By Alex Enumah
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and other contestants to the seat of power would on August 31 know there fate in the November 16 governorship election in the state.
A seven-man panel of the Supreme Court presided by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, on Tuesday adjourned to the said date to deliver judgments in two separate appeals challenging Bello’s victory shortly after taking the submissions of lawyers to the parties in the separate suits.
The two appeals fixed for judgments are that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate, Mr. Musa Wada, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its candidate, Natasha Akpoti.
The appeals were seeking to upturn the judgments of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the election of Bello as Governor of Kogi State.
At the hearing, PDP and Wada’s lawyer, Mr Jibrin Okutepa (SAN), pleaded with the apex court to allow the appeal and grant the reliefs sought by his clients.
However, Governor Bello’s lawyer, Mr Joseph Daudu (SAN), and that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit.
Daudu specifically pleaded with the apex court to affirm the concurrent decisions of the Court of Appeal and the state governorship election petition tribunal.
The CJN after taking arguments announced that the court will deliver judgment in the matter on Monday, August 31.
In the second appeal filed by the SDP and its governorship candidate, Natasha Akpoti, the apex court also announced its decision to give final verdict on the same day with that of the PDP.
Meanwhile, the appeal filed by the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and its governorship candidate, Usman Mohammed, was struck out after an oral application for its withdrawal by their lawyer, M. S. Ibrahim.
The withdrawal was sequel to the court’s prompting over the eligibility of its candidate who was said to be 31 years instead of the mandatory 35.
The apex court however struck out the appeal with a cost of N200,000 in favour of the first and second respondents.
The Court of Appeal, Abuja had in July, this year, affirmed the election of Bello as Governor of Kogi State, after it dismissed four appeals filed by the PDP, DPP, SDP and Action Peoples Party (APP) and their respective governorship candidates for lacking in merit.
INEC had last year declared Bello, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the November 16, 2019 governorship poll having won majority of votes cast in the election.
However, the four contestants and their parties, including Wada and the PDP disagreed with INEC and subsequently approached the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal to challenge the victory of Bello.
However, their petitions were all dismissed by the tribunal for lacking in merit.
Similarly, the Court of Appeal agreed that the cases of the appellants lacked merit and even dismissed some with cost against some appellants.
Still not satisfied, the appellants approached the apex court to set aside the judgments of the appellate court on grounds that the Court of Appeal discarded evidence of rigging and violence in seven local government areas of the state.
The Court of Appeal in its unanimous judgment had held that the allegations of over-voting, multiple thumb-printing and results falsification were not proved by the appellants.
In the ruling delivered by Justice Haruna Tsamani, the appellate court further held that the appellants merely dumped documents on the tribunal without calling relevant witnesses to link the documents to the allegation of over-voting.
According to him, a party who alleges over-voting must tender the voter registers for the affected polling units and the results of the polling units, show how, without over-voting, the results would be in his or her favour.
In the other judgments, the Court of Appeal held that the tribunal was right in dismissing the petitions of the DPP and APP over alleged unlawful exclusion and that of the SDP for failure to prove claims of electoral malpractices in the governorship election.
Although the decisions of the Kogi tribunal was unanimous in the petitions of APP, DPP and SDP, but was divided in that of the PDP.
While the majority judgment delivered by Justice Kashim Kaigama favoured Bello, the minority judgment delivered by Ohimai Ovbiagele held that there was evidence of electoral malpractices in seven local government areas of the state.
Ovbiagele subsequently upturned Bello’s victory and ordered a rerun in the seven affected local government areas of the state.
While Bello polled a total of 406,222 votes, the runner up, Wada, polled 189,704.