Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
The Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, Abia State, Friday upheld the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu for a second term in office.
In reaching the verdict, the three-man panel dismissed the petition filed by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Mr. Alex Otti.
The tribunal, in the verdict read by its chairman, Justice Lekan Ogunmoye, said that Otti failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt his claims that Ikpeazu’s victory was made possible by over voting and other electoral malpractices.
The petitioner and his party had gone to the tribunal seeking the annulment of the March 9, 2019 poll after the incumbent governor was declared victorious by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Otti was placed third in the result announced by INEC but he faulted the result, saying that Ikpeazu did not win majority of lawful votes cast at the poll.
According to him, there was enough evidence that the total number of votes credited to the contestants was far higher than the number of accredited voters.
He also alleged in his petition that the governorship poll was characterised by non compliance with the electoral law and INEC guidelines and regulations, hence the outcome should be invalidated and fresh poll conducted.
The tribunal disagreed, saying that the card reader accreditation on which the petitioner relied to prove over voting was meant to supplement the voters’ register, adding that the electronic device could not be elevated to the level of becoming more prominent than the register.
It further held that though the Electoral Act was amended, the amendment did not put the card reader on a pedestal to assume exclusive determinant of accreditation of voters.
INEC, the tribunal noted, had deployed the card reader even when Section 49 of the Electoral Act, which made room for manual accreditation, was left intact hence the card reader could not be the sole determinant of the electoral process.
Otti had called 94 witnesses to testify in his favour. However, the tribunal held that it was not enough as he should have produced witnesses in all the polling units where he alleged electoral malpractices occurred.
The tribunal also said that many of the 65 polling unit agents among the witnesses “worsened” matters for the petitioner due to disparities in their testimonies.
In his reaction, Otti rejected the verdict, saying that what transpired at the tribunal was “technicality overriding the law”.
“The decision is not acceptable to us,” he declared, adding that his team of lawyers led by Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), would obtain the judgment and study it before taking further action.
The APGA governorship standard-bearer, who spoke with journalists through his media aide, Mr. Ferdinand Ekeoma, faulted the reasons adduced by the tribunal in dismissing the petition.
He said that it was “practically impossible” to assemble over 700 witnesses to testify within the 14 days period assigned by the tribunal for the petitioner to lead his witnesses in evidence.
“The push to redeem and reclaim Abia
continues,” he said, adding that “the struggle goes Alex Otti because everybody is a victim of the present system”.
In his reaction, a member of the legal team of the respondents, Dr Paul Ananaba (SAN), hailed the tribunal’s verdict, saying that it was right in arriving at the decision that the petitioner failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt.
The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia State, Chief Johnson Onuigbo, also hailed the judgment, which he said was in tandem with the verdict of Abia voters delivered for Governor Ikpeazu with their ballots.