As Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State begins his defence this week at the Imo State Election Tribunal — against two cases instituted against him by Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Senator Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressive Congress (APC), revelations by witnesses and the recent inaction of INEC, indicated that Ihedioha might just be walking on a very tight rope.
Indeed, in the next few days, Ihedioha would have to prove before the election panel that the election results from the 22 Local Government Councils he purported got during the last governorship election under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were not duplicitously collated and recorded for him – as being claimed by both APGA and APC’s candidates.
Araraume and Uzodinma had asked the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal to nullify and set aside the Imo State governorship election held on March 9, 2019 — for being invalid and non-compliant with the provision of the Electoral Act 2010 and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Specifically, Araraume had asked for an order voiding the Certificate of Return issued to Ihedioha of PDP, as the governor-elect of the election. The suit also has the INEC and PDP as respondents. In his petition no: IM/EPT/GOV/03/2019 dated March 29, 2019, and filed on his behalf by Ahmed Raji (SAN); K.C Nwufo (SAN); I. K Bawa (SAN) and others, the petitioner also asked for an order directing the INEC to conduct a fresh gubernatorial election in Imo State, in compliance with the provision of the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The petitioner averred that all the scores and purported votes from Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ehime Mbano and other 17 local government council areas of the states, were void and unlawful votes, and rightly so. Giving “facts’’ in support of the voiding of the election in the stated LGAs, Araraume has argued strongly that INEC, in preparation for the election, had sourced electoral officers from suspected institutions like University of Agriculture, Umudike.
He alleged that the said electoral officers were “inexplicably’’ changed hours to the election, and replaced with a different set of untrained electoral officers and ad-hoc staff. And further averred that the new, untrained electoral officers and ad-hoc staff, most of who hail from Mbaise LGA – Ihedioha’s LGA, were then appointed and deployed within hours to the commencement of the governorship election, stating that these untrained electoral staff did not subscribe to the oath of neutrality.
The APGA candidate also declared in his petition that there was massive hijacking and diversion of ballot papers and other electoral material to places other than polling units where several booklets of ballot papers were “massively thumb printed’’ by agents of PDP in favour of Ihedohia in the aforementioned LGAs, coupled with ballot box snatching and stuffing with ballot papers.
He said that the multiple thumb-printed ballot papers for Ihedioha were subsequently stuffed into the ballot boxes and recorded in favour of the PDP and its candidate in the stated LGAs.
The petitioner further maintained that the agents of PDP and Ihedioha, acting on their instructions and authorisation, procured massive numbers of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and wrongfully used them on the Smart Card Readers – resulting in false record of accreditation on the Smart Card Readers, as shown by the serial and sustained fingerprint verification failure in the polling units.
Araraume further stated that the consequences of the alleged corrupt practices allegedly perpetrated by PDP and its candidate, acting through their agents and surrogates, led to the purported victory of PDP and its candidate at the election.
He also said that the respondent did not win one-quarter of the votes cast at the said election in each of at least two-third of all the local government areas in the state, as required by Section 179(2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution. The APGA candidate said that he submitted the said result sheets as in Forms EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E to a specialist for his professional analysis, adding that upon the said computation, he discovered that the PDP’s candidate did not secure one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-third of all the 27 LGAs in the state, as required by the constitution.
He also declared that out of the 27 LGAs in the state, the purported winner of the election scored 25 per cent of total votes cast in 12 local government areas, thereby rendering his purported return invalid.
Ihedioha’s apprehension may have swelled recently when the INEC’s lawyer in the ongoing election case between Araraume and Governor Ihedioha told the tribunal that his sole witness would no longer be testifying in the case, as earlier promised. The whole drama started when the INEC’s counsel, Mr. Aham Ekeh Ejelam (SAN), had pleaded with the tribunal to give him until time to produce his sole witness to testify in the case, and eventually the witness failed to turn up at the tribunal. And when asked by the Chairman of the tribunal, Hon. Justice M. U. Dogodanji, at the continuation of the hearing, if he had another witness, Ejelam responded thus, “I cannot present another witness when the real witness name was forwarded to the tribunal in our front loaded documents.’’
