Relief, disappointment as tribunals settle state governement election petitions
In fact, while the governors and their army of supporters were in jubilant mood as their March 9 electoral victory got the judges’ nods, some petitioners, who felt they had valid and overwhelming evidence of stolen mandates, went home disappointed.
In most cases, the panels struck out the petitions for reasons ranging from the petitioner’s inability to substantiate their claims beyond a reasonable doubt, to over-reliance on hearsay.
Prior to judgment day, which climaxed last week in order to beat the deadline provided by law to handle fallouts of election matters, there was tension in the air, as both the newly-elected governors and the petitioners were uncertain of the fate that awaited them.
Unfortunately, there was hardly any governor in the March 9 election whose victory was not challenged at the tribunal. So, the fear of a governor or a political party losing to an opponent gripped every state, while the tribunals heard the petitions.
The burden was, however, heavier on some governors that were challenged by more than one candidate or political party. Such was the situation in Imo and Rivers states.
IN Imo State, three political parties had filed legal actions against Governor Emeka Ihedioha, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before the Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
The contending parties include the Action Alliance (AA), with Uche Nwosu, son-in-law of the immediate past governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha, as the governorship candidate.
Nwosu’s anointing by his father-in-law caused a major rift in the state’s chapter of All Progressives Congress (APC). While the division led to Nwosu’s defection to the AA, it also created an opportunity for Senator Hope Uzodinma, who was formerly of the PDP to enter into the governorship race in his new party- the APC.
Beyond AA and the APC was also the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and its governorship candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, who was equally laying claims to the number one political seat in the state.
The power tussle in the state created divisions among major political parties and decimated votes distributable among the contenders.
Consequently, the other three candidates and their parties approached the tribunal, asking it to nullify Ihedioha’s election as governor.
Without doubt, the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal was confronted with a great challenge while the litigation lasted, just as the major players were also under immense pressure while the 10-hour long judgment was being delivered.
All the petitioners demanded was the cancellation of the election on the ground that Ihedioha did not meet the mandatory 25 percent in two-thirds of the local council areas in the state.
Uzodinma specifically asked the tribunal to declare him the rightful winner of the election based on non-inclusion of results from 366 polling booths out of the 388 approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But in a unanimous judgment, the tribunal dismissed the petitions one after the other, beginning with that of Uche Nwosu for failure to prove the allegation of irregularities beyond a reasonable doubt.
Uzodinma’s petition was dismissed for failure to call relevant witnesses or specify areas where elections were cancelled or did not take place.
Consequently, the Justice Malami Dogondaji-led tribunal expunged a large chunk of the evidence of the witnesses for being hearsay and wrongly admitted in evidence by the tribunal.
“Failure to discharge the heavy burden of proof makes the petition liable for dismissal and it is accordingly dismissed,” Justice Dogondaji held.
WHILE the Imo State tribunal verdict was unanimous, there was a dissenting voice in the case of Katsina State.
Two members of the three-man panel had dismissed the petition filed by the PDP and its candidate, Senator Yakubu Lado against Governor Aminu Bello Masari, for allegedly falsifying his age and academic qualifications in the form submitted to INEC.
However, chairman of the tribunal, Justice Hadiza Alijos, in a minority verdict, ruled otherwise, upheld the petition and ordered that a fresh election be conducted in the state within 90 days.
The chairman whose dissenting judgment was delivered by a member of the panel upheld Senator Lado’s petition on the ground of falsification and stated in her judgment that Masari was not qualified to contest the election since Aminu Masari is different from Aminu Bello Masari.
It would be recalled that Senator Lado in his petition had alleged that governor Masari’s documentation with INEC, which was tendered as an exhibit to the tribunal showed that Masari and his father are 69 years old respectively.
He told the tribunal that an affidavit said to have been deposed to by Governor Masari’s father, Umaru Bello, indicated that his son was given birth to on May 29, 1950, which translated to 69 years by May 29, 2019.
And when one considers the fact that Masari’s father was 51 years old on August 9, 2001, when the age declaration was made, it suggested that he is also 69 years in 2019, the same age as his son.
Other allegations include inconsistent dates of birth between the one contained in Governor Masari’s Primary School Leaving Certificate and that seen in the sworn declaration of age.
While the declaration of age showed that Masari was born in 1950, his primary school leaving certificate said he was born in 1951.
Another contention was that the same primary school leaving certificate in question belongs to one Aminu Bello; a Fulani by tribe, while the respondent is known and addressed as Aminu Bello Masari, Hausa by tribe.
Lado also questioned the postgraduate diploma presented to INEC by Governor Masari, which he noted bore no logo or stamp of the institution, hence questionable.
Yet, the other two members of the panel dismissed all the grounds of the petition for failure to prove the allegation of substantial non-compliance to the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election by the petitioners.
