Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
It was celebration time for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday night as the Supreme Court upheld the election of Mr Emmanuel Udom and Dr Okezie Ikpeazu as the governors of Akwa Ibom and of Abia States respectively.
The court in two separate judgments set aside the judgments of two divisions of the Court of Appeal which had both nullified the election of the two governors.
In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Akwa Ibom and its governorship candidate, Chief Umana Umana.
Similarly, the court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Imo which nullified Ikpeazu’s election. The appeal court had declared Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as the winner of the election.
In a proceeding, which lasted several hours, the Supreme Court delivered judgment in the Akwa Ibom appeal at about 9:40 pm while that of Abia State was delivered at about 10 pm.
The lead judgment in the Akwa Ibom case was delivered by Justice Chima Nweze. He held that the governor’s appeal was meritorious.
He promised to give reasons for the judgment on February 15.
He said the Supreme Court had a duty to clear the fallacy created by the Court of Appeal when it nullified the governorship election in the state.
Apart from the governor’s appeal, PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also filed appeals in the Akwa Ibom election. Both appeals were upheld. He ordered parties to bear their costs.
The lead judgment in the Abia appeal was delivered by Justice Suleiman Galadima. He will give reasons for the judgment on February 26.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, presided over the two proceedings.
Other justices in the cases were Tanko Muhammed, Bode Rhodes-Viivour, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun and John Akaahs.
Both Ikpeazu and his party, the PDP, as well as INEC had rejected the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division that declared Otti the governorship candidate of APGA, winner of the state governorship election.
In separate but almost similar appeals, they all asked the Supreme Court to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and in its place, uphold the judgment of the Abia Governorship Election Tribunal, which upheld INEC’s declaration of Ikpeazu of the PDP as the winner of the election.
In briefs of argument settled by their lawyers, including Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), Dr Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), A.B. Mahmoud (SAN), H.M. Liman (SAN), and Ahmed Raji (SAN), among others, the appellants said that it was Ikpeazu who won the election and not Otti.
The lawyers told the Supreme Court that another panel of the Court of Appeal upheld elections in respect of House of Assembly seats in Osisioma Local Government Area and Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area which took place on the same day the governorship election was conducted.
In declaring Otti winner of the election, the court nullified the governorship election in the two local government areas.
In its brief of argument, INEC said: “Before concluding, we crave the indulgence of the court to very respectfully refer to an intriguing issue.
“It is the fact that the court below, though differently constituted confirmed on appeal elections in respect of House of Assembly seats in Osisioma LGA and Isiala North LGA, which took place simultaneously with the Abia governorship same day, time, in the same polling units and where voters were accredited using the same voters; registers and card readers.”
INEC further said that the Court of Appeal was wrong in law when it cancelled the results of elections in the three local government areas of Abia State.
It said: “The conclusion that Otti and not Ikpeazu won majority of the valid votes cast at the election is neither borne out of the record nor justified under the law.”
According to the commission, the Court of Appeal should have dismissed Otti’s appeal having found that a returning officer has no power to cancel election results having regard to the provisions of Section 68 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
The commission also said that Otti’s notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal was incompetent and should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeal had last month nullified Udom’s election as the governor of Akwa Ibom State on the grounds of irregularities that characterised the April 11, 2015 poll in the state.
A panel led by Justice Uwani Abba-Aji in a unanimous judgment, ordered INEC to conduct fresh election in the entire 31 local government areas of the state within 90 days.
The Appeal Court in nullifying Udom’s election set aside the judgment of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which had only nullified the election in only 18 out of the 31 local government areas.
In the lead judgment read by Justice Oludotun Adeofope-Okojie, the Appeal Court upheld the appeal by the APC’s candidate in the election, Umana, to the effect that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
It held that there was over-voting during the election and that the result announced by INEC returning Udom of the PDP winner, was a mere allocation of figures as there was no evidence of collation of results at all levels.
It held that while the card reader machine recorded the accreditation of 437,128 voters, the INEC announced total votes 1,222,836, leading to a clear evidence of over-voting.
Justice Adefope-Okojie also held that both the PDP and Udom failed to discharge the burden on proof placed on them by the evidence led by Umana and his party.
She held that Udom and his party failed to tender incident forms used for manual accreditation to make up for the discrepancies in the number of voters accredited by the machine and the total number of votes announced by INEC.
Earlier, the tribunal delivered four judgments on appeals, two of which was filed by Udom, and the rest of the two filed by PDP and INEC.
All the four appeals were dismissed by the Appeal Court for lacking in merit.
Udom’s first appeal was to the effect that Umana and the APC lacked the locus standi to challenge the outcome of the April 11, 2015 poll at the tribunal because they were not qualified to contest in the poll having failed to give a minimum of 21 days of notice before conducting the primary that produced Umana as the party’s candidate.
His second appeal sought an order affirming his election in the 18 local government areas where it was cancelled and declare him duly returned.
The appeals by the PDP and INEC also prayed the same set of prayers.
But all the appeals were dismissed as the Appeal Court held that the tribunal rightly cancelled the election in the 18 LGAs.
The Appeal Court, however, held in Umana’s appeal that with allegations of irregularities of over-voting, non-accreditation of voters and non-collation of results proven in the entire 31 LGAs, the tribunal ought to have nullified the entire election.
In a swift reaction, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, congratulated Governors Ikpeazu and Udom on their victories at the Supreme Court.
Ekweremadu, who hailed the Supreme Court as “the bastion of the nation’s democracy”, said the court’s verdicts on the election petitions “were not only resounding victories for the masses of Abia and Akwa Ibom States, but also for the nation’s democracy in general”.
He said: “By these verdicts, the Supreme Court has, once more, reaffirmed the supremacy of the ballot box over might and propaganda. I commend the court for upholding the PDP as the overwhelming choice of the people of Abia and Akwa Ibom States and urge my two brothers, Okezie Ikpeazu and Emmanuel Udom, to continue with their legacies of uncommon transformation even as they extend the olive branch to all political interests in the State”
He urged the people of Abia and Akwa Ibom to continue to support their performing governors and the PDP.