Tribunal: Produce your witnesses or surrender, Tribunal Chair warns Lalong's Counsel

Chairman of the Plateau State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Hon. Justice H.A. Saleeman, has expressed her strong disappointment over the failure of the 2nd Respondent,  Simon Bako Lalong and his legal team to produce their witnesses  as directed by the Tribunal. 

Only four witnesses showed up for Lalong when seating resumed on Friday 26th July after the tribunal had reluctantly  adjourned two times on Thursday at the instance of the Respondents.  

While trying to assuage an obviously disappointed tribunal and the petitioners’ legal team, Lalong's lawyers blamed the situation on distance, the Plateau rough terrain and the fact that this is the depth of the farming season when many witnesses will be very busy on their farms. 

They asked instead that the matter be adjourned to Monday July 29, 2019 to enable them “assemble more witnesses.” This meant that the tribunal was closing earlier than normal for the day, and it would also skip sitting on Saturday.

Justice Saleeman took serious exception to this failure especially after the Respondents were warned the previous day that the Tribunal would be constrained to close their case if they failed to diligently put up their defense.

“Do not take this tribunal for granted. You should be fair to yourselves and be fair to us. The time of the tribunal is being wasted. You must bring in your witnesses or close your case early.”  

It was a situation that brought in the contributions of the second member of the tribunal Hon. Justice Iheka who spoke strongly in support of the Chairman.

Lalong's Counsel, Pius Akubo, SAN, apologised profusely and asked the tribunal to extend some indulgences to his team to remedy the situation. 

Counsel to Sen Useni and the PDP, Benson Igbanoi said the Respondents should either “continue or surrender.”

And for the third time in 24 hours, the tribunal graciously but reluctantly granted the 2nd Respondent's application for adjournment. Seating resumes on Monday, 29th July, 2019

Meantime, on day two of Governor Simon Lalong's defense of the Petition by Senator Jeremiah Timbut Useni and PDP, some of his witnesses have confirmed to the election petition tribunal that PDP won the election in their Polling Units.

The Respondent presented four witnesses who testified on Friday.

Dung Isaiah Bitrus of Ratsak Ingen Zabot ward in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area was asked which political party won the governorship election in his unit. His response: “PDP won.” He said he signed the result sheet and was given a duplicate copy which he handed over to his ward collation agent. 

Lam Joseph Choji of Heipang in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area told the tribunal that in the result sheet that he signed, PDP won the election in his Kabong 1 ward   with 550 votes to APC’s 99. 

Ringpwom Byetfa of Shishiri ward in Langtang North Local Government Area informed the tribunal that in his Kumbwan 1 polling unit, PDP scored 360 votes as against APC’s 68 votes.

He however blamed the INEC presiding officer for not heeding to his plea for recounting of votes alleging that the PO allocated votes unlawfully to PDP. 

But Friday's first and star witness for Lalong was Hon Luka Fwanyil, one time Attorney General of Plateau State. He was the returning officer for both APC and Simon Lalong in the governorship election. 

He described the election in the state as being “free and fair." He said he did not receive any report of electoral malpractice from any of the collation centres across the state.

When he was referred to the personal documents that  Governor Lalong had filled and submitted to INEC under oath, Barr Fwangyil said he had known the then APC candidate for 30 years. And for the elections into the state House of Assembly in 1999 and 2003 as well as into the office of Governor, in 2015 and 2019, it was the same name “Simon Bako Lalong” that was used in his documentation.

However, when the Petitioners' Counsel, Benson Igbanoi asked him if at any time he attended the same primary or secondary school with Lalong, or if they were classmates in the School of Preliminary studies or the university...or the law school, Barr Fwanyil answered, “No. Obviously he was not my classmate!”

INEC had put up no defense when the tribunal resumed from a two week break on Thursday, July 25, 2019, choosing rather to close their case. 

Yiljap Abraham,
Media Consultant to
Sen (Gen) Jeremiah T Useni,
July 26, 2019