INEC’s counsel subsequently pleaded with the tribunal to adjourn for 24 hours to enable him put his house together and bring his sole witness to the court. However, at the resumed hearing, the counsel to INEC told the court that he could not produce his sole witness, informing the court that INEC had no witness to present and consequently closed his case.
Onyechi ikpeazu (SAN), counsel to Rt. Hon Ihedioha of PDP, however, pleaded with the court to adjourn till August 16 to enable him to open his defence. But the court declined to his request and later fixed 5th and 6th of August for the opening of their defence, saying the tribunal is running out of time.
The legal fireworks at election petition tribunal sitting in Owerri, the lmo State capital, begun recently with Senator Araraume testifying before the tribunal, and his petition received a boost, as the court accepted all his evidence, including the INEC’s certified ‘’back end report’’ tendered by his lead counsel, Kalu (SAN).
Speaking with journalists after the court sitting, Araraume said that all documents required to prove his case ‘’beyond reasonable doubt’’ had been tendered before the tribunal, including but not limited to voter register, declaration sheets and card reader back end report. The APGA candidate said he was elated about what transpired in the court, stating that the Back End Report was very critical because in the guidelines issued by INEC, the only means of accreditation was by electronic, with no room for manual accreditation.
Buttressing his argument, Senator Araraume cited the case of Aboh Mbaise, Ihedioha’s local government area, where INEC returned 64,000 votes to him, presenting INEC’s certified documents, which indicated that only 22,328 total votes were accredited to vote, including void-votes. He maintained that the governorship election in lmo, particularly in Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Oguta and many other local government areas was a big fraud.
Enter Uzodinma’s petition, also asking the tribunal to nullify the declaration of Ihedioha, as winner of the election by the INEC. Uzodinma had urged the tribunal to declare him the winner of the election, haven polled majority of the lawful votes cast at the election and satisfied the mandatory constitutional threshold and spread across the state, saying he “ought to be returned.’’
His petition alleged that the INEC fraudulently excluded votes casted for the APC at the polling units across the state, which gave the PDP candidate advantage, adding however, that after tabulating the valid votes at the polling units, he defeated the PDP candidate with a large margin. The petition opined that “it was at the course of collation of the results at the ward, local government and state levels, that INEC incorrectly stated the votes of Ihedioha, and thus reduced his votes by excluding the results from the polling units where he scored overwhelming majority of the votes cast. The petitioner has further claimed that it was in order to give unfair advantage to Ihedioha that INEC unlawfully credited him with votes arising from over voting in all of the polling units in Aboh Mbaise, Ezinihitte and Ahiazu Mbaise LGAs. The petition further argued that the INEC did not comply with the Electoral Act 2010 and INEC guidelines for 2019 general elections when it recruited relatives of the PDP’s candidate as collation officers and Returning Officers in most of the Local Government Areas in the state during the election.
The tribunal recently admitted in evidence, the 366 polling units results alleged to have been excluded from the governorship final results that saw the declaration of Ihedioha of PDP, as the winner of the election in the state. These evidence were tendered before the tribunal by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Huseini, in charge of operations in Imo State, during the elections. And the admittance of the said results by the tribunal had triggered jubilation in the camp of Senator Uzodinma, as they claimed that the form EC8A tallied with the same 388 polling units results earlier admitted by the tribunal as evidence, which were presented by Senator Uzodinma.
At the election tribunal, the evidence also generated long argument which lasted for more than four hours, between the counsel to Senator Uzodinma, Olusola Oke(SAN) and that of PDP and INEC, the first and second respondents, who objected to the evidence. But at the end of the argument, the tribunal ordered that the police’s witness should go ahead and testify on his evidence before the tribunal.
Senator Uzodinma had gone to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the said governorship election, where Ihedioha was declared winner, alleging that some results were omitted, arguing that the election would have been in his favour if the omitted results were added.
However, Ihedioha will this week open his defence, in an attempt to dispute all the allegations against him.
––Okoye writes from Owerri, Imo State.