In a dramatic manner, the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, Imo State, yesterday, nullified the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and declared Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA winner of the election.
The court faulted the judgment of the Abia Election Petition Tribunal, which upheld the election of Mr. Ikpeazu. It also faulted INEC for declaring the PDP candidate winner of the election in the first place.
Mr. Otti had proceeded to the Court of Appeal after the Abia tribunal gave its judgment on November 3, saying the PDP validly won the election.
In that 85-minute judgment, delivered by its Chairman, Usman Bwala, the tribunal said the petitioners, Mr. Otti and APGA, failed to prove their claim to have won the election ‘beyond doubt’.
Bwala said the petitioners had, on one hand, urged the court to nullify the election on grounds that it was marred by irregularities and massive fraud and on the other hand, sought that they should be declared winners of the same election.
He said the petitioners reckoned with the card reader as a means of accreditation during the election of April 11 but failed to agree with use of voter’s register.
The tribunal further refused to grant the petitioners’ request to uphold the cancellation of the results of the election in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Areas of the state.
Bwala said the State Returning Officer, Benjamin Ozumba, was not allowed under the law, to cancel the said results in the first place, hence the subsequent reversal by him had no effect.
He said the onus lay heavily on the petitioners to prove beyond doubt that they won the election as they claimed in their petition.
The tribunal chairman, therefore, dismissed the petition because of the failure of the petitioners to convince the tribunal beyond doubt that they won the election.
Mr. Otti had urged the tribunal to annul the declaration of Mr. Ikpeazu as governor, saying the election was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
He, however, urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) the winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election.
…Upholds Ishaku Darius’ election
Similarly, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja yesterday reversed the judgement of the Taraba State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which sacked Governor Darius Ishaku of the People Democratic Party, PDP. In a unanimous judgment yesterday, the appellate court panel headed by Justice Abdul Aboki, held that the tribunal acted outside its jurisdiction when it invalidated Ishaku’s election on the premise that he was not validly nominated by the PDP.
The appellate court maintained that the issue of nomination of a candidate by a political party “is clearly a pre-election matter which no tribunal has the jurisdiction to entertain, stressing that neither the All Progressives Congress, APC, nor its candidate, Senator Aisha Jumai Alhassan, had the locus-standi to query the outcome of the governorship primary election of the PDP.
“There is no dispute whatsoever in this case that the 1st and 2nd respondents have not said that the appellant is not a member of a political party. From the pleadings and facts, it is obvious that the appellant is a member of the PDP”. The court held that under section 87(9) of the Electoral Act, only those that participated in the said PDP primary election has the right to challenge its outcome at the Federal High Court or State High Court.
“The right to complain is severely limited to participants in the primary election. Whether the primary election was done rightly or wrongly cannot be subject of an election petition. “The most important question to be asked here is, was the appellant a member of a political party or sponsored by a party to participate at the election?
“All evidence before the tribunal pointed to the fact that the appellant was duly sponsored by the PDP and INEC duly received his nomination. INEC did not at any time queried his eligibility to participate in the election. “Both oral and documentary evidence before the tribunal clearly showed that the appellate was a member of the PDP and was validly sponsored.
“I hold that the 1st and 2nd respondents have no right to challenge the primary election at which the appellant emerged as none of them is a member of the PDP. “Nomination of a candidate to participate in an election is the sole responsibility of a political party. Issue of nomination of candidate is within the domestic affair of a political party”, the court added.
Besides, the court held that the tribunal “grossly misdirected itself”, when it not only nullified governor Ishaku’s election, but went ahead to declare the candidate of the APC, Alhassan, winner, stressing: “There is no basis for the finding of the lower tribunal.” justice Aboki said the tribunal had no power whatsoever to declare a person that came second at an election as the winner.
It said the best the tribunal could have done under section 142 of the constitution was to order for a fresh poll. “The judgement of the lower tribunal is hereby set aside. We are of the view that the appellant’s appeal is meritorious and is hereby allowed.
“I hereby make the following consequential orders. The order of the tribunal made on November 7 is hereby set-aside. The election and return of the appellant in the April 11 election is hereby upheld.
“The Certificate of Return issued to the appellant by the 4th respondent in this matter remains valid. I make no order as to cost”, the court held.
It will be recalled that the Justice Musa Danladi Abubakar-led Tribunal had on November 7, declared Senator Alhassan of the APC as the bona-fide winner of the April 11 governorship poll in the state.
The three-man panel tribunal which conducted its sitting in Abuja said it was satisfied that governor Ishaku was not validly nominated by the PDP to contest the election.
The tribunal said there was overwhelming evidence that the PDP in Taraba state sidelined the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, and the 1999 constitution, as amended, when it decided to hold the primaries that produced Ishaku as its candidate in Abuja instead of Jalingo the Taraba State capital.
It held that the purported nomination of Ishaku for the election, without a valid primary election monitored by INEC, was in breach of sections 85, 87 and 138(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as well as section 177 of the 1999 constitution, as amended. The tribunal stressed that the governorship primary election PDP held at its National Headquarters in Abuja on December 11, 2014, was not known to the law and was therefore invalid
It held that PDP failed to give cogent and verifiable reason why it decided to hold the said primary election in Abuja without the consent of INEC
Ishaku had vowed to appeal the tribunal ruling, maintaining that he would win, saying if the election was conducted 10 times, he would win 10 times.