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Election Tribunals: Panic over inconsistent verdicts

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Saturday, September 16th, 2023
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•30 NASS members, 7 Senators, 23 Reps’ victories nullified
•Supreme Court affirms Gov Mbah’s election in Enugu
•Dismisses APC’s appeal as incompetent
•Tribunal ruling on LP’s petition against Mbah awaited
•Democracy grows when citizens’ votes count- LP
•INEC did Nigerians 419– Nzeakor
•Ruling party shouldn’t appoint INEC commissioners- Oshoma

There is panic in the polity among political parties and politicians as election petition tribunals across the country churn out their verdicts.

From next week, tribunals’ judgements on most of the 552 petitions challenging the outcome of the February 25 National Assembly, and March 18 Governorship and State Assembly polls will be given.

Given the 180-day timeline provided by the Electoral Act for election petitions to be decided, the tribunals are expected to deliver their verdicts on or before September 22 for National Assembly petitions, and October 11 for governorship petitions.

From the verdicts given so far, no fewer than seven senators and 23 House of Representatives members had their elections nullified. Three of the senators were sacked outright while four of them will face supplementary polls.

In the House of Representatives, 18 members were sacked and there will be seven supplementary polls.

Coming on a day that the Supreme Court dismissed the All Progressives Congress, APC, petition as incompetent and affirmed Governor Peter Mbah’s election as Enugu State governor, panic is heralding the verdicts on account of inconsistencies in the judgments. Mbah contested the Enugu poll on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Among the nullified polls, APC had five, PDP 14, Labour Party, LP 6, and NNPP 2
Conversely, APC gained seven seats, PDP 5, LP 2, and All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA 1

Some of the reasons the tribunals gave for annulling the elections include invalid nomination, forged names, forged certificates, falsification of results, exclusion of results, non-recording of results, and non-conduct of elections in some polling units.

Supreme Court declines to nullify Mbah’s election

The Supreme Court, yesterday, declined to nullify the election of Governor Peter Mbah of Enugu State.

The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel of Justices, dismissed as incompetent, an appeal that the APC and its candidate, Uche Nnaji, filed to challenge the return of Mbah of the PDP as winner of the March 18 election.

In its lead judgement that was prepared by Justice Tijani Abubakar, the Supreme Court held that Nnaji and his party filed an invalid brief of argument.

It held that the appellants failed to adduce any cogent reason why the invalid process they filed should be relied upon to invalidate Governor Mbah’s victory.

According to the apex court, since the appellants’ brief of argument was legally defective, it ultimately affected the substantive appeal.

Consequently, it dismissed the case of the appellants for being incompetent.

It will be recalled that the Court of Appeal in Enugu had on July 18, also dismissed Nnaji’s case against Mbah.

The appellate court held that the appeal marked: CA/E/E/EP/GOV/EN/01/2023 lacked merit, even as it upheld the verdict of the Enugu State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which affirmed Mbah’s election.

Besides, the appellate court awarded a cost of N250,000 each, against Nnaji and the APC.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had at the end of the governorship poll in Enugu, declared that Mbah garnered 160,895 votes to defeat Chijioke Edeoga of the LP, who scored 157,552 votes.

Frank Nweke Jnr. of the APGA came third with 17, 983 votes, and Nnajji came fourth with 14,575 votes.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Nnaji filed a petition to challenge Mbah’s victory, claiming that Mbah was at the time of the election not eligible to contest, alleging that he presented a forged NYSC certificate to INEC, in aid of his qualification.

More so, Nnaji argued that Mbah was not duly elected by majority of the lawful votes cast during the election.

He, therefore, prayed the tribunal to disqualify Mbah, Edeoga, and Nweke and either declare him the winner of the poll or order INEC to conduct a runoff election between him and other candidates, excluding Mbah and the PDP.

However, in a verdict it delivered on June 20, the Enugu State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal dismissed the petition on the premise that it was not filed in compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.

Not satisfied with the judgement, Nnaji went before the appellate court to set aside the decision of the tribunal.

In the alternative, he urged the appellate court to order the tribunal to hear his petition on its merit, a prayer the court refused, yesterday.
The ruling of the tribunal on Edeoga’s petition against Mbah is being awaited in Enugu.

Democracy grows when citizens votes count- LP

Speaking on the inconsistencies trailing the verdicts of the tribunals, the National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Mr. Obiora Ifoh, said the growth of democracy can only be guaranteed when the votes of the people count and the judicial system can be counted upon to ensure justice when rights are unjustly abridged.

He said this in an interview with Saturday Vanguard, in Abuja, yesterday.

According to him, when people vote, they expect that such votes will translate into good governance but when they vote and their lawful votes are discounted by a combination of factors including conflicting judicial pronouncements it substantially reduces public confidence in the system.

