Security Men Avert Crisis At Cross River Election Tribunal | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Security Men Avert Crisis At Cross River Election Tribunal

Posted: Sep 29, 2015 at 5:09 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


By Nsa Gill, Calabar


IT took a reinforcement of security personnel to calm frayed nerves at the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Calabar, Cross River State, on Tuesday, September 29, 2015, as facts emerged that the panel would not sit as scheduled.

The failure of the panel to sit was attributed to a fresh application from the lead counsel to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates challenging the competence of the tribunal chairman to continue presiding.

Some petitioners and their supporters for the five cases listed for the day had filled to court room to the brim earlier before the scheduled time that was given for the tribunal to resume sitting, but when it was passed the three man tribunal lead by Justice Christopher Awubra send for the lead counsel in the matters to come into the judges’ chamber for a conference, tension began to mount.

When the lawyers came out from the brief conference meeting with the judges, facts emerged that tribunal may not sit because the lead counsel to the PDP candidates, Paul Erokoro (SAN) brought a fresh application on technical grounds, questioning the competence of the tribunal chairman to continue presiding over matters as he is a serving Customary Court judge in Taraba State Judiciary instead of a serving High Court Judge as provided for by the constitution on establishment of the electoral tribunal.

The tribunal had already delivered two judgments in matters that were brought before them and struck out few others.

The five cases that were listed for the day include those of Senator Gershom Bassey of the PDP versus Senator Prince Bassey Otu of Labour Party; Hon. Bassey Ewa of the PDP versus Dr. Alex Egbonna of Labour Party and Senator Rose Oko of the PDP and Dr. Julius Okpotu of Labour Party.

Others were Hon. Essien Ayi of the PDP versus Hon. Dominic Aqua-Edem of Labour Party and Hon. Chris Agibe of the PDP and the Labour Party candidate in Ikom/Etung Federal Constituency.

All the cases were mostly for adoption of written addresses before judgment dates would be given as all the parties had concluded their defence and prosecutions.

After over two hours of delay, there was tension as angry and anxious supporters engaged in a shouting match.

This led the court clerk, Innocent Akidi, to call for calm, while security men were brought in as there was an announcement that the tribunal would not sit and that all matters for the day had been adjourned to Monday October 5, 2015.

Counsel to Senator Prince Bassey Otu of Labour Party, Essien Andrew, who is challenging the election of Senator Gershom of the PDP, confirmed that there was a fresh application from Paul Erokoro (SAN), which led to the development, but he refused to speak further.

He rather directed all enquiries to Erokoro.

Erokoro told our correspondent that he discovered a provision in the constitution that requires a chairman of electoral tribunal to be a sitting High Court judge and not a judge of Customary Court, which the presiding chairman, Justice Christopher Awubra, is.

According to him, “The tribunal chairman had admitted to our position that he is a Judge of Customary Court in Taraba State Judiciary, but that he was not the one that appointed himself.

“He was appointed by the President of the Court of Appeal and he will have to consult before letting us know their position”.

Many supporters of the petitioners in court rained abuses on Irokoro in and out of court room querying his move to scuttle all the progress made by the tribunal so far, now that it was close to judgment day, more so, now that over 145 days had been spent out of the constitutionally provided 180 days for all election matters to be concluded.

Fears by many respondents interviewed in court were that “if the challenge of competence against the tribunal chairman is upheld, hopes of justice for the petitioners would have been technically scuttled as no new tribunal chairman if appointed, may be able to start afresh in all the matters and conclude in barely 30 days that is remaining.

Erokoro was escorted out of the court premises by heavily armed policemen in six pick-up vans, as some supporters of interested parties in the matters kept raining abuses on him as he drove out of the court premises.