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Tribunals in Plateau wind down except for gubernatorial poll

By Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
27 September 2019   |   4:24 am
The national and state assembly petition elections tribunals in Plateau State yesterday wound up the petitions before them leaving only the governorship election...

Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau

The national and state assembly petition elections tribunals in Plateau State yesterday wound up the petitions before them leaving only the governorship election petition between General Jeremiah Useni and Governor Simon Lalong which is yet to be decided. The last three separate petitions before the tribunal have been disposed off.

At the High Court premises, the petition of Binda Milaram of All Progressives Congress (APC) against the election of Bala Tongil of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for Mangu South Constituency was dismissed.

In its judgment, which lasted for almost an hour, the tribunal found that the petitioner’s evidence was frivolous and weak which could not sustain the grounds of the petition. It further held that proving the claims of irregularities in an election is more than just wishful thinking, as it requires that there must be eyewitness accounts from all the polling units and wards. It stated further that the petitioners must ensure that all relevant documents that would help in prosecuting the petition are available to the court, including voters’ registers, the original and duplicate results sheets duly certified and presented to the court during the procedures.

The tribunal further held that witnesses called must be ready to speak to the documents before the tribunal to protect the claims of the petitioners. But the tribunal unfortunately noted that those necessary ingredients and others were lacking in the petition and therefore upheld the election of Tongjil and dismissed the petition of the petitioner for lack of merits.

At another venue yesterday at West of Mines in Jos North, the tribunal there also delivered judgments, including those of Zainab Dogo against Abubakar Mohammed for Quaan Pan North State constituency and that of Mannir Abdullahi Barau against Ibrahim Baba Hassan for Jos North-North State Constituency.

But the tribunal held that the petitioners failed to prove their cases beyond every reasonable doubt to attract justice to their prayers, and the two petitions were accordingly dismissed.

However, citizens of the state are anxious, as the governorship election petition tribunal is the only judgment remaining.

Jeremiah Useni

The biggest of all battles being expected by Plateau citizens is that of General Useni of PDP against the election of Governor Lalong of APC. At the last adoption of their final written addresses, it was a battle of wits between Mike Ozekhome, the lead counsel to PDP’s governorship candidate in the 2019 general elections and a counsel to APC, Garba Pwul on August 22, 2019 in Jos.

Pwul had urged the tribunal to hold that Lalong was eminently qualified to contest the election, which he eventually won, praying the tribunal to dismiss the petition challenging his qualification. On his part, Ozekhome told the tribunal that the electoral process must be respected so that the votes of the electorate should not only be counted but should be allowed to count, adding that Lalong is a pretender as he was not elected as governor by lawful votes.

Ozekhome said since Lalong is a pretender to the throne, it should be seized from him and given to the rightful owner of the throne who is Senator Jeremiah TImbut Useni, adding that the governor smuggled his way through the window. He said the decided cases earlier cited by Latef Fagbemi, the lead counsel to Lalong in Nyeson Wike against Peterside and that of Gondir against Nyako did not hold water in the current dispensation.

Ozekhome added that while filing his election form, Lalong wrote ‘dash’ in the column where he was asked whether he ever had another name, thereby lying on oath which is perjury punishable in law, and urging the tribunal to declare Useni winner or at worst a re-election be ordered.

While speaking with journalists outside the court, Ozekhome said that there could not be two emir or oba in one palace, adding, “Lalong has to vacate the palace for the rightful occupant who is General J.T. Useni, who won the election, who the people of Plateau State voted for, and who ought to be declared winner

“We merely said as an alternative that in the event that the court did not find our contention on the name, in the worst scenario, when you deflate and inflate the votes that were cancelled and mutilated, then you will find that the margin of winning is less than the margin of those votes that were cancelled or mutilated. In which case, a re-run ought to be ordered. That is just an alternative.

“The main issue has to do with who contested the election. Form C is a form of INEC which is prescribed under Section 183 of the Electoral Act which also gives INEC power to make guidelines. That form itself is a solemn oath. In fact, the latest decided case of the Supreme Court in Modibbo, described it as a certificate.

“So, when you swear to it, you are swearing that everything you are saying in it is correct and true to the best of your knowledge. The only certificate which is supposed to be a qualifying certificate owned by Governor Lalong bears the name ‘Sule Simon’. Meanwhile, in his change of name, he never referred to the name Sule Simon or that he ever changed his name, when it came to that column, “Have you ever had different names? He said NIL-dash. NIL dash means ‘no’ which is a false declaration.

“And in his affidavit of change of name, he was changing from “Sule Lalong Simon” to “Sule Bako Lalong.” So, we have here a crisis of three names, which he ought to have come to the tribunal to explain by himself or call people from WAEC to say it is the same Sule Simon that bears this name. He has never referred to Sule Simon, which is on his qualification. This automatically shows that he has no qualification to contest the election. Although he may have LLB, LLM, PhD, but he cannot build something upon nothing. That is what the Supreme Court has said in many cases”.

Pwul told journalists that the burden of proof lay with the petitioners because they are the ones challenging the results declared by INEC.

According to him, “We are only defending what INEC has done. We are very comfortable that there has been no evidence sufficient to dislodge the results declared by INEC. As we have demonstrated in court, we are very confident that there is no material presented by the petitioners upon which the election results declared by INEC can be overturned by the tribunal, because on our part, we are very confident that any evidence given has been sufficiently countered and dislodged by the evidence of the witnesses.

“We are very confident that the tribunal will do justice in this matter. We are confident that there is no cause for alarm as far as our client is concerned.”

On the change of names by Governor Lalong, Pwul said, “It is not a strange matter as there are sufficient documents attached to the affidavit showing that he did everything possible according to law. And don’t forget that INEC itself went through all these documents and the witness from INEC. PW71 gave evidence that INEC was sufficiently satisfied that the governor disclosed everything necessary that qualified him to contest the election.