By Adebayo Adedeji
As Pre-hearing starts today at the Osun Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, parties to the suits will now have opportunities to prove their positions before a panel of justices headed by Justice Tertsea Aorga Kume. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governornship candidate, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola are the petitioners, while the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC), Senator Ademola Adeleke and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents respectively. The petitioners are challenging the emergence of Ademola Adeleke on three grounds: (a) That at the time of the election, he was not qualified to contest the election, (b) That he was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election and (c)That his election was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
Specifically, the petitioners claim Adeleke submitted forged academic credentials to the electoral body contrary to extant laws; and that votes in 749 polling, as shown by the Certified True Copy of BVAS report issued to them by INEC on 29th July 2022, were tainted on account of over-voting. The petitioners want the Tribunal to cancel the controversial votes because “Where the number of votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceeds the number of accredited voters in that polling unit,” according to Section 51 (2) of the 2022 Electoral Act, “the presiding officer shall cancel the result of the election in that polling unit.”
In their defence, the respondents inadvertently agreed over-voting took place in a handful of polling units and not in 749 polling units as the petitioners want the Tribunal to believe.
Of note, the electoral body holds that BVAS report which it duly issued to the petitioners on July 29, and which they relied upon to file their petition, is no longer tenable because it was incomplete and “un-syncronised” at the time it was issued to them and a new version — a complete and “synchronised” BVAS report — has since been issued to Adeleke and his party.
Quoting INEC verbatim, “There were lots of errors on the unsynchronized BVAS Report dated 29th July, 2022, as a result of non-synchronization of data information with the primary BVAS Machine as at the date of application and issuance which resulted in false over voting in the 750 polling units challenged in the petition.
“The non-synchronization of the said BVAS Report dated 29th July, 2022 with data information on Primary BVAS machine resulted into some erroneous entries which resulted to false over voting, and which affected both the petitioners, the 2nd and 3rd respondents and all contestants in their respective polling units.
The 1st respondent avers that the errors on the face of the BVAS report dated 29th July, 2022 due to the non-syncronisation with the data of BVAS machine also resulted to false over-voting in 1001 polling units where the petitioners won in the election.
“The unsynchronized BVAS Report dated 29th July, 2022 was superseded by the BVAS Report dated 22nd August, 2022 and which was a duly synchronized BVAS Report with primary BVAS Machine used in the 16th July, 2022 Osun State Governorship Election.”
However, is the position being canvassed by the electoral body, that “false over-voting” took place in 1001 polling units, not mind-boggling in view that as the umpire, it is not expected to project a stance capable of tarnishing the integrity of the poll it conducted? Is the INEC not bound by the Doctrine of Estoppel which, in Section 169 of the Evidence Act 2011, says “when one person has either by…act or omission, intentionally caused or permitted another person to believe a thing to be true and to act upon such belief, neither he nor his representative in interest shall be allowed, in any proceedings between himself and such person or such person’s representatives in interest, to deny the truth of that thing.”?
Another disturbing scenario: the governorship election was conducted July 16, the petitioners applied for certified true copy of BVAS report July 18, INEC granted the application July 29; but strangely, INEC turned around on August 22, 36 days after the election was conducted, to issue a fresh CTC of BVAS report to PDP and its candidate. Is this not an afterthought?
Will the Tribunal validate the petitioners’ claim that INEC is covering up fraud with its technical introduction of synchronisation? Is INEC’s “synchronisation” actually a euphemism for figure manipulation? The Tribunal, it is hoped, will address these puzzles in the days to come.
The Tribunal, at the Pre-hearing conference, is to consider filing and adoption of written addresses on all interlocutory applications, order of witnesses and tendering of documents that will be necessary, amending petition or reply or any other processes.
In short, the Pre-hearing is held to consider matters that will promote the quick disposal of the petition. It shall be held day to day for 14 days before the main hearing begins.