On the issue of the name, which was raised in the petition as fraud, the panel insisted that governor Masari was qualified to contest election as according to it, there was no difference between Aminu Bello Masari and Aminu Masari.
The panel further held that there was no law stipulating the number of names to be used in filling an INEC’s form for an election.
The panel also discarded evidence given by witnesses 1 to 50 called by the petitioners, describing them as being of no probative value, since their statements were given in the Hausa language, the version that was not before the tribunal.
THE Tribunal sitting in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, also upheld the election of Seyi Makinde of the PDP as the duly elected governor of the state.
In doing so, it threw away the petition filed by Chief Adebayo Adelabu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), for lacking in merit.
Makinde was said to have won 28 out of the 33 local council areas in the state.
However, not satisfied with the results, APC and its candidate, Adelabu, went to the Justice Suraju Muhammadu-led tribunal, asking it to upturn the victory of the respondents – PDP and its candidate.
It would be recalled that Makinde polled 515, 621 votes to defeat his closest rival, Adelabu, who scored 357, 982 votes, but the petitioners told the tribunal that Makinde was not duly elected by the majority of lawful voters.
Other grounds for seeking disqualification of Makinde’s victory include over-voting and failure to comply with the provision of the Electoral Act.
Based on these allegations, Adelabu consequently asked the tribunal to declare him the winner of the election for allegedly having scored the highest number of lawful votes.
His other option was that the tribunal should nullify the election and order a fresh contest.
Unfortunately, none of his requests was granted by the panel, which unanimously held that the testimonies of the ward and local government agents called by the petitioners could not be relied upon.
According to the tribunal, the agents did not speak the truth but relied on what they were told by polling units agents assigned to work for them.
The panel maintained that 32 pieces of evidence out of the 69 witnesses called by the petitioners were mere hearsay since they were ward and local government collation agents, while the remaining 37 were polling unit agents.
The panel believed that the said testimony of an eyewitness must come from the polling units agents who witnessed all that happened from the beginning to the end during the election.
Another reason for dismissing Adelabu’s petition was his failure to tender necessary documents that would assist members of the tribunal in proving ballot paper accounting.
“It was not only the responsibilities of petitioners to tender documents but also to prove that the alleged irregularities in the election substantially affected the outcome of the election.
“The petitioners failed to prove that the respondents were not validly elected by a majority of lawful votes. They also failed to prove the allegation of non-compliance, non-accreditation, over voting and corrupt practices that would warrant the tribunal to nullify the election”, the tribunal held.
Consequently, the petition was dismissed, bringing the lingering litigation to rest.
ANOTHER state that many Nigerians were worried about the verdict of the tribunal was Rivers State, the reason being that any attempt to order a rerun in such a volatile and violence-prone state may lead to wanton loss of lives.
The election in the state was one of the most controversial of the 29 states where the election held in March. It was charaterised by alleged lopsided role of the military, the killings and snatching of ballot boxes characterised the election in the state.
It was also one of the states that the major contender – the APC, was disqualified from participating in the governorship election following the failure of the party to submit the names of its candidates to INEC before the expiration of INEC’s stipulated time for primary elections.
Coming to the tribunal, Wike originally had about four political parties including the Labour Party (LP), the African Action Congress (AAC), Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) and Action Democratic Party (ADP) to contend with.
However, the tribunal dismissed the petitions filed by LP and PPP, following their respective applications for withdrawal.
The governorship candidate of LP, Isaac Wonwu, prayed the court to take the application out of pre-hearing stage as stated in the Electoral Act, Page 47 (1).
Meanwhile, along the line, counsel to the PPP, Chibuzor Ezike, equally sought the withdrawal of the petition against Wike’s re-election. And since the withdrawal was voluntary, both the respondents and the tribunal concurred and the petitions were dismissed.
As of today, the petition filed by the AAC governorship candidate, Biokpomabo Awara, is yet to be resolved, posing serious threat to Wike’s re-election.
IN Nasarawa State, it was the PDP and its candidate, Mr. David Ombugadu that approached the election petition tribunal, seeking cancellation of the election and seeking an order for a fresh one in the state.
Ombugadu was challenging the election that produced the APC candidate, Abdullahi Sule as the governor.
Counsel to the PDP, Chief Wale Olanikpekun (SAN), alleged that INEC did not comply with the accreditation requirements in more than 90 per cent of the polling units in the state.
He stated that the party and its candidate had tendered certified true copies of voter registers before the tribunal.
According to him, the register indicated that the total votes that returned the governor did not tally with the number of accredited voters.
“If there is no compliance with the accreditation process, the law says that the election is invalid and should be declared as such. The election conducted on March 9 in Nasarawa State has not complied with the accreditation process. That is what we are holding unto.
“We want the tribunal to declare the election invalid and order a fresh election in the state,” Olanikpekun stated.
