BY LATEEF DARE RAJI
Since the setting up of the various Election Petition Tribunals across the country following protest over the April Elections, the Judiciary has been getting raving accolades as the tribunals delivered judgments. To the people, at least the judiciary is helping to clear the Augean stable of political confusion created by the combination of the Independent National Electoral Commission under Maurice Iwu and the Peoples Democratic Party led Federal Government under the imperial ruler, General Olusegun Obasanjo. However, this is not the case in the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal under Justice Thomas Naron.
The judgment denying us the presentation of the forensic reports conducted by Mr. Adrian Forty, a witness in our petition is in bad faith. The tribunal betrayed its prejudice when it took it upon itself to advance the position of the defense counsel rather than concern itself to the issue raised in the report which it was well aware has been pleaded.
Disconcerting in the ruling was the submission that a witness lied that he was present at the inspection. It has been argued that the Tribunal over-reached itself in this regard but in view of such posit, it is only appropriate to give an eye witness account of the whole exercise because I am involved.
I am involved because Engr. Rauf Aregbesola and the Action Congress are essential part of my functionality as a politician and a Nigerian who craves a better life for the generality of our people. I am convinced that the duo could bring these virtues to bear on the polity in Osun State. For what it is worth, like the good people of Osun State, without any doubt in my mind, I believe the Action Congress represented by Engr. Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola won the April 14 Governorship Election home and dry. The defendants know this and the good people of Osun State too do.
Even while the intimidations and harassments by the combination of the military drafted from the Garrison Headquarters in Ibadan in collaboration with the police hierarchy in Osun State Command were very intense, a team was set up to start work on the petition and physical inspection of materials used in the elections. Under this very tense and unfriendly state of affairs, we went about our work as diligently as we could.
In our team were, Mr. Basiru Ajibola, an activist legal practitioner who is fast acquiring repute in the profession and a member of our legal team leading other lawyers. Mr. Wale Afolabi, a former Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly and AC lawyer based in Oshogbo, leading others in his chambers. Bayo Badmus, a lawyer in our legal team at the tribunal. There is also Mr. Bayo Ojo, a renowned author, critic and activist, Mr. Abiodun Kolawole (Arole), veteran activist and intellectual, Mr. Adeola Olayiwola, political activist, Mr. Richard Tinubu, project consultant, Mr. Dele Ogunshakin an astute politician.
There was also Tunde Yadeka, representative of Mr. Adrian Forty, who led a team of software experts and the members of the Youth Solidarity (YS), a ten thousand-membership organization that includes, Mr. Akindele Omowunmi, Abeeb Lawal, Owolanwi Luqman, Olaore Fatai, Busari Rasaq, Adegbile Adiru and Wasiu Tiamiyu. They represent the foot soldiers of our campaigns in Osun State and the subsequent victories we recorded in the elections but for the conspiracy between INEC and the PDP clique who colluded to rob the people of their votes by allocating votes unmeritoriously to the sinking Oyinlola and his gang of revelers.
There was also a formidable team in Lagos that backed up the storage facilities and kept detailed records and requirements for the eventual biometrics. The Lagos office was manned by Mr. Bayo Ojo and he worked with arrays of young talented men that include, Efe Brume, Niyi, Niran, Pastor Gbenga, Jide, Fred, Lanre, Jude, Pastor Favour, Chrstianah, Joy, Tayo, Bolaji, Segun, Akin, Michael, Gold, Emmanuel, Mojeed, Kingsley and the two twins who both answer Taiwo.
Our findings at the physical inspection stage would interest Nigerians. Howbeit, it is important to let Nigerians into few of the shockers. First, considering the fact that the election were held in April, by the time we commenced work in May, ballot papers used in Ife South were so lumped that it was difficult to determine particularly where the ballot papers were used. Your guess that it was to create confusion is as good as mine is. In Odo-Otin, where General Oyinlola came from, all Form EC8A presented were written on pieces of paper!
Like you, dear reader, we know what this means, no election in the true sense of the word took place in Odo-Otin. Generally, in all the Local Governments we are contesting, there were huge numerical differences in the number of ballot papers presented for inspection and the figures recorded for the elections. Figures were merely allotted and to the piper. The revelation that ballot papers meant for Ondo State were found in Osun State should not surprise you. While we waited for April 14 to cast our votes, some people had actually voted two weeks earlier.
To prove beyond all shades of doubts that Oyinlola and the PDP actually rigged the elections through collusion with INEC, we listed in the petition an expert witness Mr. Adrian Forty, a world acclaimed forensic expert, to clarify scientifically details of the nature of each ballot paper and if it qualifies as a valid vote. The tribunal granted our relief to scan the ballot papers for forensic analysis. That now is its cross. Could it be that the tribunal in granting the relief does not anticipate the level of rots that would be unearthed or it simply does not understand the process and procedure involved? It would be tragic! Once again, the team went back to work.
