Alex Enumah in Abuja
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and other contestants to the state governorship seat will on August 31 know their fate as the Supreme Court delivers judgments in two appeals over the conduct of the November 16 governorship election in the state.
A seven-man panel of the Supreme Court presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, yesterday adjourned till next Monday judgments in two separate appeals challenging the victory of Bello in the election.
The court deferred its judgments shortly after taking the submissions of lawyers to 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 that of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its candidate, Ms. Natasha Akpoti.
The appeals seek to upturn the judgments of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the election of Bello.
At yesterday’s 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, 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 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, told the counsel the court would deliver judgment in the matter on Monday.
In the second appeal filed by the SDP and Akpoti, the apex court also fixed its final verdict on the same day with that of the PDP.
However, the appeal filed by the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and its governorship candidate, Mr. Usman Mohammed, was struck out after an oral application for its withdrawal by their lawyer, M. S. Ibrahim.
The withdrawal was a sequel to the court’s prompting over the eligibility of its candidate who was said to be 31 years instead of the mandatory 35 years.
The apex court struck out the appeal with a cost of N200,000 in favour of the first and second respondents.
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had, in July, 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, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the poll, having won the majority of votes cast in the election.
However, the four contestants and their parties disagreed with INEC and subsequently approached the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal to challenge the victory of Bello.
But 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 the grounds that it 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 held that the appellants merely dumped documents on the tribunal without calling 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 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, it was divided in that of the PDP.
While the majority judgment delivered by Justice Kashim Kaigama favoured Bello, the minority judgment delivered by Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele held that there was evidence of electoral malpractices in the seven local government areas.
Ovbiagele subsequently upturned Bello’s victory and ordered a rerun in the affected areas.