Thursday, 7th December 2023

Tribunal Upholds Oborevwori Election As Delta Governor

By Godwin Ijediogor and Monday Osayande, Asaba
30 September 2023   |   3:06 am
The Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Asaba, yesterday, upheld the election of Sheriff Oborevwori as the governor of the state.

Delta State governor Sheriff Oborevwori

• Dismisses Omo-Agege, Gbagi, Pela Petitions
• Discontinue Litigation, Gov’s Aide Urges Petitioners

The Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Asaba, yesterday, upheld the election of Sheriff Oborevwori as the governor of the state.

In its judgment, the three-member tribunal, led by Justice C.H. Ahuchaogu, dismissed the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, for lack of merit.

The tribunal also dismissed the petitions by Labour Party’s Ken Pela and Chief Kenneth Gbagi of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) for their inability to prove their allegations of over voting, amongst others.

It held that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of non-compliance with the Electoral Act and over voting beyond reasonable doubt.

On the issue of over voting, as alleged by Omo-Agege, the tribunal held that to prove the allegation, BVAS report must be produced.

“Leave was granted to the petitioner to inspect BVAS but no BVAS report was provided. Tribunal wonders why the petitioners failed to produce the BVAS report. Tribunal agrees with the respondent’s argument. By Supreme Court judgment, BVAS is mandatory to prove over-voting.

“BVAS was not produced but they tried to use other documents. Petitioner cannot circumvent the BVAS, as the report of examination of the back end server cannot replace the BVAS. This report is held to be irrelevant. Flowing from above, the report is inadmissible to prove over-voting,” the tribunal ruled.

The tribunal held that the fulcrum of proof of over-voting is the BVAS, stating that the petitioner did not plead extract from BVAS and so could not tender the same.

“Any evidence given by anyone that was not at the polling units is mere hearsay. Tribunal wonders why their agents at the polling units were not called.

“No evidence of wrongful entries was led by the petitioner. An election cannot be nullified if it appears to the tribunal that it was conducted in substantial compliance. Tribunal cannot go out to find evidence for non-compliance.”

On the issue of non-compliance, the tribunal said the petitioner jettisoned the provisions of the law to prove non-compliance in every unit.

“A petitioner who alleges non-compliance must prove it polling unit by polling unit. Petitioner relied on only PW1 who was not even in any of the units. They can only be said to purport. In sum, the petitioner failed to prove non compliance,” the tribunal added.

On corrupt practices, the tribunal said no evidence was led as to who committed the crime and no evidence led as to how the allegations affected the outcome of the election.

The tribunal held that petitioners gave particulars of inflated figures but failed to show how it affected the result.

“The tribunal finds that the inflation is of no consequence and will not affect the result if removed. Issue resolved in favour of respondents.

“The petitioner led no evidence as to the votes that are unlawful and should be reduced. They complained of an unascertained number of votes.

“Pleadings where no evidence is led amounts to no issue. They abandoned the case and sought to rely on the tribunal. This approach lacks credibility. Issue resolved in favour of respondents.

“The case of petitioner based essentially on hearsay evidence that is legally inadmissible. They have led no credible and indubitable evidence. Accordingly, there was even no need for the respondents to lead any evidence to disprove a collapsed case. The case is devoid of merit and I affirm the declaration of INEC and return the respondents as duly elected,” the tribunal held.

Reacting to the ruling, Omo-Agege rejected the outcome, saying he had directed his legal team to appeal the judgment.

The former deputy senate president, in a statement, called on his supporters to remain calm, saying the outcome was not what they expected.

He insisted the tribunal “failed to avert its mind to the intendment of the plethora of unambiguous innovations now contained in the Electoral Act, 2022, particularly evident in Sections 137 and 73(2) and paragraph 46(4) (First Schedule) of the Act mandating the tribunal on how to properly handle the required evidence duly placed before it by the petitioners in proof of the petition and corroborated by INEC itself.”

He added: “We hold the reasoned view that if the tribunal dutifully attended to the unassailable evidence in support of all the polling unit results and every other relevant electoral document duly tendered before it using our present electoral jurisprudence and benchmarks already set by the Supreme Court as its compass, today’s outcome would have been clearly in our favour.

“As chief proponents of a clean electoral system, we disagree that ballots obtained in manifest breach of the Electoral Act and our constitution are lawful and valid votes in the 2023 Delta State Governorship Election. Further, we also do not believe that the law permits the tribunal to do nothing, having found as a matter of fact and consistent with the petition that votes were arbitrarily inflated in favour of our opponents.

“Also, we do not believe that today’s judgment is in consonance with the letters and spirit of the new Act which, for the first time in our electoral history and jurisprudence, now unequivocally mandates a tribunal to reject and cancel an election conducted at a polling unit if the serial numbers and other identities of the electoral materials used are not formally recorded into the INEC prescribed forms.

“We know that where this particular infraction is manifest on documentary evidence before the tribunal, the Act clearly says such must be thoroughly considered by a tribunal and the result cancelled, as same is unlawful. This, regrettably, is not the case with the instant decision.

“So, let us be clear. For the matters mentioned herein and much more, we say with calm confidence and conviction that today’s judgment is nothing but a grave injustice that will not stand appellate scrutiny. But we must thank the Lordships for all they did as humans given the very toxic and intimidating environment in which they operated in the last six months. We wish them well.

“I call on our people to remain calm and law-abiding. We came into this race to rescue our beloved Delta State knowing that it will not be a smooth sail. So, keep hope alive. With God, we shall get to our destination under His abiding grace.”

In his reaction, the Senior Policy Adviser to Oborevwori, Mr. Funkekeme Solomon, applauded the judgment of the tribunal.

Solomon charged politicians to respect the people’s choice, saying litigation arising from the election was a mere academic exercise.

Solomon, who was the Director General of the State PDP Campaign Organisation, said the victory of Oborevwori in 21 of the 25 local councils of the state renders any attempt to upturn the result as an attempt to use the courts to carry out a coup.

He insisted that the governor won fair and square, saying it was only fitting and logical that the tribunal has affirmed his election.

He advised anyone seeking to rule the people to learn to respect the people’s choice at any time, urging Omo-Agege to discontinue any further litigation.