Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Obafemi Hamzat, have petitioned the Lagos State Governorship Election Tribunal to dismiss the case submitted by the Labour Party’s (LP) Governorship Candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, citing a lack of evidence to back up his assertions.
In a 43-page final written address submitted on July 22, Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat requested the three-member tribunal to take note of the petitioner’s lack of sincerity for the petition, noting that he did not file a witness statement or present physically to substantiate his own case.
In its response to Rhodes-Vivour’s petition, the APC also claimed that no evidence had been presented to the Justice Arum Ashom panel to persuade it that the votes cast for Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu were not lawful or that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the relevant laws.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, named Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat the victors of the March 18 gubernatorial elections after they received 762, 134 votes, the majority of legitimate votes cast across the country.
He subsequently approached the court on April 9 to challenge the outcome of the elections on what Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat describe as “sundry trumped up grounds” including alleged non-qualification and alleged corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.
In facts put before the Tribunal, the respondents said, “The petitioner called nine witnesses in relation to the ground of non-compliance spanning 20 local governments and over 13,000 polling units in Lagos and one subpoenaed pseudo expert witness for the ground of non-qualification. In all, the petitioner called only one polling unit agent who had to be compelled to give evidence by subpoena.
“To show the non-participation of the Labour Party in this petition, the petitioner had to apply for a subpoena to be issued on PW 9 who gave evidence as the party secretary and stated that he did not attend the tribunal to give evidence voluntarily and would not have attended proceedings but for the subpoena.”
Through their lawyers, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), leading Adesegun Ajibola (SAN), Muiz Banire (SAN), Bode Olanipekun (SAN), Said Sanusi (SAN) and seven others, Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat formulated one sole issue for the determination of the Tribunal, vis:
“Considering the evidence led at the trial of this petition vis-a-viz constitutional and statutory provisions regarding assumption and occupation of the office of Governor of Lagos State, whether this petition presents any valid justification to alter/upturn the return made by INEC at the election of the office of Governor of Lagos State held on 18th March, 2023.”
In their arguments on this sole issue, they contended that “since the reliefs sought in an election petition are declaratory in nature, it will amount to reiterating the obvious that the quantum and quality of evidence must be of such a gradient that will be sufficiently compelling to impel a tribunal to displace the presumption of regularity because declaratory reliefs cannot be granted on the strength of mere admission by an adversary and such admission does not excuse a petitioner from satisfying/discharging the enormous burden of proof. “
Rhodes-Vivour in his petition had asked the Tribunal to nullify the return of Sanwo-Olu and declare him the winner of the election being the candidate with the second-highest number of lawful votes cast.
Sanwo-Olu and his deputy in their final written address asked the Tribunal to note that of all the 10 witnesses called by the petitioner, none of them in their evidence or elsewhere requested for this relief or any other reliefs made by Rhodes-Vivour, a situation which demonstrates “the abandonment of the reliefs”.
“To demonstrate the level of seriousness which the petitioner ascribes to this petition, he did not have any witness statement or written deposition front-loaded with his petition neither did he deem it fit to come and testify before the Tribunal.
The petitioner would have been in the greatest position to obtain the reliefs by means of proof because they are the petition’s primary intended beneficiaries. This is especially true given that the political party whose program he challenged is not cooperating with or backing him in the current adventure—or, more accurately, misadventure—in relation to pursuing this petition. Anyhow, none of the witnesses to whom the petitioner assigned the task provided testimony.
The Tribunal, like every other court of law, cannot do for the party what the said party ought to do for himself since that will be abandoning its impartial adjudicator’s role”.
The parties argued that under a recently added innovative provision in Section 136 (2) of the Electoral Act, a petitioner cannot succeed on such a claim if he cannot demonstrate that he is still a member of the political party that sponsored him. This is in reference to the alleged non-qualification of Governor Sanwo-Olu and for the petitioner to be declared winner having received the second highest number of votes.
In addition, they contended that because LP was not a co-petitioner, there was no way to confirm or infer the petitioner’s ongoing party membership as of the filing date, and neither he nor any other witness had provided any evidence of the petitioner’s continued party membership after the election.
The respondents drew the courts petition to the testimony of a subpoenaed witness, PW 8, who claimed to be an expert in Immigration Law in the USA, regarding the alleged non-qualification of the deputy governor, Obafemi Hamzat, on account of his deliberate step of naturalizing as a citizen of the USA as well as his allegedly renouncing his Nigerian citizenship and subsequently swearing an oath of allegiance to the USA.
They pointed out that none of her purported academic credentials, resume, or cases involving immigration or election law that she had won before any court were presented to the Tribunal to vouch for her expertise.
Additionally, they requested the Tribunal to take note of the witness’s admission that she was not an authority on Nigerian election law and that her evidence was “false and slippery” and without any foundation or credibility.
“May we with respect also submit that PW 8 is not a witness of truth. She stated under oath as an expert, that she denounced the Nigerian Citizenship when she naturalized as a US Citizen. However, under cross-examination by counsel to the 2nd and 3rd respondents, she owned up to having a Nigerian passport and that she was granted entry to Nigeria to give evidence using her Nigerian passport without the need to obtain a visa.
Apart from the fact that it is a notorious fact that only Nigerian citizens can hold a Nigerian passport, it is also statutory. Section 11 (a) of the Passports (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act makes it a criminal offence for a person who is not a citizen of Nigeria to hold or be in possession of any Nigerian passport. Essentially therefore, it is either PW 8 was confessing to criminality while giving evidence as an expert before the Tribunal or was telling a blatant lie on a very fundamental issue to implicate the 3rd Respondent, Obafemi Hamzat”.
The respondents also invited the Tribunal to note that the witness admitted that she was not present when Hamzat took the Oath, she was also unable to provide proof of such and in the absence of any such evidence, his election could not be successfully impeached.
“The petitioner therefore bears the burden of not only tendering the renunciation of citizenship of the 3rd respondent (if it exists and which is denied) but also of demonstrating the Presidential assent for same by placing the document of registration before the tribunal”.
In conclusion, Sanwo-Olu and Hamzat said, “Having inundated the Tribunal with a petition of 184 pages, the petitioner failed to bring evidence to ventilate the expansive petition, assuming without conceding that it contained prolific or cogent grounds qua complaints. Since the tribunal cannot go on a frolic to extract evidence or engage in self-inquisitorial examination of dumped documents, the option legitimately open to the Tribunal is to enter a deserving order of dismissal.