Forensic war at C’ River election tribunal
• Panel set to deliver verdict
WITH less than 32 days for the National and State Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Calabar to give judgment in the petition by Senator Bassey Otu of the Labour Party (LP) who is challenging the election of Senator Gershom Bassey of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the March 28, 2014 Cross River South Senatorial election, claims and counter claims have started to trail forensic reports presented before the tribunal by experts.
Accordingly, the tribunal has given parties to the matter up to September 29 to submit their written addresses after the last two star witnesses Senator Bassey who lost election in his unit, ward and Local Government Area but won in the general election and his forensic examiner, Professor Patrick Igbigbi had testified under oath.
Among other things, the forensic reports submitted by the petitioners and the respondents and the school certificate saga of Senator Bassey, may constitute a major determinant in the case as the three-man panel of Judges led by Justice Christopher Awubra settles down to hand in judgment mid-October, 2015.
Otu in his petition at the tribunal is seeking reversal of the election of Senator Bassey on the premises of alleged manipulation of votes by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC/3rd Respondent) especially in Akamkpa and Biase Local Government areas of the state where the tribunal ordered the conduct of the forensic analysis.
When the matter came up on September 8, amidst unusual tight security where journalists, litigants, party supporters and others were frisked by security personnel, the forensic examiner for Senator Bassey, Professor Igbigbi under examination and cross examination in the witness box, faulted the forensic report which Senator Otu’s forensic examiner, Mr. Vincent Okaa submitted four weeks ago at the tribunal.
Dr Okaa had in his report revealed that there were 21,782 multiple thumb-printings in favour of Senator Bassey while the scanner did not record any for Senator Otu.
When queried by Mr Paul Erokoro, counsel to Senator Bassey on why he produced sample of only 20 enlarged imprints, Dr Okaa in response explained that the enlarged version of the thumb-print as a glossary in the report was a sample and summary of the finding and that if others were similarly amplified, the volume of the report would have been in excess of the 600 pages.
He told the tribunal that he incorporated the Nigeria arm of the United States of America based Bode Technologies firm which conducted the analysis in the year 2011 and that he retired as a former Commissioner of Police in 2012 to be fully engaged in the business and that he is well experienced on the job as supplemented by that of the police, hence his choice to defend the assignment even as the physical examination of the exhibit was performed by other field staff.
The forensic examiner went further to differentiate between finger mark and finger print saying that the former is peculiar to the scene of crime while the latter is tied to an impression on a document or paper.
But Professor Igbigbi while testifying at the tribunal on September 8, faulted the report submitted by Dr Okaa saying, “Forensic analysis is the science of studying finger prints or foot prints in units.
In that report (by Okaa), only one surface of the ballot paper was scanned whereas he is supposed to have scanned both sides. “When I read the report, I found out that the wrong methodology was used in getting the conclusion by the petitioner.
He (Dr Okaa) used, Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) which is the method ideal for latent print and not patent print”. He argued that, “looking at the ballot papers, it was not ideal for a forensic identification. So it will be wrong to say one person did multiple thumb-printings.
Majority of the ballot papers had finger marks and not finger prints and in terms of percentage, only three percent had things you can use to identify readable thumb print”.
That therefore means that only 1,725 ballot papers out of the total of 57,528 used for that election had things that you can use to identify readable thumb-print.”
Professor Ugbigbi further argued that, “the software ware used was AFIS instead of method of analysis, comparism, evaluation and identification which is the methodology available for patent print like that of election. In the absent of data base, it will be difficult to compare that the same person thumb-printed in multiple.
Also the print has to be taken properly using in roll method. This was not done by Dr Okaa to arrive at the conclusion he arrived at because he used wrong methodology”.
When cross-examined by Mr. Essien Andrew, counsel to Senator Otu on his membership of any forensic organisation, Professor Ugbigbi lingered for a while and admitted that he writes for a scientific journal and belongs to the “Forensic Science Organisation”.
On whether the in roll method could give a full finger-print as in most crime scene where only a partial finger print is got, Professor Ugbigbi answered in the affirmative saying, “yes, a qualified forensic expert could identify a criminal even with a partial finger print”. He also admitted that there are various scientific methods that could make latent print visible but “we expect to see prints that are patent, visible and clear in ballot paper.
