Suspense as Nasarawa, Kebbi Await S’Court’s Verdict on Guber Polls 

Suspense as Nasarawa, Kebbi Await S’Court’s Verdict on Guber Polls 

Alex Enumah in Abuja 

Any moment from now, the Supreme Court will deliver its judgments in two separate governorship appeals involving Nasarawa and Kebbi States.

A five-member panel of the apex court on Tuesday said its judgment in the two separate appeals filed by the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be delivered on a date to be communicated to parties in the appeals.

Presiding Justice, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, made the announcement shortly after the counsel to all parties adopted and argued their briefs of arguments in the case.

The first to be heard was that of the appeal against the election of Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State.

The PDP and its governorship candidate in the March 18, 2023 gubernatorial election, Hon. David Ombugadu, had approached the apex court to set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which had nullified the judgment of the Nasarawa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which declared him the authentic winner of the governorship poll in the state.

The appellants, through his team of lawyers led by Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), submitted that the appellate court erred in law in reversing the decision of the tribunal.

Agabi subsequently prayed the apex court to “allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal and restore the judgment of the tribunal” which declared his client as the authentic winner of the election.

The senior lawyer claimed that the Court of Appeal unjustly nullified the tribunal’s judgment and unjustly declared Sule as winner of the March 18 gubernatorial election.

Agabi specifically said that the Supreme Court should allow the votes of Nasarawa State people to count and be meaningful by declaring PDP and Ombugadu as winners as rightly done by the tribunal.

However, Governor Sule, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), through their respective lawyers, urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking merit.

After taking arguments from lawyers, Justice Kekere-Ekun announced that judgment has been reserved and that the date for its delivery would be communicated to parties involved.

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal had on November 23, 2023, reversed the sack of Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State.

The panel, in a judgment, held that the Nasarawa State Election Petition Tribunal erred in law in concluding that Sule did not win majority of the votes cast in the election.

Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam, who delivered the lead judgment of the panel, held that the tribunal breached the principle of fair hearing when it refused to rule on the preliminary objection of the respondents challenging the competence of the petition and the jurisdiction of the court.

While holding that the issue of jurisdiction is fundamental, the court held that failure of the tribunal to rule one way or the other in the respondents’ application challenging the competence of the petition and the court’s jurisdiction renders the judgment invalid.

Besides, the appellate court held that the tribunal erred in law when it held that there was a case of over-voting at the March 18 governorship election that produced Sule as governor for a second term.

According to the judgment for over-voting to be proved, the petitioners must provide the voters’ register, BVAS machines and forms EC8As used in the election in addition to oral evidence.

While observing that the respondents belatedly brought the BVAS machines and other documents to prove allegations of over-voting, the panel stated that the documents were “simply dumped on the tribunal”.

Besides, Justice Onyemenam pointed out that the evidence were not admissible in law.

It was also the position of the appellate court that the”tribunal was in error when it deducted the votes from the appellant’s score when the first respondent did not prove over-voting”.

Similarly, the appellate court held that the tribunal was wrong to have admitted and rely on the evidence of some witnesses whose statements of oaths were not filed alongside the petition and such statements front loaded to parties in the petition.

According to the judgment, once the time limit for filing has elapsed, the content cannot be amended, adding that any witness whose statement was not front loaded, their evidence cannot be admitted to vary the petition.

The witnesses whose statements were not filed alongside the petition and front loaded to parties include: P5, P6, P 7, P8, P12, P13, P20 and P21. 

Justice Onyemenam held that where a court relies on such witnesses’ statements, “it is the duty of the Court of Appeal to ensure that such evidences are expunged from the lower court’s judgment”.

“There evidence and all exhibits tendered through them are incompetent and accordingly struck out,” the court held.

It further held that the evidence of the remaining witnesses cannot sustain the judgment of the tribunal, having expunged the evidence relied upon in deducting votes accrued to Sule.

Besides, the appellate court further faulted the tribunal for recomputing votes in some polling units in favour of the first respondent.

“On the whole, I hold that this appeal has merit and succeeds, the majority judgment of the tribunal delivered on October 2 is hereby dismissed,” Justice Onyemenam held.

She went ahead to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal which returned Ombugadu as governor.

In addition, she voided the order of the tribunal which ordered the withdrawal of certificate of return issued to Sule and a fresh one to be issued to Ombugadu.

“I make an order affirming the declaration of Abdullahi Sule of the All Progressives Congress as duly reelected Governor of Nasarawa State,” she added.

The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, had last month sacked Governor Sule of the APC and declared PDP’s David Ombugadu as the winner of the March 18, 2023 governorship election in the state.

In a virtual court session on October 2, the chairman of the three-member tribunal, Justice Ezekiel Ajayi, had ordered the withdrawal of the certificate of return from Sule, while the same should be issued to Ombugadu as the validly elected Governor of Nasarawa State.

Justice Ajayi’s lead judgment was supported by Justice Chiemelie Onaga but the third judge, Ibrahim Mashi, delivered a dissenting judgment upholding Sule’s election.

Meanwhile, in the Kebbi case, PDP and its candidate, Aminu Bande, urged the apex court to allow their appeal and set aside the concurrent judgments of the Court of Appeal and tribunal that affirmed the election of Nasir Idris of the All progressives Congress (APC) as Kebbi State Governor.

The respondents’ counsel however, urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit and uphold the judgments of the lower courts that upheld the election.

A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, in a unanimous judgment, dismissed the appeal filed by PDP and Bande, for lacking in merit.

The court, in the judgment delivered by Justice Ndukwe Anyannwu, resolved all the five issues formulated for determination in favour of Governor Sule.

The court held that the appellants failed to establish all the allegations brought up against the governor in their petition.

It held that the allegations of forgery of testimonial brought against the deputy governor of the state, Abubakar Tafida, could not be established as required by law.

It also held that the issues of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election could not stand because the appellants failed to prove how the allegations substantially affected the poll.

The court, consequently, affirmed the judgment of the Kebbi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which had on 5 October, affirmed Idris as the duly elected governor.

INEC had declared the March 18 Kebbi gubernatorial election inconclusive owing to “massive vote cancellation and over-voting” in 20 of the 21 local government areas in the state.

The commission later fixed 15 April for a supplementary election.

At the end of the exercise, Idris, the candidate of the APC, scored 409,225 votes to beat Bande, who got 360,940 votes.

Bande and his party rejected the result and filed a petition before the tribunal.

In the petition, the petitioners alleged that there was over-voting in some polling units and that Idris was not qualified to contest the poll.

They also alleged that the deputy governor had submitted a fake secondary school testimonial to INEC.

However, in the judgment, Ofem Ofem, the chairman of the tribunal, held that the petitioners failed to prove beyond doubt that the third respondent (deputy governor) presented a fake certificate to INEC.

Justice Ofem added that the evidence presented showed that the testimonial in question was duly signed and issued to him by the then principal of Sultan Abubakar College, Sokoto in 1982.

The tribunal chairman described the documents presented by the petitioners as “iron cast evidence”, saying: “We state categorically that the third respondent did not forge certificate.”

On the issue of over-voting, Ofem said out of the 59 polling units being questioned, irregularities were discovered in nine.

The chairman, however, said the deduction of the votes would not affect the margin between the election winner and the first runner-up. 

He added that there was no substantial evidence to prove over-voting and irregularities in other polling units.

Related Articles