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Controversy Trails C/River Election Petition Tribunal

The proceedings in the National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal in Calabar, Cross River State may be delayed or threatened given the controversies surrounding the competency of the counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The first respondent in a petition, Senator Gershom H. Bassey representing Southern Senatorial District in the Senate has petitioned the Chairman of INEC, Mr Amina Zakari over the alleged questionable activities of its lawyer, Barrister Eni Okoi and demanded for his replacement.

But the lawyer Okoi has declared that he is competent and would continue to represent INEC on the case until INEC so decides but not on the personal feeling of Senator Bassey. In a petition dated July 18, 2015, and titled “Complaint about the activities of Mr Eni Okoi, the INEC Lawyer in the petition no EPT/CR/SE/2/15, Senator Bassey Edet Otu and anor V. Gershom Bassey and 2 ors” the first respondent said “I write to express my total displeasure and disappointment in the activities and attitude of the lawyer representing your commission in the above petition, Barrister Eni Okoi, who has not only displayed his inability to diligently oppose the petition on behalf of your esteemed commission, INEC, but has on several occasion publicly and overtly shown his bias and sympathy for the petitioners” He said that Barrister Okoi’s perceived incompetence, bias and lack of commitment to the defence of the Commission is now common knowledge in the eyes of the Tribunal, Parties, counsel and other Litigants/members of the public who throng the Tribunal during hearings. Gershom says the INEC counsel openly shows his preference, interest and sympathy for the petitioners’ cause. His specific complaints are that “Mr Okoi was always late to the Tribunal sittings and on one of such occasions; the tribunal openly admonished him for having a penchant for late coming.

“Furthermore, the processes filed by him leave much to be desired, for instance, the reply he filed did not front load result sheets for the election. He did not even plead most of them. As counsel for INEC, it was his duty to produce the authentic and full result properly. At the lease, he should have pleaded them. Meanwhile, he had been given all the results by INEC. ‘’In his application for extension of time to file and serve the 3rd respondent’s reply to the petition, the affidavit in support of the application was deliberately marred with irreconcilable irregularities and inconsistencies, designed to make the application fail.

It took the advice and assistance of the other respondents’ counsel to prevail on him to correct the apparent inconsistencies therein with a further and better affidavit. “Mr Okoi had alleged that he took ill on the 1st June, 2015 and was admitted in hospital, whereas he stated in the same affidavit that he got well on the 10th of May 2015 and was later discharged from hospital on the 4th of May 2015. How could he have been discharged before he was admitted? Furthermore, Mr Okoi on several occasions   has refused to attend meetings with other respondents’ counsel. He rather chooses to attend meetings with the petitioner’s counsel, whose case was at variance with the respondents’. Mr Okoi refused to file any counter affidavit in opposition to the damaging affidavit in support of the petitioners’ motion to admit forensic evidence and additional witness statements filed on 25th June, 2015 despite the petitioners’ allegations in paragraphs 3-8 against INEC, requiring his response.

In its ruling granting the application, the Tribunal expressly relied on the failure of INEC to file a counter affidavit. In the light of the above, Senator Bassey said he has lost confidence in the ability and competence of Mr Okoi to effectively represent the Commission in the defence of the petition challenging his due election, as he has clearly shown his bias and interest for the petitioners. “I am therefore left with no other option than to formally write to complain and appeal to you to replace Mr Okoi with any other competent lawyer of your choice who will diligently prosecute the commission’s defence” “It is very obvious, that if Mr Okoi was allowed to continue in this manner and is not replaced, I will be greatly prejudiced as the commission will not be able to defend the election it conducted which I justly won.

I hereby urged you to use your good offices to intervene and prevent the obvious injustice and lack of competence presently manifested by Mr Okoi, by replacing him forthwith, to instill confidence and trust in all the parties concerned” Reacting, Barrister Eni Okoi, in a petition, “Petition against the 1st and 2nd respondents   in petition no EPT/CR/SE/2/2015, and their agents for acts of harassment, intimidation and threat to my life” which he sent to the INEC Chairman, said, “We had been earlier assigned to represent the INEC at the on-going tribunals in Cross River State, particularly, the Cross River Southern senatorial elections petition between Senator Bassey Edet Otu and Senator Gershom Bassey and 2 ors, petition no EPT/CR/SE/2/2015” “We had consequently filed processes on behalf of INEC as the 3rd respondent and was in a ruling delivered on 18/06/2015 granted participatory rights in the matter at the tribunal.

I am now writing in my capacity as INEC‘s counsel in the aforementioned petition to complain about the incessant harassment of myself by the 1st, his agents and the 2ndrespondent’s agents” “The 1st respondent had personally called my mobile phone lines at several times on 3/07/2015 and 4/07/2015 to insist that we meet at his residence at Asari Iso in Calabar to perfect an inglorious and unethical act by stepping down for an SAN to lead me at the tribunal against the contemplation of my brief. That some very highly placed persons in Cross River State, like the former Attorney General, Barrister Attah Ochinke, Hon Goddy Ettah, Hon Bassey Ewa and others have been calling my lines and insisting that I allow an SAN lead me in the matter perhaps to falsify the 3rd respondent’s documents.

“That Barr Attah Ochinke had during our telephone conversion on Saturday, 4/07/2015, threatened that they (himself and his allies) could make anything happen. In the evening of Sunday 5/07/2015, I had received a telephone call from somebody purporting to be calling on one Hon John Gaul, a serving Cross River House of Assembly member and purportedly on the Cross River State’s governor’s instructions to ask me to give way to their SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) to handle the matter” Barr Okoi said due to all the threats he had received, he had to on Sunday 5/07/2015 approach the Federal Housing Police to carry out surveillance at his private residence in order to secure the lives of his family members, “I have also had to move out of my private residence in order to forestall any attack on myself, this is to further ensure the safety of my family members” He said he had written the petition to the Chairman because he knows that any instruction in this matter should emanate from him, his principal. “Furthermore, it is against my principles as a legal practitioner to do what is ethically wrong and irresponsible in the conduct of my client’s brief.

I do not intend to take bribes and drag your Institution’s good name in the mud” “I do also intend to write to the IGP Zone 6 Police Headquarters, but deem it necessary to first report this matter to you, my principal for necessary action before taking any further step in this matter. I consider myself and my family are at very great risk and urge you to immediately call the parties on my trail to order lest they perfect their intentions” Barrister Okoi said.

All attempts to get police confirmation of the receipt of Okoi petition and their awareness of the case proved abortive as no officer would want to be dragged into what they condider “politics which need to be handled with careful investigation underground”. As it stands no, there is no telling where the allegation, denial and accusation would lead. Even serving and past government officials which Okoi accused of interference have chosen to keep mum and according to an aide to one of them, “wait and see how the INEC replies to the petition before them”.

-Edem Edem writes on the controversy trailing the election petition tribunal in the state and the threat to fair hearing it poses for the petitioner

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