Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson has lost the bid to exclude a vital evidence from proceedings before the Governorship Election Tribunal, sitting in Abuja.
The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the election tribunal to play a Digital Video Disc (DVD) recording of the announcement of election cancellation in Southern Ijaw Local Government by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).
A former governor and All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the election, Timipre Sylva, is contesting Dickson’s victory.
In his petition, Sylva averred that the REC lacked the power to cancel the election.
While Sylva claimed that the REC cancelled the election, the respondents, including Dickson, his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Independent National Electoral NEC, argued that the election was merely postponed.
In support of his client’s case, Sylva’s lawyer Sebastine Hon (SAN) pleaded that the DVD, which the tribunal admitted, was not allowed to be played in court by the petitioner when he applied to do so through a witness.
Sylva appealed the tribunal’s decision at the Court of Appeal, Abuja which, in a June 24 judgment, faulted the tribunal’s refusal to allow Sylva play the DVD. It directed the tribunal to play the DVD in court, a decision Dickson appealed to the Supreme Court.
In its judgment yesterday, a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal and dismissed Dickson’s appeal filed through his lawyer, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN).
The apex court agreed with Sylva’s lawyer that Dickson’s objection to the playing of the video by the tribunal “was misplaced, unwarranted, baseless, and lacking in merit”.
In the lead judgment read by Justice Chima Nweze, the court held that the foundation for the admission of the video tape was properly laid by the petitioners in compliance with Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
The court directed that the witness, Mr. Emmanuel Ogunseye, who produced the video tape, should be allowed by the tribunal to demonstrate it in court in the interest of justice and having complied with the relevant laws.
Justice Nweze noted that by his objection to the demonstration of the video, Oyetibo “rail-loaded” the tribunal into making a wrong decision in accepting his objection.
He said: “This is a fallacious piece of reasoning, because Section 84 of the Evidence Act did not require the production of two certificates before electronically-generated evidence can be demonstrated in court.
“The court has no power in making a cluster enquiry outside the evidence adduced before the tribunal as far as the video tapes admitted in evidence by the tribunal is concerned.”
Justice Nweze said in the instant case, the single certificate tendered by the witness satisfied Section 84 of the Evidence Act, adding that there was no need for any hindrance to be put forward before the exhibit could be demonstrated.
He said: “Demonstrating the evidence in court will allow the applicant to link the evidence and allow the opponent to test and contest the accuracy of the evidence.
“In conclusion, I found that the appeal by the appellant is wholly unmeritorious and is dismissed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on June 24 is hereby affirmed.”
Justice Onyeakachi Ottis, who read the unanimous judgment of the Court of Appeal on June 24, set aside the tribunal’s ruling of May 10, rejecting the request by Sylva’s lawyer to have the DVD played.
The court averred that contrary to the decision of the tribunal, the appellant complied with the conditions precedence stipulated in Section 84 of the Evidence Act on the admissibility of electronically-generated evidence.
It held that it was wrong of the tribunal to have misapplied Section 84 to deny the appellant the right to play the DVD in court to justify his petition against the election of Governor Dickson.
The court said once the evidence had been admitted, having met the conditions under Section 84 of the Evidence Act, there was no need for any certificate before any computer could be deployed to play the DVD in evidence.
The court ordered the tribunal to recall the petitioner’s witness, through which he had sought to play it, to play the DVD in court.
It said the DVD was pleaded by the petitioner; it was relevant to the petition and that the tendering also conformed to the law on electronically-generated document.
The court also said since it was admitted in evidence, in line with Section 84 of the Evidence Act, the foundation for its admission well laid and the DVD well pleaded in the petition, “it is not the decision of the Judiciary to supply any authority other than to follow the law in the circumstances”.
The court said there ought not to be any inhibition to the playing of the DVD in court because all conditions prescribed by law were fulfilled by the appellant.
It added that the DVD ought to be played by the tribunal in court to demonstrate that it intended not to make it a sleeping exhibit.