The Supreme Court of Nigeria on Wednesday upholds the election of governors Emmanuel Udom of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Okozie Ikpeazu of Akwa Ibom and Abia states respectively.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgment of the seven-member panel of justices, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, held that the governors were validly elected in the April 11, 2015 governorship elections conducted in their various states by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The apex court, in the judgement, which lasted over 10 hours, set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal which sacked them from office as the governor of Akwa Ibom and Abia states respectively.
Justice Chima Nwezu, who read the judgment on Akwa Ibom State appeal held that the election of Governor Emmanuel Udom, also of the PDP was meritorious and upheld all the six appeals challenging the governor’s election.
He held that the Supreme Court has the duty to clear the fallacy created by the Court of Appeal judgment delivered on December 31, 2015 , which nullified Udom’s election.
In the same vein, the appeals, which challenged the cancellation of elections in 18 Local Government Areas (LGAS) of the state at the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, filed by the INEC and PDP were also upheld by the court.
In the same vein, the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia state on the platform of PDP was also upheld by the court.
Justice Suleiman Galadima, who read the unanimous judgment said the reasons for the decision of the court will be given on February 26, 2016 while that of Akwa Ibom State will be given on February 15, 2016.
The court also added that parties in the matter will bear their losses.
Recall that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had nullified the outcome of the April 11 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State that brought Udom into office and ordered for a re-run.
The appellate court equally set aside the verdict of the Akwa Ibom State governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which had on October 21, 2015 ordered a re-run poll in 18 out of 31 Local Government Areas in the state.
The five-man panel of Justices of the appellate court, in a unanimous judgement held that there was sufficient evidence that the election, which produced Governor Udom of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not conducted in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act.
The appellate court held that the Justice Sadiq Umar-led tribunal failed to properly evaluate both oral and documentary evidence that were adduced before it by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate in the state, Umana Okon Umana.
In its lead judgement delivered by Justice Adefunke Okojie, the appellate court held that the lower tribunal erred by not according probative value to a document that indicated that the election was characterised by “massive over-voting”.
The court stressed that exhibit -322 that was tendered before the tribunal clearly showed that the number of votes recorded at the end of the election, exceeded the total number of accredited voters and noted that the exhibit, which is a report on number of voters that were captured by the Smart Card Reader Machines, showed that there was an excess of 685,78 votes.
The court insisted that the case of over-voting was manifestly established on the face of documents, as well as video evidence that the petitioners tendered before the tribunal.
Justice Okojie said it was not enough for the tribunal to anchor its reason for nullifying election in only 18 LGAs on the fact that a total of 566,436 voters in the affected areas were disenfranchised during the governorship poll.
She faulted the tribunal for holding that the petitioners failed to prove that allegation of electoral fraud and non-compliance was not substantial enough to warrant the outright cancellation of the governorship election.
It was the position of the appellate court that the petitioners, having adduced evidence that the election was not properly conducted as required by the law, it said the onus was on the respondents, Governor Emmanuel Udom (PDP) and INEC to prove that there was substantial compliance.
The appellate court said the tribunal was wrong by laying the whole burden of proof on the petitioners, saying “whichever way one looks at it, facts show that votes recorded at the end of the election were far in excess of the total number of accredited voters. The tribunal was wrong in holding that non-compliance was not substantial to warrant the nullification of the entire election.
It will also be recalled that the Governorship Election Appeal Tribunal, which sat in Owerri, Imo State, nullified the election of Governor Okozie Ikpeazu of Abia State and declared Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections.
The five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, annulled the election on the grounds of substantial non-compliance with the electoral law.
Delivering judgment in an appeal filed by Otti, the court held that the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu who scored 114, 444 votes.
The court declared that Otti was the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in Abia State.
According to Omoleye, the cancellation of the elections held in three LGAs of Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa by the returning officers after the results were uploaded to INEC was wrong.
“In the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer has the right to only declare results of elections and not to cancel elections.
“This panel discovered that the earlier results uploaded to INEC headquarters correspond with the correct valid registered voters in the three LGAs, while that awarded to the respondent, shows over voting and therefore null and void.”
Omoleye, had, while reviewing preliminary objections and issues raised by both parties, struck out the preliminary objections by Ikpeazu’s counsel to the effect that the appeal lacked merit.
She also turned down the objection raised by the PDP that the members of the panel were wrongfully constituted and affirmed the arguments of Otti’s counsel.
The appellate court maintained that the lower tribunal erred by not handling all the issues raised.
“It was wrong for the court to insist that because the appellant failed to appear in person, his matter will not be given due attention.
“For not appearing in person, the first appellant did not abandon his case,” she said.
After nullifying the election, the court insisted that there was no need to call for re-run because the results of the April 11 and 25 polls clearly present Otti as the genuine winner of the exercise.
The court therefore, directed INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Otti and swear him in as winner of the election.