It is not possible to identify multiple thumb-prints if there are partial prints on the ballot paper…with latent print you can identify but in partial latent print you cannot and the election was for patent print”.
Counsel to Otu however debunked the position submitted Professor Igbigbi saying, “for you to use either of the two methods, you need to see the prints and there is no difference between latent and patent method because latent print has to be made patent before you up load”.
On whether Professor Ugbigbi carried out the scanning of the 57,528 ballot papers in the presence of INEC officials as required, Ugbigbi said, INEC only witnessed and took attendance in that of Akamkpa but in Biase he did it alone with his team.
In the suit between Dominic Aqua-Edem and Pastor Essien Ayi in case: EPT/CR/NA/7/15, Andrew said, Igbigbi had sworn to an affidavit claiming he was in Akpabuyo and Bakassi on the 24/8/15.
But later on the 31/8/15 he went to Akpabuyo and Bakassi to scan the ballots whereon he swore to another affidavit dated 31/8/15 that he went to Akpabuyo/Bakassi on the 31/8/15 to do a post forensic examination and when he confronted Professor Igbigbi with the two conflicting affidavits, no tangible explanation was offered as to the conflict in the claims.
Another critical issue for determination before the tribunal is the certificate saga of Senator Bassey from the Federal Government College, Sokoto which he admitted was burnt by fire in 1983 without notifying or sending any application to the West African Examination Council (WAEC) to that effect. Senator Bassey contradicted himself when the issue of his certificate came up.
The form CF-001 Bassey had filled says he has West African School Certificate (WASC) but the broad sheet from Federal Government College, Sokoto says he has General Certificate of Education (GCE). Bassey under cross-examination said he graduated in 1977 from Federal Government College, Sokoto but did not collect his certificate, that fire had burnt his certificate in 1983 but in another suit at the Federal High Court, he admitted that fire burnt his certificate and that of others in 1986.
The official from Federal Government Collage, Sokoto, Mr. Sani Mohammed had earlier under cross-examination said Senator Bassey’s certificate and others were burnt in 1983 by fire.
It was also established before the tribunal that a letter from WAEC to the Company Secretary, Cross River State Water Board, revealed that Bassey had GCE and not WASC. As the tribunal approaches its final days, counsel to INEC Mr. Eni Okoi at the panel raised alarm over his life and alleged attempts to force him to do things that were un-ethical to his profession.
In a petition dated July 6, 2015 to the Chairman of INEC, Okoi accused the Senator representing Cross River South Senatorial district (PDP) in the Senate, Senator Bassey of “incessant harassment of myself (Okoi) by the 1st respondent and his agents” insisting that he should do their biddings.
Okoi alleged that Senator Bassey had “personally called my mobile phone lines at several times to insist that we meet at his residence at Asari Iso in Calabar to perfect an inglorious and unethical act by stepping down for a SAN to lead me at the tribunal against the contemplation of my brief”.
On the other hand Senator Bassey in a counter petition dated July 18, 2015 to the INEC Chairman called for the removal of Okoi as INEC lawyer at the tribunal alleging “incompetence, bias and lack of commitment to the defence of the commission”.
Senator Bassey who addressed his petition to the Chairman of INEC, alleged that “Okoi who has not only displayed his inability to diligently oppose the petition on behalf of your esteemed commission, INEC, but has on several occasions publicly and overtly shown his bias and sympathy for the petitioners” “In the light of the forgoing, I have lost confidence in the ability and competence of Mr. Okoi to effectively represent the commission in the defence of the petition challenging my due election, as he has clearly shown his bias and interest for the petitioners…I appeal to you to replace Okoi with any other competent lawyer of your choice”.
Eventually, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Okechukwu Ezechukwu was engaged to lead Okoi at the tribunal. However after all the parties had exhausted their witnesses, the Chairman of the tribunal Justice Awubra adjourned the case to September 29 for submission of written addresses and it is most likely that judgment will follow in mid-October.