Plot to unseat Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State was hatched by the Peoples Democratic party shortly after the Returning Officer for the March 18, 2023 Governorship Poll in the State, Prof. TankoIshaya, declared the incumbent governor re-elected, reports IgbawaseUkumba.
On March 20, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Governor AbdullahiSule as winner of the March 18 governorship election in Nasarawa State. This was even as the incumbent governor and the deputy governor, Emmanuel Akabe, had both lost their Akwanga and Doma Local Government Areas, respectively, to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the governorship poll.
However, Governor Sule won in seven of the 13 Local Government Areas of the state, scoring a total of 347,209 votes whereas, his closest rival, David Ombugadu of the PDP, scored a total of 283,016 votes during the poll.
Sule had won in Keana, Awe, Lafia, Wamba, Keffi, Nasarawa and Toto Local Government Areas in the results declared by the INEC Returning Officer. His closest competitor, David Ombugadu of the PDP won in six Local Government Areas of Akwanga, Doma, Obi, NasarawaEggon, Kokona and Karu.
Not satisfied with the governorship election result declared by INEC, PDP governorship candidate, Ombugadu, approached the Nasarawa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to nullify the election of Sule and declare him winner.
Consequently, the tribunal commenced hearing of the petition filed by Ombugadu over the declaration of Sule as winner of the governorship election in the state.
Legal fireworks began in earnest as the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal began hearing of the petition filed by the governorship candidate of the PDP challenging the declaration of Sule as winner of the March 18 governorship poll.
The three-man panel of justices led by Justice Ezekiel Ajayi listened to arguments and counter-arguments canvassed by counsels to Governor Sule, the APC and INEC. The arguments centered on the admissibility or otherwise of documents and witnesses tendered and called by the complainants.
During the sitting, the petitioner, through his counsels led by M.J Numa, tendered documents including voters registers, list of adhoc staff, result sheets from several Local Government Areas, among others, to substantiate his claims. Counsels to the respondents, however, objected to the admissibility of the documents, but reserved their arguments to the final written addresses.
Ruling on the issue, Justice Ajayi reserved ruling on the propriety of the admissibility of the documents or otherwise, but allowed the petitioner to tender evidences brought before the tribunal.
When adopting their final written addresses, counsel to INEC, the APC, and Nasarawa State Governor, IsiakaDikko, Hassan Liman andWoleOlanikpekun, all prayed for the tribunal to dismiss the petition by the PDP and its gubernatorial candidate for lacking in merit.
Counsel to the INEC, Dikko, called on the tribunal to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit. According to the INEC counsel, the petitioners have failed to prove their allegations of reduction of votes, cancellation of votes of the election of Ashige Electoral Ward and exclusion of votes in Alwaza Electoral Ward in Lafia and Doma Local Government Areas respectively, where the petitioners alleged over voting in four polling units.
Dikko added that his client, INEC declared Sule winner who led the petitioners’ with 64,193 lawful votes, stating that the petitioners’ allegation of leading with 4,130 votes entirely contradicts the deposition of their witnesses who changed position to now claim they were leading with 841 votes.
The INEC counsel, therefore, prayed for the tribunal to dismiss the petition because the petitioners have failed to establish the allegation of exclusion or wrongful deduction of votes.
On his part, Counsel to Governor Sule, WoleOlanikpekun, told the tribunal that their job has been narrowed down and made easy, because certain witnesses tendered by the petitioners have no business appearing before the tribunal.
Relying on the recent verdict of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Olanipekun said the position of the law made it clear that PW7, PW8, PW11, PW12 and PW13, as well as exhibits attached to them namely: IG3, FB36, VB1 to VB207, SP01 to SP310, IG28, SUB305, IG9 to IG14, SUB306, IG3, SUB38 to 43 and LZ, were unlawfully obtained.
According to the senior learned silk, the law is very clear that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to have countenance and sneaked those witnesses and exhibits they tendered. He opined that the petitioners’ star witness, PW22 made conflicting claims, adding that the tribunal cannot compute figures for the petitioners.
Contrary to the claim by the petitioners, Olanipekun argued that the petitioners have dumped BVAS machines and IREV records at the tribunal without showing what was contained in the records.
He continued that the petition by the PDP and its gubernatorial candidate has suffered a shipwreck, even as he insisted that the petitioners have failed to show where they scored 25% of the votes in any Local Government Area.
He, therefore, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.
Similarly, Dr. Hassan Liman, counsel to the APC, while adopting their final written address, prayed the tribunal to dismiss the petition on grounds that it was lacking in merit, describing it as “waste of resources for the good people of Nasarawa State”.
Relying on some documents admitted as exhibits before the tribunal, Liman said Sule led the election with 64,193 votes, adding that electoral matters are valued on figures, arguing that the petitioners have determined the matter against themselves.
“I submit that in the four polling units where the petitioners alleged over voting, they did not refer to Voters Registers at all, or BVAS machine demonstration, nor did they even call witnesses in those four polling units where they alleged over voting,” he said.
According to Liman, the said over voting has not been proven and that the contention of the respondent is that the 1,780 votes in those polling units be retained as votes declared in the election. He averred that retaining the 1,780 votes would swallow the alleged margin of 841 votes, adding that with this, the petitioners would lose the election by 939 votes. He, therefore, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
Consequently, on October 2, 2023, the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, in a split decision by two of the three-man panel sacked Governor Sule.
Delivering the over four-hour judgment virtually, chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ajayi declared David Ombugadu of the PDP as the lawfully elected governor of Nasarawa State.
The tribunal chairman maintained that the evidence presented by the petitioner indicated that Ombugadu scored majority of the lawful votes cast during the March 18, 2023 governorship election in the state.
Justice Ajayi therefore directed INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to David Ombugadu of the PDP.
There was, however, a dissenting judgement delivered by Justice Ibrahim Mashi, a member of the panel.
In his dissenting judgement, the number two member of the panel dismissed the petition filed by the PDP candidate for lacking in merit. Justice Mashi affirmed that the petitioner had failed to prove his case and therefore upheld the declaration of Governor Sule of the APC as the winner of the governorship election conducted in the state.
Addressing a mammoth crowd of supporters who turned up at the Government House in Lafia shortly after the tribunal gave its judgement, Governor Sule directed his legal team to appeal the ruling of the tribunal which had upturned his election.
He maintained that those who would take responsibility of the appeal are the legal people. He detailed the legal team to continue with their work.
According to the governor: “I am calling on the good people of Nasarawa State to understand that this first judgment is the tribunal. It is not the judgment of the Supreme Court. Therefore, don’t bother yourselves getting angry or getting upset with anybody. I still remain Governor until the final determination of the case at the Supreme Court.
“I remain the governor until I appeal, and the law permits us to appeal again. And no matter what happened at that moment, I still remain the governor until we go to the Supreme Court.”