Vanguard (Lagos)

21 March 2008

Nigeria: Tribunal Sacks Osunbor, Orders Oshiomhole in

Edo — THE Edo State Governorship Election Tribunal yesterday upturned the election of Professor Oserheimen Osunbor as winner of last April election in the state and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to "withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Osunbor."

It also ordered that the Certficate of Return be issued Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State having scored a quarter of total votes cast in 12 of the 18 local governmet areas of the state.

The tribunal headed by Justice Peter Umeadi had, in its 6-hour ruling, declared Mr. Oshiomhole winner having polled 166,577 votes against Prof. Osunbor's 129,017.

Mr. Oshiomhole, it added, secured one quarter of the votes cast in 12 local government areas of the state, pointing out that the petitioner had proved beyond reasonable doubt malpractices and non-compliance by INEC with the Electoral Act of 2006 in the 12 local government areas of the state.

It held that the petitioner had been able to prove its allegations of multiple voting, rigging and outright electoral fraud and multiple accreditations during the election.

After reviewing the votes cast at the election, the tribunal said it found 51,534 invalid for the PDP because they were not stamped at the back while it recorded 13,610 invalid votes for the AC bringing the total to 65,144. These invalid votes were cancelled out right by the tribunal.

Similarly, the tribunal cancelled all votes scored by both parties on account of over-voting, and said the total number of votes scored by the AC candidate in the four local government areas of Oredo, Egor, Ikpoba Okhai and Etsako East which were not challenged by the respondents stood at 84,893 for the AC while PDP scored 29,657.

In the two contentious local government areas of Akoko Edo and Etsako Central, the tribunal held that contrary to INEC's claim that elections were held in the two local government councils, no election took place and, therefore, discountenanced the evidence of INEC's Director of Operations in Edo State, Mr Kayode Olawale, and the results issued.

"If you deduct 207,750 invalid votes from the 329,740 votes for the PDP you have 129,017 votes and if you deduct 30,895 invalid votes from the 197,472 votes awarded to the AC you will now have 166,577 votes. Therefore, for the election for the Governor of Edo State held on the 14 of April 2007, the 3rd and 4th respondents scored 129,017 valid votes while the 1st and 2nd petitioner scored 156,527 valid votes," Justice Umeadi said.

"We, therefore, declare that the1st and 2nd petitioners scored the highest number of valid votes in that election. We have compared the votes by the parties with a total of the valid votes scored in the 16 Local Government Councils of Edo State except Etsako Central and Akoko Edo and it is clear that the 1st and 2nd petitioners scored at least one quarter of all the votes cast in at least the 16 local government councils of Edo State.

"We hereby declare that the 1st and 2nd petitioners, Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole, as the winner of the election to the office of the Governor of Edo State on the 14th of April,2007 having satisfied the provisions of section 175 A and B of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and section 70 of the Electoral Act 2006.

"The 1st and 2nd petitioners polled the highest number of valid votes cast at the Governorship election. The 1st and the 2nd petitioners Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is hereby declared as the elected Governor of Edo State of Nigeria based on the fact that he scored the highest number of valid votes cast and has satisfied the requirement of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

"This tribunal orders that the certificate of return issued to Professor Osunbor as the elected Governor of Edo State is hereby withdrawn. The 2nd respondent is hereby ordered to issue a certificate of return to Adams Oshiomhole as Governor of Edo State having scored 25 per cent of the total votes cast in 12 of the 18 Local Government Councils of the state."

Reacting to the verdict, the petitioner's counsel, Chief Adeniyi Akintola (SAN), said: "By this verdict, you (tribunal judges) have written your name in gold. You have re-written the proceedings of election petition tribunals in this country. You may not appreciate the level of how you have helped to move the nation forward.

"It is not because we have won but because we have no other country we can call our own other than Nigeria. A country in Africa is now at the brink of collapse because some people somewhere refused to do their duties," he said.

However, lead counsel to Governor Osunbor and the PDP, Dr Alex Iziyon (SAN), said: "My Lord, you have done your best. In 1992 it happened here, so what is happening today is not new. Undoubtedly, we must go up stairs."

Prof. Osunbor is the seventh governor to lose at the tribunal over electoral irregularities in last year's election.

What the Law says

Section 147 (1) Subject to subsection (2) of this Section, if the Tribunal or the Court as the case may be, determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on any ground, the Tribunal or the Court shall nullify the election.

(2) If the Tribunal or the Court determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on the ground that he did not score the majority of valid votes cast at the election, the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, shall declare as elected the candidate who scored the highest number of valid votes cast at the election and satisfied the requirement of the Constitution and this Act.

(3) Subject to the provision of subsection (2) of Section 149 of this Act, on the motion of a respondent in an election petition, the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, may strike out an election petition on the ground that it is not in accordance with the provision of this Part of this Act, or the provision of First Schedule of this Act.

Section 148: Where prejudice to the provisions of Section 294 subsection 91) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, an election petition and an appeal arising therefrom under this Act shall be given accelerated hearing and shall have precedence over all other cases or matters before the tribunal or court.

Section 149 (1): If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, then if notice of appeal against that decision is given within 21 days from that date of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.

(2) If the Election Tribunal or the Court, as the case may be, determines that a candidate returned as elected was not validly elected, the candidate returned as elected shall, not withstanding the contrary decision of the Election Tribunal or the Court, remain in office pending the expiration of the period of 21 days within which an appeal may be brought.

Court strikes out appeal against Akpabio's election

Also yesterday, the Court of Appeal in Calabar struck out an appeal filed by the Action Congress (AC) governorship candidate for Akwa Ibom, Mr James Iniama, against the election of Governor Godswill Akpabio.

In the judgment, Justice Suleiman Galadima held that the appellant's allegations regarding Akpabio's indictment, over-voting, ballot box stuffing, disfranchisement of voters, among others, were "hollow claims."

Galadima also ruled that the submission by the petitioner's counsel, Chief Mamma Usman (SAN), that Akpabio was not qualified to have contested the election in the first instance because of his indictment by an administrative panel of inquiry was baseless.

"A person who has not committed any crime cannot be indicted. It must be established that a crime has been committed," he said.

Galadima said the purported indictment of the governor by an administrative panel of inquiry set up by Abia State Government lacked judicial authority.

He stressed that it was only a court of competent jurisdiction or a judicial panel of inquiry that had the powers to indict any person.

"The failure to prove that the first respondent was found guilty of corruption by a competent court has rendered the petitioner's case invalid, null and void," he said.

The judge also ruled that the appellant's allegation that Akpabio's election failed to comply with the provisions of the 2006 Electoral Act due to over-voting, undue allocation of votes, disfranchisement of voters, was based on hearsay and not on facts.

On the submission that Iniama's photograph was not on the ballot paper, while his name was not included in pre-election newspaper adverts and INEC's notice board, the judge ruled that it did not amount to his exclusion from the election, as it did not affect the outcome or his electoral fortune.

Galadima said the most important thing was that the logo of the petitioner's party was embossed on the ballot paper.

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