Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The National and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal (Panel II) sitting in Umuahia, capital of Abia State, yesterday nullified the election of the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
In a unanimous judgment read by a member of the panel, Justice P.C. Igwe, the tribunal held that the mandate that Kalu used in getting to the National Assembly was fraudulently obtained.
The tribunal ordered that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should within 90 days conduct supplementary election in eight wards in Arochukwu Local Government and several wards in Ohafia, Isuikwuato and Umunneochi Local Government where election did not hold or votes were cancelled illegally.
Kalu was declared winner of the February 23, 2019, senatorial election for Abia North by the electoral umpire. But his predecessor, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa cried foul and proceeded to the tribunal, asking for the election to be nullified on grounds of non- compliance with the electoral law.
He also alleged that the margin of victory in the result declared by INEC was far lower than the number of registered voters in over 70 polling units where either election was not conducted or votes were illegally cancelled by INEC. The three-man tribunal headed by Justice Cornelius Akintayo, in determining the issues involved in the case, agreed with the petitioner that Kalu was not duly elected with majority of lawful votes and that INEC failed to comply with the electoral law.
“The petitioner has proved that the Abia North senatorial election is invalid and the (mandate) of the second respondent (Kalu) is null and void and of no effect,” the tribunal said.
The tribunal, therefore , ordered that supplementary poll should be conducted in eight out of the 11 wards in Arochukwu Local Government as well as numerous polling units scattered in Ohafia, Isuikwuato, Umunneochi and Bende Local Governments.
It also stated that INEC and any candidate declared winner through fraudulent means should not be allowed to get away with it in the interest democracy. “Democracy must be protected by sanctioning any breach of the electoral law,” Justice Igwe said in the judgment that lasted for over three and half hours.
The tribunal lashed INEC for unlawfully depriving the people of Abia North the opportunity to elect their leader, insisting that every Nigerian citizen is s stakeholder in the electoral process hence INEC had no right to exclude voters without complying with the law.
The tribunal noted that votes were unlawfully deducted from the petitioner in some polling units in Bende and Isuikwuato Local Governments while the second respondent was given unmerited votes.
INEC was ordered to correct the anomaly by restoring 349 votes to Ohuabunwa and deducting 149 votes from Kalu’s total score, leaving them with 21,152 and 31,105 votes respectively going into the supplementary poll.
The tribunal upbraided INEC over the manner it handled the Abia North senatorial poll and noted that the electoral umpire could not defend its action as it only claimed that the election was “peaceful, free and fair in all the polling units.”
Based on this claim the tribunal then put INEC to task to explain what happened to the 30,076 votes that were not collated in Arochukwu Local Government alone as well as other areas where election was not allowed to hold or votes were cancelled for no just reason.
“By the pieces of evidence both oral and documentary we hold that the number of votes in areas where election did not hold or votes cancelled were in excess of the margin of lead,” the tribunal stated.
It observed that election is a step by step process of result collation as stipulated in Section 73 of the electoral law and that INEC must at all times not skip any of the process in order to arrive at a credible poll.