Tuesday, October 26, 2021

After a keenly contested Imo State governorship election on March 9, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the winner.

The returning officer, Francis Otunta, said Ihedioha polled 273,404 to beat his closest rival, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), who polled 190,364. Tanko-Muhammad-

Nwosu, backed by immediate past governor Rochas Okorocha, now a Senator, rejected the result, arguing that there ought to be a rerun because the PDP candidate, according to him, did not meet the constitutional requirements.

Okorocha wanted Nwosu, his son-in-law, to succeed him. When Nwosu lost the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election, he moved to AA.

Ihedioha won in 11 of the 27 Local Government Areas, defeating about 69 other candidates.

The other major candidates included former Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who polled 114,676 votes; Senator Hope Uzodinma of APC (96,458 votes), and former governor Ikedi Ohakim of the Accord Party (6,846 votes).

A total of 739,474 votes were cast, with 714,344 valid and 25,130 rejected.

The Returning Officer declared Ihedioha winner, “having satisfied all the requirements of the law and scored the highest number of votes”.

Opponents head for the tribunal

Ihedioha’s opponents urged the Election Petition Tribunal to cancel the election on the grounds that he did not meet the mandatory 25 per cent in two-thirds of the Local Government Areas.

They also alleged substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws.

Uzodinma asked the tribunal to declare him the winner based on non-inclusion of results from 366 polling booths out of the approved 388.

He called 54 witnesses to prove his case of non-collation of results in some wards.

Nwosu asked the Tribunal to either declare him the winner or cancel the election and order a supplementary poll between him and Ihedioha.

The Tribunal, chaired by Justice Malami Dogondaji, in a September 21 verdict, held that the petitioners were unable to prove the allegations.

It held that the evidence supplied was mainly based on hearsay and that the unlawful exclusion allegation was not proven.

Dismissing Uzodinma’s petition, the Tribunal held that the results he presented were not recognised by law as they neither emanated from, nor were authenticated by, the Independent National Electoral Commission ((INEC).

The Tribunal said the results were not signed by polling agents, who were essential elements in the polling process.

Justice Dogondaji said Nwosu’s application for judgment on admitted facts could not be sustained on the basis that declaratory reliefs are not granted on admitted facts.

The Tribunal held that Ararume’s expert witness could not be sustained having not participated in the election.

It dismissed Araraume’s and Nwosu’s petitions for lacking in merit and for being incompetent.

“Failure to discharge the heavy burden of proof makes the petition liable for dismissal and it is accordingly dismissed,” the tribunal held.

Opponents head for Court of Appeal

Not satisfied, Ihedioha’s opponents headed for the Court of Appeal. On November 19, the appellate court dismissed their appeals.

The appellants sought to upturn the tribunal judgment, arguing that the lower court erred on several grounds.

A five-man panel, led by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, dismissed the appeals on grounds that they lacked merit. The court awarded N500,000 cost against all the appellants in Ihedioha’s favour.

One of the Justices, however, rejected Ihedioha’s cross-appeal and ordered him to pay N1million to Uzodinma and the APC.

AA’s and APGA’s appeals were unanimously dismissed, but the APC’s appeal was decided by a four-to-one verdict.

The Court of Appeal disagreed that the election was marred by corrupt practices, non-compliance with the electoral laws and failure to secure the majority of lawful votes cast.

It upheld the Tribunal’s findings and conclusions.

Other findings

The appellate court found that Uzodinma, who came fourth, called no witness from the polling units, ward or local government level to prove that Ihedioha did not score 25 per cent of the votes cast in 18 out of the 27 LGAs.

The Court of Appeal discountenanced a set of documents in which he claimed to have scored substantial votes from 386 polling units, but which he alleged were excluded by INEC.

The appellate court allowed a cross-appeal to the effect that with respect to Section 179 (3) (4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), only the person who came second in an election can make a case regarding Section 179 (2).

The Section provides: “A candidate for an election to the office of governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected where there being two or more candidates (a) he has the highest number of votes; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.”

Read Also: Tribunal affirms Gov. Emeka Ihedioha’s election
Ihedioha’s lawyers had contended that no other contestant in the March 9 election, except Nwosu, was competent to canvass the issue of whether Section 179 was complied with.

The appellate court agreed with the Tribunal on Araraume’s expert witness.

The Tribunal had found that the witness had degrees in education rather than in statistics.

He relied on Form EC8D, being the overall collation of results by INEC, and not polling units, ward or LGA results, and could not successfully demonstrate how he arrived at his figures from Form EC8D.

Ararume’s other witness, his state collation officer, testified as to events that took place at the polling units in different parts of the state.

The Tribunal held that his evidence was hearsay, not based on what he witnessed.

Both the Tribunal and Court of Appeal disagreed with Nwosu, who came second in the election, dismissing his claims that Ihedioha did not satisfy the requirements of geographical spread as stipulated in Section 179 (2).

The section provides: “A candidate for an election to the office of Governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected to such officer where …(b) he has no less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state…”

The AA candidate’s witness, a teacher at the College of Agriculture, Ishiagu in Ebonyi State, admitted under cross-examination that the only document he analysed was Form EC8D – the overall INEC-collated result.

The Tribunal and the Court of Appeal concluded that Nwosu’s “expert” was a mere sympathiser, who was out to support the petitioner’s case rather than help the court arrive at the truth.

The Court of Appeal held that none of the petitioners was able to establish, by credible evidence, that Governor Ihedioha did not meet the requirements of geographical spread as stipulated in Section 179 (2).

AA withdrew from the petition, and a high court struck out Nwosu’s candidature, which was upheld by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

With the Constitution having no provision for independent candidacy, observers will be keen to see how the Supreme Court resolves his prayers.

Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution provides: “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election…”

The courts noted that Araraume did not predicate his original petition on the geographical spread but called for cancellation of the election on allegation of fraud.

It was after Nwosu’s candidacy was nullified on grounds of double nomination that the Senator raised the issue of geographical spread at the Appeal Court.

The Court of Appeal cautioned Ararume on the point that he cannot present one case at the trial court and an entirely different one on appeal.

Ihedioha’s opponents have headed for the Supreme Court.

The appellants are contending that the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal failed to adequately address their contentions.

However, analysts have faulted those who claimed the judgments were “technical”, saying there were no technicalities in them, the challengers having failed to prove their cases.

Judicial watchers also condemned some politicians’ penchant for denigrating the judiciary and making unfounded allegations when cases do not go in their favour.

They want an end to the practice of discrediting judges and casting aspersions on the judiciary even when all appeal options have not been exhausted.

For Imo people, all eyes are on the Supreme Court.

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