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How Oyinlola weathered the AC storm at election tribunal

Posted by By GABRIEL DIKE, Osogbo on 2008/07/25 | Views: 2547 |

How Oyinlola weathered the AC storm at election tribunal


As a retired army general, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola had fought many battles at the war front during his career in the military but certainly the challenge of his victory at the April 14, 2007 election by the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress (AC), Engr. Rauf Aregbesola at the First Osun State Election Petition Tribunal would have stretched and tested his political maturity.

As a retired army general, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola had fought many battles at the war front during his career in the military but certainly the challenge of his victory at the April 14, 2007 election by the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Congress (AC), Engr. Rauf Aregbesola at the First Osun State Election Petition Tribunal would have stretched and tested his political maturity.

Since the AC governorship candidate filed his petition at the tribunal challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission's (INEC) declaration of Oyinlola as winner of the April 14, 2007 polls, the governor had been pitted in a war of wits and media campagin by his opponent.

After the April 14, 2007 election, the state witnessed an unprecedented violence leading to the destruction of property and loss of lives occasioned by the protest that greeted the announcement of the results.

After the mayhem that greeted the results of the poll had died down, The AC candidate on May 14, 2007 submitted his voluminous petition to the Justice Thomas Naron -led election petition tribunal sitting in the High Court, Osogbo while Governor Oyinlola equally submitted his response in June and the tribunal commenced its proceedings without delay.

Aregbesola in his petition joined his opponent, Oyinlola together with the PDP, INEC, and the police and many others as co-respondents in the case. He called 102 witnesses who gave their evidence as ward supervisors while Oyinlola presented only 28 witnesses out of 477 his counsels frontloaded while INEC and the police did not call any witness in the case that lasted for almost a year.

The petitioner had alleged that the said election did not comply with the provisions of the 2006 Electoral Act and that Oyinlola was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast during the elections and that the election was marred with violence, rigging, ballot boxes snatching and disruption at 12 local government council areas of Atakumosa West, Ayedade, Boluwaduro, Boripe, Ede North, Ife Central, Ife East, Ife South, Ifedayo, Isokan , Odo-Otin and Ola-Oluwa.

Throughout the case, Aregbesola, who attended the tribunal proceedings once, had commended the panel members the day he was at the court and that he was comfortable with what he saw at the tribunal sitting. But Aregbesola few days later faulted the tribunal when his forensic evidence by Adrian Forty was rejected thus, his counsels proceeded to the Court of Appeal in Ibadan, Oyo State capital to secure a judgment against the lower court but failed.

Oyinlola also visited the court twice to see things for himself and in his remarks applauded the tribunal and expressed satisfaction about the whole process. The governor who witnessed the proceedings with his deputy, Erelu Olusola Obada and other PDP chieftains, told journalists that judiciary remains the last hope of the common man and posited that there was the need to strengthen the rule of law.
Once the tribunal started proceedings till it delivered judgement on Tuesday, July 15, different comments were made from the ruling party and the opposition political parties, human rights activists and media reports while rumours and tales from market places trailed its proceedings.

Three major issues which engulfed the state during the tribunal proceedings had directly rub off on the case as the two parties and their supporters used the events to accuse one another of being the brain behind the bomb blast that rocked the state secretariat, magazine publication which alleged untoward communication between the PDP counsel and the tribunal judges, constituency project fund crisis that divided the state assembly and the recent protest by a coalition at the premises of the panel.
But the chairman of AC in Osun State, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti in series of interviews and statement had boasted that his party had sufficient evidence to upturn Oyinlola's victory and expressed hope that the tribunal would do justice while PDP chieftains in the state assured their supporters that the tribunal would dismiss Aregbesola's petition at the end of the day.

Few days to the delivery of judgement, the integrity of the tribunal members were called to question when a Lagos- based magazine on its cover story alleged that counsel to Oyinlola, Otunba Kunle Kalejaye (SAN) had been communicating with the chairman and other members of the tribunal. The PDP and the its counsel denied the allegation, noting that the call log were fabricated and the story sponsored by the AC to derail the verdict.
Following the publication, chains of reactions poured in from the opposition, civil society and even some prominent Nigerians demanding the Appeal Court President and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to investigate the allegations raised in the publication while the AC and a coalition went a step ahead to submit a petition even as the management of MTN denied being the source of providing the magazine with the information.

Forty eight hours before judgement, the two camps engaged in counter accusation, with the AC alleging that the ruling party had concluded plans to cause mayhem. They also alleged that the police had taken side in the case.
In a swift reaction, the PDP leaders accused the AC and the opposition of trying to cause crisis in the state and importating thugs from Lagos to unleash mayhem on its supporters. The party warned that it was ready to defend its supporters as well as the mandate given to Oyinlola by the people.
On judgement day, the AC counsel brought two new motions seeking to subpoena the Managing Director of MTN to clear the air on the allegations raised in the magazine publication and the most controversial, another application asking the five-man judicial panel to disqualify itself from handling the petition which the PDP, INEC and police counsels opposed. The latter noting that they were at the tribunal to hear the judgement and that the fresh application was an attempt to stall the delivery of the verdict.

Justice Naron who read the over three-hour judgement, after consultation with his colleagues threw out the new motions and posited that the publication by the magazine could not stop it from delivering the judgment, insisting that the tribunal could not base its decision on mere speculation as contained in the report.

In a unanimous judgement, the tribunal said Aregbesola did not prove beyond reasonable doubt, the case of violence, multiple voting and non compliance with the 2006 Electoral Act, ballot snatching in the 12 local governments in the state as contained in his petition and the case was dismissed. Senator Iyiola Omisore, Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo, Hon. Wole Oke of the House of Representatives, Chairman of Egbedore Local Government Council, Hon Bamidele Salam, PDP counsels, INEC lawyer and his police counterpart commended the judgement. While the supporters of PDP soon after the judgement started jubilating within the court premises.
For Governor Oyinlola, the just concluded tribunal judgement was a long road to victory.

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