PDP candidate had equally alleged intimidation of voters, unlawful cancellation of votes, as well as other forms of electoral malpractices across the state.
But the tribunal, which sat in Lafia, the state capital, struck out the petition filed by PDP for lacking in merit.
Delivering judgment recently, chairman of the tribunal, Justice Abba Mohammed, who read the unanimous judgment, stated that the petitioner failed to prove the allegation of over-voting, non-voting, and non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
The tribunal also held that the petitioner failed to prove how collation of results was disrupted, adding that the burden of proof was squarely on the petitioner, but he failed to prove the allegations.
“The petitioner has failed to produce two sets of results (original and fake) to prove that the outcome was falsified in favour of APC candidate.
“Hence he failed to prove that, we, therefore, uphold the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)”, the tribunal held.
Also, the Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Asaba, upheld the election of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP, declaring him the authentic winner of the March 9 governorship election.
Candidate of the APC, Great Ogboru, had in a petition marked EPT/DT/GOV/01/2019, challenged the victory of Okowa at the poll.
Ogboru alleged cases of irregularities, over-voting and substantial non-compliance with the electoral act and guidelines.
He, therefore, prayed the tribunal to nullify the election and order INEC to conduct a fresh exercise or declare him the winner on the ground that he scored the majority of lawful votes cast during that exercise.
But again, the three-man tribunal headed by Justice Sulaiman Belgore, in a unanimous judgment, dismissed Ogboru’s petition for lacking in merit and affirmed Okowa as the winner of that exercise.
Justice Belgore, who delivered the judgment, stated that the petitioners did not prove their case beyond reasonable doubts as required by law.
In addition, the petition was said to be badly drafted, devoid of details and lacking sufficient information.
According to the panel, the case against the governor remained unproven and as such, could not be the grounds to disqualify him or cancel the election.
“It is incorrect to contest that the first respondent did not have the majority of lawful votes in the 2019 Governorship.
“Of the 896 polling units in which over-voting was recorded, the petitioner only brought five-party agents as witnesses as other 15 witnesses were ward or collation agents,” the judge stated.
MEANWHILE, the Benue State Election Petition Tribunal reserved judgment in the matter filed by Emmanuel Jime of the APC, challenging the election of Governor Samuel Ortom of the PDP.
Jime is praying the tribunal to nullify the re-election of Ortom’ on the ground that the election was marred by irregularities and other electoral fraud.
He pointed out cases of conflicting figures of the election results in his petition, noting that all could not be taken for typographical errors.
In Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun was given a clean bill of health by the tribunal in a petition brought by Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), who was supported by the immediate past governor of the state, Ibikunle Amosun.
The tribunal ruled that the issue of academic qualification in Abiodun’s affidavit had been laid to rest by the Appeal Court hence the petitioner could not proceed on the same matter. In addition, it held that the opposition party filed its application challenging Mr. Abiodun’s qualification outside the window of time allowed, and the petition was struck out.
OTHER states where sitting governors were dragged before the election petition tribunals include Sokoto, Plateau, Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Abia, and Enugu State.
Lagos State election equally recorded a high level of violence, voter intimidation, as well as other forms of electoral malpractices. However, PDP, which was a major contender, could not challenge the victory in court in spite of earlier allegations of electoral fraud.
Rather, it was Labour Party and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that challenged the victory of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Again, the petitions were dismissed for one technicality or the other. Chairman of the tribunal, Justice T. T Asua, had dismissed the petitions due to petitioners’ inability to file applications for pre-hearing conferences upon close of pleadings.
Since the law stipulates seven days interval within which to do so, the three-man panel unanimously noted that timely application for pre-hearing conference was a condition to the hearing of the petitions and that without the application for pre-hearing conferences, the petition cannot commence or get to the stage of judgment.
The panel had noted that Section 285 (4) of the Fourth Alteration to the 1999 Constitution was inapplicable in the circumstance as the timely application for pre-hearing conferences was a precondition in election petition matters.
Without delving into the substantive matter, accusations against Governor Sanwo-Olu were technically defeated.
But not satisfied, LP had approached an appellate court, which also referred it back to the tribunal.
The tribunal in its judgment described the petition filed by LP as a “futile and wasteful exercise” on the ground that the party and its candidate, Ifagbemi Awamaridi, could not prove their allegations of malpractice and mental incompetence, which was one of the grounds for seeking nullification of Sanwo-Olu’s victory at the poll.
It held that it’s earlier decision to dismiss the petition, which was later appealed by the petitioners, was still valid because the petition was not filed according to the laws governing the electoral process.
“The petitioners have failed to meet the requirement of the law. The petitioners have failed in our humble view to discharge the onus of proof, which would have been placed on the Respondents.
“We confirm the return of Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the duly elected Governor of the State,”Asua stated.
