N’Assembly Election Petitions: It’s Different Strokes!

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The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunals sitting in the 36 state capitals and Abuja recently delivered judgments nullifying the elections of some federal lawmakers as well as upholding the election of others, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The way the cookie crumbles! That expression best describes the recent judgments delivered by the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunals across the country, which had resulted in many Senators and House of Representatives members losing their seats.

In some instances, the Tribunals ordered outright sack of the sitting lawmakers while in others, fresh elections are to be held within 90 days to determine the actual winners of the February 23, 2019 National Assembly polls.

Although the National Election Petition cases have the Court of Appeal as the final court of arbitration, the judgment of the Tribunals is already generating issues among the petitioners and the respondents, who in this instance are the affected Senators and House members.

Those negatively affected by the tribunals’ verdicts at the upper legislative chamber include Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; ranking six-time Senator, James Manager; ranking Senator Dino Melaye and first time Senator Adedayo Adeyeye.

Senators whose elections were upheld include Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege; immediate past Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Solomon Olamilekan.

Already, Senator Manager representing Delta South Senatorial district has hinted of his plan to appeal the judgment.

Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice E.I. Ngene, gave the ruling last week and ordered a fresh election within 90 days.

Manager, who was elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was challenged at the Tribunal by former governor of the state and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, who prayed the panel to cancel the election and declare him winner.

Senator representing Abia North, Kalu has also said he would reclaim his mandate at the Court of Appeal.

This is sequel to the call for supplementary election in some polling units across Abia North senatorial district by the tribunal headed by Justice Cornelius Akintayo, a former governor of Abia State.

But Kalu has urged the electorate in his senatorial district not to lose hope, stressing that his mandate would be re-claimed at the Court of Appeal.

Senator Melaye (Kogi West), who was sacked by a split decision of two to one decision read by Justice A. O Chijioke, which ordered a fresh poll within 90 days, has approached the Court of Appeal. Confident of victory, he already filed 23 grounds of appeal in Abuja.

For the Chairman of the Senate committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, the judgment of the tribunal is nothing short of open robbery and a direct assault on the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary.

“To the teeming masses of Ekiti south, whose vote the tribunal is trying to steal for Olujimi, they should rest assured that the judgment would not stand. I have instructed my lawyers to immediately proceed on appeal. And by the grace of almighty God, we shall have justice. Meanwhile, I will remain focused on my duty to my constituents and the Nation. We shall prevail”.

However, to the victorious Senators, it was a song of joy even though their petitioners had vowed to pursue the election case to the Court of Appeal.

Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, described the petition as a needless distraction but thanked the people of Delta Central Senatorial district and all Nigerians whose unwavering support ensured undisputable electoral and judicial victory

Ekweremadu, while reacting through his spokesperson, Uche Anichukwu, said there was never really anything to worry about in the first place because the election was won fair and square.

On his part, Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (Anambra South), said the tribunal’s judgment “reinforces the confidence our people have in the judiciary. This is a good development for the advancement of democracy in our nation Nigeria as the judiciary has shown it is indeed the last hope for all.”

Senator Olamilekan (Lagos West) dedicated his victory to his numerous constituents that voted for him in the February 23 National Assembly Election, saying the judgment was yet another validation of the mandate of the people of Lagos West for him to continue his representation in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.

The situation in the House of Representatives was not different. The election tribunal, sitting in Osogbo, sacked Hon. Bamidele Salam, a PDP member representing Ede federal constituency in the House of Representatives, who was challenged by All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the election, Hon Adejare Bello.

The three-member panel, headed by Justice Eyo Ita, in their unanimous judgment, ordered a rerun in 12 units of the federal constituency, which are three units in Ede North, four units in Ede South and three units in Egbedore.

Hon Shamsudeen Dambazau, the son of a former Minister of Interior from Sumaila/Takai Federal Constituency Area of Kano State, was also sacked by the tribunal, which sat in the state.The tribunal also set aside the election of the member, representing Takai/Sumaila Federal constituency, Abdurrahman Kawu Sumaila.

The three-man tribunal, led by Honourable Justice Onyekan Abdullahi, disqualified Sumaila on the grounds that he did not participate in all the preliminary stages of the election processes and declared the next candidate, being Suraj Idris Kanawa, with the highest number of votes winner in the election.

Reacting, Nasir Aliyu, counsel to Sumaila, said as a law-abiding citizen, his client had accepted the ruling of the court, because he had no plans to appeal the judgment.

The tribunal sitting in Makurdi, Benue State presided over by Justice A.A Adeleye, had directed INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Mr. David Ogewu of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and declare Mr. Samson Okwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the Obi/Oju federal constituency election.

Delivering judgment in the petition filed by Okwu against the election of Ogewu, Adeleye declared that the petitioner won the election with a margin of 994 votes from the two local government areas (LGAs) and disagreed with the decision of INEC to declare Ogewu winner without including results for Obi LGA in the final collation on the grounds that the margin of win, which the APGA candidate secured over the petitioner in Oju was inconsequential.

The lawmaker representing Okitipupa/Irele Federal Constituency area of Ondo State and PDP candidate, Ikengboju Gbolug has been sacked by the tribunal, for acquiring dual citizenship, a status that is clearly unconstitutional.

The APC candidate in the election, Albert Akintoye, was able to establish before the court that the respondent was a citizen of the United Kingdom and therefore not qualified to run for political office in Nigeria under section 66 sub-section one of the 1999 constitution.

The three-man panel headed by Justice Nuhu Adi directed INEC to withdraw Gboluga’s certificate of return and issue it to Akintoye, who said the judgment is rule of law at work. There is however no end in sight to the legal tussle as Ikengboju’s counsel, Olumide Ogunje, has declared that his client would appeal the judgment.

A Federal High Court sitting in Owerri has also sacked the member for Nkwerre/Nwangele/Njaba/Isu Federal Constituency of Imo State in the House of Representatives, Ugonna Ozurigbo.

In his judgment, Justice P.A Rigime ordered INEC to issue the certificate of return to Kingsley Echendu of the PDP. Echendu hads dragged the APC and INEC to court for submitting Ozurigbo’s name as the candidate of the party, praying the court to declare him as the APC rightful candidate, contending that automatic tickets were unknown to the party’s constitution.

The judge agreed with the petitioner that automatic tickets were unknown to party’s law and therefore declared Ozurigbo’s candidacy as illegitimate.

In Plateau, the Court of Appeal, during the week upheld the election of Hon. Usman Bello Kumo, from Akko federal constituency of Gombe State. The court dismissed an application challenging Kumo’s election under the All Progressives Congress (APC) and upheld the decision of the National Assembly Petitions Tribunal, which had earlier affirmed Kumo’s victory.

Aishatu Mohammed Ahmad of the PDP had dragged Kumo before the tribunal, claiming that his victory was illegal. Ahmad asked the court to quash Kumo’s election and declare her winner on the ground that Kumo was not fit to contest the election.

But the tribunal dismissed her appeal and ruled that the issue was a pre-election matter and not a post-election matter. Ahmad is not satisfied with the position of the court and might appeal it.