Alex Enumah in Abuja and Francis Sardauna in Katsina
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Great Ogboru against the election of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa as Governor of Delta State just as the Court in Kaduna ruled in favour of Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State.
While a five-man panel of the appellate court led by Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, dismissed Ogboru’s appeal on the grounds that it was “completely devoid of merit”, that in Kaduna ruled that the petition of Senator Yakubu Lado of the PDP also lacked merit.
The court accordingly upheld the decision of the Delta State and Katsina Stater Governorship Election Petition Tribunals which affirmed the declaration of Okowa and Masari as lawful winners of the March 9 governorship elections.
Ogboru and his party, APC had approached the appellate court to upturn the decision of the tribunal which returned Okowa for a second term in office.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Okowa and PDP winner of the March 9 governorship election in Delta State, haven garnered majority of the lawful votes cast in the election.
Ogboru and his party had alleged over-voting and non-compliance with the Electoral Act amongst other irregularities they claimed marred the governorship election in the state.
They called a total of 20 witnesses and tendered a total of 4,523 documents to prove their petition.
They then prayed the court to nullify Okowa’s election and declare them winner or in the alternative order INEC to conduct a fresh election in Delta State.
However, the three-man panel led by Justice Suleiman Belgore, in its judgment dismissed Ogboru and APC’s petition on grounds that the petitioners failed to prove the cases of irregularities and malpractices claimed in their petition.
Not satisfied, the petitioners then approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment of the lower court and grant the reliefs sought.
Respondents in the appeal are Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
They predicated the appeal on 37 grounds upon which they asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the entire judgment of the tribunal on the grounds that the tribunal erred in law when it dismissed their appeal for lacking in merit.
The appellants argued that the lower court erred in law when it relied on the issue of over voting instead of allocation of votes as canvassed in their petition to dismiss their petition.
The appellants in urging the court to nullify Okowa’s election claimed that in some polling units, the total number of votes cast at the election exceeded the total number of voters who were accredited to vote, adding that there was non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act in relation to accreditation of voters.
However, in response to the appeal, Okowa and the PDP urged the Court of Appeal to dismiss Ogboru and APC’s appeal for being incompetent and unmeritorious.
In their brief of argument by Damien Dodo SAN and Akinlolu Kehinde SAN, for Okowa and PDP respectively, the respondents submitted that the appellants failed to prove their allegations of over voting and non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
However, the appellate court in its judgment agreed with the submissions of the respondents that the appeal lacked merit and ought to be dismissed.
The upper court held that for the decision of a lower court to be set aside there must be evidence that such judgment was perverted, a condition which the appellants failed to prove in their appeal.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, the appellate court held that the tribunal was right to hold that the case of the petitioners was unmeritorious because they were able to call just 20 witnesses out of the over 800 polling units where election took place in the state.
Masari while reacting to the verdict of the Appeal court at a press conference he held yesterday at Government House, dedicated the victory to God and the people of Katsina State.
He extended a hand of fellowship to those who had felt aggrieved at the outcome of the election, and went to court, noting that it was within their democratic rights.
“The victory is not mine alone, it is the victory for Katsina State. They came out and voted for us with over 1.2 million votes. It is only in Nigeria that what happened would happen because someone who scored less than one quarter of what we scored is still contesting the election.
“Himself and his party have exercised their constitutional rights. We are not worried, it is part of the game that we are in and is not wrong in going to the court”, he explained.
However, the Katsina State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday said it would approach the Supreme Court with its petition against the victory of Masari of the ruling.