It is important to mention that to facilitate our work at the INEC office and ensure safety of the materials, which are essentially the ballot papers used in the election; INEC attached one of its senior officers, Mr. Musa Abdullahi. Precisely, Musa’s job was to lead groups of our junior staff to accompany the EO’s to the store in bringing out those sensitive election materials for inspection and scanning. In the course of this exercise, our junior staff signs attendance and this we understand is for the purpose of security. I challenge INEC to produce similar attendance list signed by any of our senior officers or even any of the respondents. It is curious Ojo Williams’s name does not appear on the register even for the few days he was there. Howbeit, I want to believe Musa was coerced one way or the other to swear to the affidavit he deposed to. In addition, the State Security Service also kept two of its men permanently on the job to keep vigil. They watch and follow events keenly. They never keep any open records but one would be naïve to think they do not send their reports to the appropriate offices.
The position of the tribunal is worrisome that the forensic analysis took place in the United Kingdom. Pray, what does it take from the facts it represents? I see it merely as a ploy to ridicule the entire country because there is no record of any functional forensic laboratory in Nigeria yet. I expect our learned judges to know this. On the other hand, could the judges be techno phobic? Forensic analysis had come to form an integral part of knowledge in the day-to-day explanation of life in such diverse areas as medicine and Computers and we cannot claim to be an exception in this regard. What we did was to scan all the ballot papers, stored them in high capacity storage facility and sent same for forensic analysis. For a clearer understanding, scanning a document simply means converting the image into digital or electronic form for further storage, retrieval, and transmission. It does not add or remove the original value from the document. In medicine, rather than undergoing the rigor of surgery, scanning comes handy.
It is also important to point out that as soon as the court granted us the relief to scan the materials, the respondent in absolute disregard to the Tribunal insisted that they would be part of it. Mr. Ojo Williams advanced this argument, an Osogbo based lawyer in the defense team and since we had nothing to hide, we accepted the extra-judicial interpretation of the Administrative Secretary of INEC. Mr. Ojo Williams apparently after consultation, sent a team of seven PDP members to start recording the serial numbers on each of the ballot papers we scanned with a view to discover if what we are scanning are genuine and to understudy us with the likely hints to know what exactly we were doing.
Nevertheless, these people failed woefully. They just could not comprehend what was going on. Mildly put, they know these things type words and figures but thoroughly lost on its current operation. The job they were given was also very overwhelming. There is no way any human being could cope with the work at the pace the machine was working. Nearly two weeks on the job, their frustration was apparent and they quit. I suspected after the first three days, their boss was no longer interested even Ojo Williams stopped coming and nobody really cared about them. In my usual nature, I made friends with them throwing banters at them. More than once, I offered them each a bottle of Coca-Cola and baked flour, which they never rejected. At a point, they expressed their frustration that they do not know why they were there. Poor people I concluded.
Further, for every copy of ballot paper we scanned, we paid INEC N10.00 to obtain the Certified True Copy. Typical of the Nigerian System, we went there with our scanning machines, which included high resolutions Notebooks totaling twelve, printers of the same number with special features to print both sides of the paper automatically, our papers and our sets of generators all to ensure that we did our work within the period set by the Tribunal. The noise of a combination of three generating sets was too much for INEC very senior officers, after almost two weeks, they volunteered the use of the INEC generating set provided we could buy 150 liters of diesel daily. A colleague on the job told me these people could not afford to buy diesel because only one man keeps the purse, Resident Electoral Commissioner. We accepted and did this for eleven days before we rounded up.
It is important to mention that the assignment was not as easy as narrated. We suffered lots of set backs with malfunctioning equipment that at critical moments we had to place order for new imports. In more than five occasions, the Sharp Nigeria Engineer had to travel to Oshogbo when the local sales shop could not offer us necessary technical advice to look over the machines with little successes. To overcome the adversity, we resorted to using large numbers of smaller devices. In fixing the machines, we had to stay overnight to strengthen the engineer.
With these graphic and minute details of what happened, it is easier to conclude who is paying the piper at the Tribunal. Our experiences at the Thomas Naron led Tribunal prepared us for this judgment. It is disheartening though, but the Tribunal has been swimming in contradictions since it resumed. At a point the Tribunal granted a subpoena that EO’s appear in court and produce election materials but refused that the EO’s be sworn-in and cross examined. In another instance, the Electoral Act 2006 conferred the power to inspect election materials for the purpose of instituting a case and maintaining a case but each time we sought to present our report on same, Justice Naron will reject it despite the fact that his tribunal granted the relief in the first place. In another instance, the tribunal insists that we attach the witness statement of EO’s to our application when the EO’s are our adversaries. Pray, have you ever heard a thief admit he stole without forcing him to tell the truth? This has been our lot in the Thomas Naron led Tribunal but this would not shake our belief in the Nigerian judiciary. We have absolute faith in the ray of light shown on Election Petition at the Appeal Court and believing our cause is just, we would get justice.