Tempers flared at the Edo State Governorship Election Petition in Benin on Wednesday evening when two senior lawyers, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Kemi Pinheiro (SAN) engaged each other in a war of words over the cross-examination of witnesses during hearing.
Trouble began when Olanipekun, who is a lead counsel for the second respondent, Godwin Obaseki, shouted down one of the witnesses, Frank Osifo, over what he described as an attempt to “lecture” him on the literary meaning of a question he asked.
The senior advocate explained, “When a witness is telling me about the literary meaning of what is there, I expected them (petitioners’ counsel) to caution him; I do it to witnesses. What an insult!
“I asked him a simple question and he (witness) was lecturing me about the literary meaning. I expected them to rise up; this is not the way we know it is done.”
“I don’t harass witnesses. But I can’t stand here at the bar and allow a witness to insult me; he was insulting my intelligence,” Olanipekun, who was visibly vexed, added.
But Pinheiro accused the respondent’s counsel of allegedly abusing his witness, a situation which he said other witnesses of the petitioners’ had been subjected to.
His view was also shared by another counsel for the petitioners, Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, who noted that lawyers “should resist the temptation to see a witness as a lesser person.”
Pinheiro said, “Regardless of the eminence of counsel, it is not a privilege to abuse and insult a witness. He has no right to insult and abuse a witness. Justice must not be done but must be seen to be done. You cannot abuse my witness.
“My lord, I have been very patient. Counsel upon counsel have been insulting witnesses.”
On his part, counsel for the All Progressives Congress, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, said that previous witnesses had misbehaved by evading questions, adding that it was the duty of the petitioners’ counsel to caution them.
Fagbemi said, “You don’t solve a problem by running away from it. It is an act of cowardice. When previous witnesses were misbehaving, you ask them questions and they will prevaricate, they were enjoying their antics. They cannot avoid the consequences.
“Counsel has a duty. No matter what your position is, when you observe that your witness is going off the line, it is your duty to the court to caution him. You cannot continue to enjoy his antics and avoid his being put in his correct shoes.”