The Supreme Court on upheld the election of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In a unanimous judgment of a seven-man panel of the apex court, led by Justice Tanko Muhammad, the Supreme Court struck out the appeal by the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the April 11, 2015 poll, Mr. Olujimi Agbaje, for incompetence.
In its judgment, read by Justice Clara Ogunbiyi , the Supreme Court struck out Agbaje’s appeal by upholding Ambode’s preliminary objection contending that the appeal was incompetent and academic.
The apex court upheld the argument by Ambode’s lawyer, Olabode Olanipekun, that the appeal had been rendered incompetent and academic by the virtue of the fact that the PDP refused to join Agbaje to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal, which had earlier upheld the judgment of the Lagos State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to uphold Ambode’s election.
Justice Ogunbiyi ruled, “For all intents and purposes, the communal deduction of the foregoing is a situation where a sponsoring political party has accepted the dismissal of its challenge to an election as binding on it.
“Also inclusive in the said decision is the party’s candidate (appellant in this appeal). It is significant to restate further that the judgment given in CA/L/EP/GOV/762A/2015 has not been appealed.”
The Supreme Court gave its reasons for affirming the election of Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Rivers State and that of Ibikunle Amosun of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the governor of Ogun State.
A seven-man panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had fixed a date to give the full reasons for its decisions which was delivered in an abridged judgment, affirming the two governors’ elections on January 27. The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal â€Žhad affirmed the judgment of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which had ordered a rerun of the Rivers State Governorship Election.
Wike had appealed against the decision of the Court of Appeal, and all the members of the apex court panel in their unanimous judgment delivered on January 27 had overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal, and affirmed his election.
The apex court held that both the All Progressives Congress and its candidates in the April 11 poll, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, failed to prove their case of malpractices and non-compliance as required.
Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, in her lead judgment held that while the results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ‘enjoy a presumption of irregularity’ the petitioners could only have proved their allegation of non-compliance with the conduct of the election by calling eyewitnesses from about 5,000 voting units in the state. The court reiterated its position that card reader was not a sufficient replacement for manual accreditation.
It further held that the non-compliance with INEC’s manual and guidelines by its officials in the conduct of election was not a sufficient ground to void the election.
The apex court was also of the view that Peterside and the APC failed to discharge the burden of prove placed on them having alleged misconduct including violence, disenfranchisement and non-compliance.
The court held that the tribunal denied Wike and his party, the right to fair hearing by allowing a wrong panel to deliver ruling on an application they filed, challenging the competence of the petition.
Justice Kekere-Ekun also held that it was wrong for Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, the later chairman of the tribunal, to have gone ahead to deliver ruling on some interlocutory applications earlier heard and reserved for ruling by the former tribunal chairman, Muazu Pindig.
Justice Kumai Aka’ahs, giving the reasons for the apex court’s decision in the lead judgment with respect to Ogun State Governorship Election, held that the appeal against Amosun’s election filed by the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the April 11, 2015, Adegboyega Isiaka, lacked merit. Isiaka and the PDP had challenged the conduct of the election in nine local government areas of Ogun State, namely; Ifo, Abeokuta-North, Abeokuta South, Odeda, Ewekoro, Obafemi-Owode, Ado/Odo/Ota, Sagamu and Remo- North.
The appellants had urged the tribunal to nullify the election on the grounds that ‘it was marred by malpractices such as rigging, snatching of ballot boxes, thuggery, violence, declaration of false results, falsification of results, importation of thugs from a foreign location, stuffing of ballot boxes with ballot papers, misuse of card readers and Permanent Voters Cards’. The tribunal had dismissed the appeal on the basis that no credible evidence was adduced to prove the allegations. The petitioners subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal, which also upheld the verdict of the tribunal.
They further appealed to the Supreme Court which in its abridged judgment delivered on January 27, 2016, dismissed the appeal. Giving full reasons for his position, Justice Aka’ahs held that the appeal was bound to fail on the account of inconsistencies in the report of inspection of electoral materials tendered by the star witness of the appellants (Isiaka and the PDP) and the inadmissibility of the said document. He also held that to prove the improper conduct of the election in nine local government areas which had 1,672 polling units, the appellants only called nine witnesses out of whom only two were eyewitnesses to what transpired in only about 12 polling units.
Justice Aka’ahs also held that the evidence and the report of inspection of the electoral materials used for the conduct of the poll (Exhibit P4275) led by the appellants star witness (PW9), since the witness was a member of the PDP who was bound to benefit in the outcome of the case.
AKWA IBOM STATE
The Supreme Court equally has adduced reasons for affirming Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as validly elected Governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Justice Chima Nweze, who gave the reasons, said that the decision of the lower court was a mis-judgment based on only facts and not on the provisions of the laws. Nweze said the decisions of the lower court swayed the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the use of card readers for the election. He further held that the lower court denied the governor fair hearing.
From the study of the evidence brought before us, Udom Emmanuel won the highest lawfully cast votes. This has placed the court to set aside the judgments of the two lower courts as the other parties challenging his victory could prove otherwise.
The lower courts were wrong to have cancelled elections in 18 and subsequently the entire 31 Local Government Areas of the state on the basis of non-compliance. While we commend the introduction of the card readers, the innovation, however, cannot supersede the voters register. The extant laws of the federation provides for the use of voters register but the card reader irrespective of its importance does not have a place in any extant law of the land,’’ Nweze held.
Nweze, therefore, held that the tribunal was wrong to base it judgment on non-compliance with the use of card readers.
On allegation of violence and irregularities during the election, Nweze said Umana Umana and the All Progressives Congress (APC) failed to prove the allegations.
“The two respondents were not able to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt because they failed to bring witnesses from all the polling units to substantiate their claims,’’ The court held.
Nweze held that to prove non-accreditation, the respondents ought to have tendered the voters register and then demonstrate it how it was abused.
“I do align myself to earlier decision of the apex court that the provision of the law recognizes the voters register as the only key element to conduct any elections,” Nwaeze held. While noting that INEC had power to make subsidiary regulations regarding conduct of election, Nweze held that the regulations must conform to constitutional provisions. Nweze held that the extant laws did not give room for arbitrary nullification of an election.
“Petitioners have got to prove that there was substantial non-compliance in all polling units before we could take such allegation serious,” he said.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja had nullified the Akwa Ibom Governorship Election of April 11. The governor’s election was challenged by the APC and its candidate, Umana.
At the election tribunal, the governor secured partial victory, as it ordered a rerun in 18 out of the state’s 31 Local Government Areas. The governor challenged the ruling, insisting he won in all 31 Local Government Areas, but the Court of Appeal went on to nullify the entire election.
Justices Mary Peter-Odili and Clara Ogunbiyi had hinged on the above reasons to justify the return of Delta, Yobe and Oyo States governors