Thugs suspected to be loyal to the Peoples Democratic Party in Ekiti State on Tuesday beat up witnesses who testified for the All Progressives Congress before the National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal.
The tribunal is hearing a petition filed by the APC senatorial candidate for Ekiti Central, Gbenga Olofin, against the return of Senator Fatimat Rasaki of the PDP.
Olofin on Tuesday closed his case at the tribunal after calling eight witnesses while his opponent, Rasaki, opened her defence by being the first witness to testify in support of her election.
The Tribunal Chairman, Justice A. N. Erabor, admitted the voter register in evidence after listening to a counter-argument between the petitioner’s counsel, Yemi George; and respondent’s lawyer, Jude Ogodi.
But the hoodlums, who had waited outside the courtroom during proceedings, unleashed terror on the petitioner’s witnesses and supporters as they came out of the courtroom.
The thugs also laid ambush at the gate of the court complex for the APC members and supporters, most of whom fled in different directions immediately they spotted the hoodlums.
The riot policemen attached to the tribunal had to smuggle the witnesses out of the premises in a Golf car to an unknown location.
Justice Erabor expressed shock at the violence and warned parties to the case before the tribunal that he would no longer tolerate such in the future.
Olofin however said he was happy about the admissibility of the voter register and other documents, saying that would serve the cause of justice but described the attack on his witnesses and supporters as “barbaric.”
He said the violence could scare other witnesses from giving evidence at the tribunal.
The spokesperson for Olofin, Akogun Tai Oguntayo, said the victims of the attack had been receiving treatment in a private hospital in Ado Ekiti, the state capital.
One of the victims, one Lateef Subairu, received a deep cut in the eye. An independent broadcaster from Lagos (name witheld) was also beaten to a pulp.
Another APC supporter, Igbalajobi Olaiya, was beaten and rendered naked by the thugs who tore his clothes.
“It is becoming worrisome. If they have nothing to hide, they should allow justice to take its natural cause. We believe it was because of the admissibility of the documents tendered on Tuesday by the tribunal that made them to be jittery,” Oguntayo said.
But the PDP denied that the attackers were known to the party. It advised the APC to check for enemies within its fold for the attack on its members.
The PDP Publicity Secretary in the state, Jackson Adebayo, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, denied that the PDP members carried out the attack.
Adebayo described the allegation that the party was behind the attack as “malicious.”
He said, “It is laughable and malicious for the APC to allege that members of our party beat up their members. It is known to everybody within and outside Ekiti that the APC’s house is divided.
“They should check within and trace the attack to one of the splinter groups in their party. For them to blame the PDP for their woe is an attempt to promote falsehood and malicious agenda of the party.”
The three-man panel headed by Justice A.N. Erabor, with Justices A.T. Lamina and P.A. Obayi as members, had on May 11 appealed to security agencies to provide security for the judges, lawyers, politicians and other members of the public.
In his opening remarks, Justice Erabor had described the panel’s assignment as critical and crucial and that it must be diligently prosecuted. He said the tribunal would handle all matters dispassionately within 180 days, in line with Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution.
He said, “If you notice any infraction in the course of the proceedings, just call our attention to it. We don’t want any frivolous allegation against any of the members of this tribunal.
“Nobody has monopoly of knowledge. I expect everybody to play his role professionally so that all the issues can be handled firmly and fairly.
“The Supreme Court has set a time frame of 180 days in line with Section 285 subsections 6 and 7 of the 1999 Constitution. This law is sacrosanct because of the sui generic nature of the Election Petitions Tribunal and it is on this basis that we have to avoid unnecessary distraction.
“We are appealing to the security agencies to provide security for the judges, lawyers, politicians and other members of the public.”
The APC candidate for the Ekiti South Senatorial District, Senator Tony Adeniji is also challenging the victory of Mrs. Biodun Olujimi of the PDP before the tribunal.
The APC is equally challenging the victories recorded by the candidates of the PDP in Ado I, Ise Orun, Ekiti South West I and Oye I State constituencies in the election.