retrial of the petition afresh. Though the judgment is short of expectation, which at best is the declaration of the petitioner the winner and his immediate swearing in, or at a lesser level, that fresh election be conducted in the disputed 12 local governments, it is still a positive step which sets the tone for what to expect at the retrial. Considering that the two contentious issues resolved in favour of the petitioner are weighty and capable of tilting the case in his favour, there is hope that the cause of justice would be served.

The judgment has also rescued the judiciary from opprobrium and ignominy which the blatantly partisan and skewed judgment of the tribunal was plunging it. The Thomas Naron-led tribunal had become the object of public ridicule since the publication of the call log of the conversation and text messages exchanged between members of the tribunal and Governor Oyinlola’s legal team. It is an indictment of Justice Naron whose conduct has brought the judiciary into disrepute.

It is also comforting that science has been vindicated. Forensic analysis of election materials is an exact science that hardly needs a second opinion. The application of this technology to electoral disputes would have aided the cause of justice and this invaluable service would have been lost if its evidence had been rejected.

The time is long gone and the petitioner could have been wearied, but with the Court of Appeal’s judgment, hope springs eternal. We hope that a new tribunal would be constituted as soon as possible, and the trial concluded expeditiously. Delayed justice could still end in denied justice.

•Culled from THE NATION

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