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Kogi tribunal: Ododo, APC to open defence April 15

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The Kogi State Governor, Usman Ododo, and his party, the All Progressives Congress, will, on April 15, open their defence at the state’s governorship election tribunal sitting in Abuja.

The Social Democratic Party and its candidate in the November 11, 2023 governorship election, Muritala Ajaka, are challenging the declaration of Ododo as the winner of the poll.

Ododo won the election with 446,237 votes to defeat his closest rival, Ajaka, who scored 259,052 while Dino Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party polled 46,362 votes to emerge a distant third.

The three-member tribunal chaired by Justice Ado Birnin-Kudu fixed the date on Friday after the SDP and Ajaka closed their case.

The petitioners, who had initially said they had 400 witnesses, called only 25 witnesses.

The petition listed the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ododo, and APC as first to third respondents, respectively.

When the case was called on Friday, counsel for INEC, Kanu Agabi(SAN); Ododo’s lawyer, Alex Iziyon (SAN ), and their APC counterpart, Emmanuel Ukala( SAN) opposed the move by Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) to lead the witness, a digital forensic expert, Edidiong Udoh, in evidence.

They argued that the petitioners did not list the name of the witness in its proof of evidence, and the witness statement on oath was not frontloaded alongside the petition.

They also contended that the counsel for the petitioners served them the reports of his analysis 20 minutes before the commencement of the proceedings.

But Okutepa insisted that the forensic expert was listed on page 56 of the petition as item 10, adding that his statement was also front-loaded.

He, however, admitted that the report was served on the respondents a few minutes before the proceedings.

The lawyer, therefore, prayed the tribunal to allow him to lead Udoh in evidence and stand down the matter for 30 minutes for the respondents to study the report.

Udoh, before adopting his statement on oath, appealed to the tribunal to allow him to amend Paragraph 7, Line 3 of his statement on oath, which he submitted on January 12, 2024.

“The particular words that I used were not proper. I said, ‘There was some very suspicious software.’ I apply to change it to ‘there was no suspicious software used,’” he prayed.

But Agabi, Iziyon, and Ukala disagreed with Udoh’s oral application.

“If this kind of amendment is permissible, then there is no kind of amendment that cannot be permissible,” Agabi said.

The judge asked the respondents to reserve their objections for their final written addresses.

While giving evidence, Udoh said he had 12 certificates in support of his qualifications.

When Okutepa sought to tender the certificates of the witness as exhibits, the respondents’ lawyers objected.

They queried why the counsel only sought to tender photocopies of the certificates without supporting the documents with the originals.

The witness responded that he forgot to come with the original certificates.

“The originals were mistakenly left in my office in Port Harcourt, but I have them,” Udoh said.

Although the tribunal refused to admit the photocopies, the petitioners’ lawyer pleaded, insisting that the certificates were personal documents and that they could be admitted.

Justice Birnin-Kudu admitted the documents and urged the counsel for the respondents to reserve their objections till the final address.

While being cross-examined, the witness was asked if he was the only one who worked on the report, and he said eight other experts worked on it with him.

His attention was drawn to the fact that he did not signify the names of the experts in the report and that their signatures were not also included.

Udoh responded that his name and signature were on the report because he was the team leader.
Udoh said, “Eight of us conducted the analysis. As digital forensic experts, our qualifications are identical.

“I signed the report as the team lead. The reason I did not include their name is because I was the team lead.”

The witness was also asked if he knew the meaning of the BVAS Machine and what it contained.
He said they were supposed to contain information on accredited voters and registered voters and any other information.

The respondent’s counsel asked if such information included Form EC8A, and he said yes, it might include it.

The respondents’ lawyer then asked if all the snapshots of the BVAS Machine that were included in his report contained Form EC8A.

Udoh said the snapshots were only for accredited voters and registered voters.
The INEC guideline provides what BVAS should contain, and Form EC8A is one of it.

When asked if he examined the ballot papers and if his findings on the ballot papers were contained in his report, he said no.

He, however, confirmed that INEC gave him the voters register but that he could not remember the number given to him.

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