Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Court of Appeal, Abuja has reserved judgment in the appeal by the Nasarawa State Governor, Abdullahi Sule, against the nullification of his victory at the last governorship election.
A three-member panel of justices of the appellate court headed by Justice U. Onyemenam, on Wednesday held that judgment in the appeal has been reserved to a date that will be communicated to parties in the appeal.
The governor, who contested the poll on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had approached the appellate court to reverse the majority decision of the Nasarawa State Election Petition Tribunal, which had voided his victory at the March 18 governorship poll in Nasarawa State.
Besides, the tribunal had also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to return the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), David Ombugadu, as the authentic winner of the governorship election.
Sule, in the Notice of Appeal filed on October 15, by his lead counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), argued that the tribunal erred in law, when it concluded that he did not win majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
Olanipekun argued further that the majority decision of the lower tribunal in declaring Ombugadu as winner of the governorship poll failed to be bound by the provisions of Section 179 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended and Section 66 of the Electoral Act 2022.
He equally emphasized that there was no evidence before the tribunal demonstrating the percentage of votes scored by Ombugadu vis-a-vis the total votes cast in two-thirds of the 13 local government areas of the state to satisfy the provisions of Section 179(2) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended.
Sule, therefore, urged the appellate court to set aside the decision of the lower court and affirm his election victory as declared by INEC.
However, Ombugadu’s lead counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), urged the appellate court to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the evidence of the appellants were merely documentary.
He stated that contrary to the appellants, the issue of the Bi-modal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS) was sufficiently demonstrated during the trial as demanded by law, adding that the printout from the machine was presented and not merely dumped on the tribunal without being analysed.
Agabi, who referred the court to the judgment of the tribunal, argued that in delivering judgment, the lower court painstakingly gave a breakdown of how it arrived at its decision.
The governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Lafia, had in a split judgment, delivered on October 2, ordered the removal of Sule as Governor of Nasarawa State on the grounds that Ombugadu of the PDP and not he won majority of lawful votes cast at the March 18 governorship election in the state.
The majority judgment delivered by Justice Ezekiel Ajayi had declared that Ombugadu provided the results of the various polling units and forms EC 8A and proved to the tribunal that the results were manipulated in favour of the APC.
Chiemelie Onaga, another member of the panel, who agreed with Justice Ajayi, held that from the evidence tendered by the petitioners, they were convinced that the petitioners and not Sule and the APC won majority of the lawful votes cast at the election.
They therefore ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Sule and issue a new one to Ombugadu.
However, the third member of the panel, Justice Ibrahim Mashi, in his dissenting judgment, had dismissed the petition for lacking in merit.
While pointing out that the petitioners failed to prove the allegations contained in their petition, he subsequently upheld INEC’s declaration of Sule as the winner of the governorship election.
Sule had secured his reelection as governor having polled a total of 347,209 votes to defeat Ombugadu, who secured 283,016 votes, to come second.
But, the tribunal had voided his election and declared Ombugadu authentic winner of the March 18 governorship election, hence the instant appeal.