THE victory of Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom was equally tested at the tribal. The ruling APC and its candidate, Obong Nsima Ekere, had dragged PDP and its candidate before the court.
They expected the tribunal to declare that the election was void and invalid due to non-compliance with the provisions of Electoral Act, 2015 and consequently, order a fresh election for the office of the Governor in Akwa Ibom State.
The petitioners prayed the tribunal to declare that the governor did not secure and could not have secured the majority of lawful votes cast at the elections.
Giving verdict, however, the panel, in a judgment read by the chairman, Chief Justice A. M Yusuf, unanimously held that the petitioners failed to call witnesses in local government areas out of the 21, where they claimed to have won.
The panel held that documentary evidence no matter how daring cannot be thrown on the Tribunal without oral evidence linking the documents to the issues in the case (petition).
Another ground for dismissing the petition was that documents submitted by the petitioners were not linked to any parts of the petition and that most of them were mere photocopies of public documents, rather than the required Certified True Copies of the documents.
“The onus is on the petitioners who allege irregularities and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 to prove same.
“The Petitioners could neither prove non-compliance nor substantial non-compliance to lead to a cancellation of the elections.
“For the petitioners to have complained of non-compliance and irregularities in elections in 799 polling units and only end up calling 43 witnesses, was grossly inadequate to satisfy the burden of proving non-compliance and irregularities with the provisions of the Electoral Act, which requires a unit by unit prove by law.”
With this, the petitions were said to lack merit and therefore deserving only for dismissal.
IN Plateau State, Governor Simon Lalong and the All Progressives Congress (APC) were being challenged the PDP and its candidate in the governorship election, Jeremiah Useni.
The petitioners categorically prayed the court to order the sack of Governor Lalong from office and in his place, order for the swearing-in of the second runner up, Useni.
The request, according to the council, was as a result of the failure of the INEC to follow its guidelines in the conduct of the 2019 Plateau State Governorship Elections.
The petitioners also held that Lalong was not qualified to contest the election at the first instance. But INEC, APC, and Governor Lalong had urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition since it was not proven by the petitioners.
However, like in the case of Benue, parties are awaiting Judgment Day as the chairman of the tribunal; Justice Halima Suleeman has reserved the panel’s verdict a date to be communicated to parties in due course.
IN Abia State, the election tribunal had earlier in June, dismissed the petition brought by APC and its governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Uche Ogah, against Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and four others.
The chairman of the panel, Justice A.L. Ogumoye had dismissed the petition for petitioners’ failure to activate the pre-trial hearing process within the time stipulated by Electoral Act.
With that over, governor Ikpeazu was left with Alex Otti of APGA to contend with.
However, the tribunal recently dismissed Otti’s petition for lacking in merit.
Otti was challenging the re-election of Ikpeazu, alleging massive irregularities in 15 out of the 17 Local Government Areas in the state.
But the tribunal led by Justice Lekan Ogumonye, in a unanimous Judgment, dismissed all his prayers in the petition on the ground that the petitioner has failed to prove his allegations of over-voting in the said local governments areas.
The tribunal held that the very fact that the petitioners could not prove the allegations of non-compliance with the Electoral Act made against INEC during the conduct of the election, the petition could not stand.
IN Calabar, Cross River State, PDP, and Governor Benedict Ayade equally enjoyed the sweet taste of victory over Senator John Owan-Enoh of the APC.
Senator Ayade was affirmed the duly elected governor of his state.
Senator Owan-Enoh had asked the tribunal to among others, declare that he was unlawfully excluded from the election, that he was validly nominated by his party to contest the election, that the declaration of Governor Ayade as the winner of the election was wrongful and that INEC should be ordered to conduct a fresh election in the state.
But the panel disagreed with him for “failing to establish the burden of proof that he was excluded from contesting the governorship election.”
“The petitioner contested and scored some votes in the election and so, he could not have been excluded. Such grounds were “irreconcilable and diametrically opposed to each other”, the panel held.
The chairman of the three-man tribunal, Justice Josiah Majebi, who read the unanimous judgment, therefore, dismissed all the pleas in the petition marked EPT/CAL/GOV/01/2019.
“The petition failed and it is accordingly dismissed.” With that, Governor Ayade was left off the hook.
Looking at the tribunal judgments delivered so far across the various states, it appeared there was a consensus on their grounds for dismissing each petition.
Virtually all the tribunals that have delivered judgment hinged their verdicts on petitioners’ failure to substantiate their allegations.
This position has been maintained across the board even when there was a clear case of violation of electoral law.
Perhaps, the general dismissal of petitions was meticulously designed in the interest of peace and unity. Otherwise, it would be difficult to conclude that none of the petitions was meritorious enough to be upheld.
However, some petitioners were not satisfied with the decisions of the tribunal against them and have either appealed or planning to do so.
Until they exhaust every legal opportunity, it might also be too early for any governor to celebrate.