Alex Enumah in Abuja
The senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Senator Dino Melaye, yesterday suffered a setback as the Court of Appeal dismissed his suit challenging his sack from the National Assembly. A three man panel of the appellate court in a judgment delivered, upheld the decision of the Kogi State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal which nullified the election of Melaye as Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District on account of manifest electoral malpractices.
Melaye had approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal which nullified his victory in the February 23 senatorial election and ordered for a fresh election within 90 days.
In the appeal, Melaye claimed that the tribunal erred in law when it reached a decision based on hearsay to nullify his election.
He therefore asked the appellate court to set aside the tribunal’s judgment and upheld his election as Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District.
However delivering judgment in the appeal, the three-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya upheld the decision of the tribunal and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election within 90 days.
In the unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, the appellate court held that the election was invalid due to fundamental error by INEC which in the result sheets fixed February 25 as date the senatorial election was conducted rather than February 23 the actual date the election held.
Melaye through his lawyer Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), had urged the Appeal Court to set aside the over-voting decision of the tribunal because it was based on hearsay instead of polling units agents’ result.
The counsel drew the attention of the Justices to the fact that only three witnesses were called, adding that the evidence of the three witnesses based on hearsay could not justify the cancellation of the senatorial election.
Ikpeazu further submitted that mutilation of result sheet was untenable because the final result of senatorial election was endorsed by agents of the candidates and the parties, and that the petitioners failed to establish that the alleged mutilated result substantially affected the final result collation.
Similarly, the other appellants PDP and INEC had urged the court to set aside the majority judgment on the grounds that they were denied fair hearing and were not allowed to evaluate evidence adduced during the hearing.
According to the PDP, the tribunal erred in law when it based its claim of over voting on the number of collected permanent voter cards rather than voter register as required by law.
On its part the electoral body argued that finding of over-voting by the tribunal was wrong and baseless because the voter register and result of election in 2015 tallied with the result in the disputed area.
The electoral body alleged that the tribunal did not evaluate the exhibits it tendered to prove that there was no over voting and pleaded that appeal be allowed.
However, Senator Adeyemi and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in their response pleaded with the appellate court to dismiss the three petitions because the petitioners were not denied fair hearing and that the tribunal based its findings on over voting on the report of INEC which comprehensively contained the number of collected voter cards unit by unit.
Adeyemi and APC through their counsel, Adekunle Otitoju, argued that INEC breach an order of the Federal High Court to the effect that the senatorial election result must be collated and announced in Kabba, the senatorial district headquarters and not in Lokoja as done by the electoral body.
They alleged that while their agents were in Kabba waiting for the collation, the INEC officials and agents of the appellants allegedly colluded and secretly moved the result collation to Lokoja where the result sheets were allegedly mutilated to favour Melaye.
They insisted that mutilation of results, dated February 25 instead of February 23, was so apparent and that over voting was so established that the petitioners won with over 48,000 votes.
They therefore urged the Court of Appeal to dismiss the appeal and uphold the majority decision of the tribunal.
The tribunal had on August 23 nullified the election of Melaye on grounds of electoral malpractices and ordered a fresh election within 90 days.