The legal team handling the election petition filed by the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the June 18 poll in Ekiti State, Mr Segun Oni, has warned that the governor-elect, Biodun Oyebanji, may lose his victory if the respondents continue to dodge court service within the time stipulated by law.
The lawyers, who accused Oyebanji and the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of allegedly committing contempt of court, said it was against the rule of court for respondents to be resisting service, adding that the implication may be that the case may proceed without defence.
Oni’s counsel had last week accused Oyebanji, his deputy, Mrs Monisade Afuye and the former APC National Caretaker Chairman and Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni of being difficult to serve for lack of fixed addresses.
Consequently, the petitioner approached the Election Petitions Tribunal, seeking an order of substituted service, and was granted through a ruling delivered by the panel’s Chairman, Justice Wilfred Kpochi, at its inaugural sitting on July 25, 2022.
Despite the order of the court, Oni’s lawyers still contended that the respondents had been resisting attempts by the court’s bailiffs to serve them a speedy trial of the election dispute matter.
Addressing journalists in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital yesterday, over the perceived recalcitrant posture of the respondents regarding service, one of the Senior Lawyers handling the petition, Mr Owoseeni Ajayi, warned that the brazen disregard for a court decision in the case may boomerang.
Ajayi said: “APC has been playing pranks with the issue of service and this should be condemned. After we told the public that they were running away from service, they closed down their party’s Secretariat in Ado Ekiti. If the APC is a respecter of the rule of law, they ought to come out and allow us to serve them with the necessary papers.
“We had to go back to the tribunal to get an order of substituted service so that they can be served through the APC National Secretary, His Excellency, Iyiola Omisore, but the court bailiff was at their office on number 4, Blantyre Road, Wuse, Abuja on Thursday and stayed till around 4 pm, but their staff didn’t attend to him.
“The bailiff went there again on Friday, their staff said they had been instructed not to take any court papers on their behalf.
“The bailiff became helpless; he then called the Registrar of the Court of appeal for help. It was the Registrar that called the Attorney General of Ekiti State, Mr Wale Fapohunda, to intervene and he was just trying to do that.
“They verily know the implication of avoiding court service and when the consequences of this hanky-panky bounced on them, they will regret their actions. I have never experienced this kind of hide-and-seek game in my legal practice.
“Because of this petition, they closed down their party’s secretariat in Ado Ekiti and their administrative staff sacked so that they can be away and nobody can have access to them for service. This is impunity.
“In any court case, when all efforts are made to serve directly or through substituted service and the respondents refused, then you are acting contemptuously and you have chosen not to defend the petition.
“You will have yourself to blame and the petitioner will now present his case undefended. The law permits people not to defend if they have a weak defence and that is exactly what they are trying to do.”
Ajayi added that it is expedient that timely service of court papers must be virulently enforced by the tribunal, considering that the election petition matter is ‘sui generis’ and has to be disposed of within 180 days. (THISDAY)