Election petition tribunal held hostage in Calabar



MEMBERS of the National/State Assembly tribunal sitting in Cross River State and some lawyers were yesterday held hostage for over an hour following a botched attempt to disqualify the tribunal, which has just nine days to end its sitting in Calabar.

The tribunal fixed yesterday to receive addresses from parties in the petition filed by Senator Bassey Otu of Labour Party (LP) challenging the election of Senator Gershom Bassey of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the March 28, 2014 Cross River South senatorial election.

Before the tribunal could commence sitting, counsel to Senator Bassey and the PDP, Mr. Paul Erokoro and his team had gone into the tribunal chambers trying to persuade the tribunal to accept an application challenging the qualification of the Chairman, Justice Christopher Awbra.

Later, counsel to Senator Otu, Mr. Essien Andrew joined them in the chambers and after a long while they came out saying there was an application by Erokoro that the tribunal chairman was not competent to sit as chairman. The other two Judges in the tribunal Justice A.A. Adeniji and Justice J.U Oyomire are High Court judges.

The application was not made public, but officials at the court said Erokoro, “had gone to file the paper this morning (yesterday) for the tribunal to disqualify itself. That schedule 6 of the Nigerian constitution says chairman of the tribunal should be a sitting high court judge but Awubra is a member of a customary court of appeal in Taraba State.”

At this point, litigants and party supporters in the court lost their temper, insisting that the tribunal must sit as that was a ploy to destroy all cases by the tribunal, saying before now same the tribunal was delivering judgment in favour of PDP yet no protest or call for the disqualification of the chairman.

Suddenly there was increased security in the court during the uneasiness, as the Court Clerk, Mr. Innocent Akide, announced that the tribunal had asked everybody to leave and come back on Monday, but this was rejected by the crowd who responded that, “No, we will not go.”

Even though the tribunal could not sit following the confusion and the fresh application, the tribunal was said to have refused to accept the application in the chambers and asked for everyone to come back on Monday.

After hours of tension, five vehicles filled with policemen came to rescue the judges, Erokoro and few others who were escorted out of the rowdy court premises.

The tribunal has nine days to deliver judgement in five critical cases at its disposal.

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