His words: ”Nigeria will recall that the Labour Party took Nigerians by surprise by during the 2023 general elections. We rewrote the political narratives and brought to an end the dominance of the two major political parties in Nigeria.

“Our party became a household name with over 10 million members and supporters across Nigeria. However, this feat is regrettably being reversed by the pronouncements coming out from the various tribunals.

“Like my National Chairman, Barr. Julius Abure said, we are worried because the reasons for reversing our victories are matters that have been settled by the superior courts in the past.

“It is even ludicrous when different tribunals give conflicting and diverse judgements on the same matter, a matter that has since been ruled by the Supreme Court and very recently at the Presidential Election Petition Court in APC v Peter Obi.

“The courts have in a plethora of cases held that the court has no jurisdiction to intervene in the internal affairs of a political party.

“The issue of nomination of candidates as well as membership are internal affairs of the party beyond the jurisdiction of courts. It is only a political party that can determine who its members are and who their flag bearer for an election should be.

“In its judgment in SC/CV/501/2023 which was sighted for the Tribunal, the Supreme Court held that: “A political party that files a suit to challenge the nomination of the candidate of another party will be a nosy busybody, a meddlesome interloper, peeping into the affairs of his neighbour without any backing in law. No court of law can entertain such a suit.

“We are however pleased that the Appeal Court in Asaba has upturned an earlier Tribunal judgement and has affirmed our lawmaker Hon. Ngozi Okolie as duly elected. We hope all others who have been wrongly sacked at the Tribunal will be returned.”

Why judiciary can’t afford to fail — Anuga

Speaking in a similar vein, a Political Scientist, Dr. Joseph Anuga, expressed sadness that Nigeria appears to be dealing with people in the ruling party who have little appreciation

“The judicial system is also a reflection of society because the tribunals and all other courts are populated by human beings specifically Nigerians. If people who don’t have integrity occupy seats as judges then we are in trouble.

“I would want us to wait for the Supreme Court to make a final pronouncement on ongoing litigation around the 2023 Presidential election before we know what steps to take next.

INEC did Nigerians 419 – Fred Nzeakor

Also speaking, Mr. Fred Nzeakor, a lawyer who first noted how sad and disappointed he was because Nigeria’s democracy is not moving in the direction it ought to, said “there are over 560 cases- election petitions across the country. The implication is that INEC has failed Nigerians so woefully that you now begin to doubt whether the vote of the people count anymore.”

Nzeakor, who spoke in an interview on Arise Tv, continued: “What is the whole essence of spending over N350 billion naira in conducting an election that will end up in court and more expenses will be incurred because INEC will come to defend in all the cases as a party to the cases? Recall that apart from the budgetary allocation from Nigeria, there were contributions by development partners all around the world with the hope that our election is going to set the pace for Africa in the direction of civil democracy.

“So many things need to be fine-tuned to ensure that our elections will be determined at the point of polling and not everything being emptied into the courts of law because it brings lots of problems to the system and lots of innuendos that will now begin to impugn on the integrity of the judiciary.”

Nzeakor insisted that “there has to be sanctions on INEC. When a judge misconducts himself, he’s called to question by the National Judicial Council. Apart from the eyes of the public on the judiciary, the Judicial Council has a responsibility to sanction erring judges in Nigeria.

An institution must be established by law to sanction INEC because the way INEC is going, regarding the issue of presumption of irregularity, we will not presume the innocence of INEC in this matter because INEC is the major culprit.”
He said that Nigerians gave INEC necessary support and cooperation but they failed them by not keeping their promises and implementing their guidelines. “What do you call it in local parlance, it is 419. INEC is doing Nigerians 419. It’s important that they are called to order.

If you conduct an election in 469 National Assembly seats and you are faced with over 550 litigations across the country, it’s a knock on INEC. INEC has exposed the judiciary on a boomeranging effect, now judiciary is running like a pendulum swinging left and right; in some cases, in confusion.”

Ruling party should not appoint INEC commissioners- Oshoma

Also reviewing the inconsistencies in the various election tribunal judgements leading to the sacking some contestants earlier announced as winners by INEC, Oshoma said: “Surreptitiously, the courts have given INEC knocks. We’ve never, even in 2015 and 2019, we didn’t have this myriad of upturns.

Apart from the knocks, remember, when APC were in opposition, the burden of proving election irregularity consistently was a topic for debate. I remember Alhaji Lai Mohammed saying that the burden should not be rested on the petitioner but on INEC which conducted the election.”

Placing the burden on the petitioner he said, encourages “win-at-all-cost mentality and the attitude of ‘you go to court’.”

He further explained that “Now, APC is in government all those things they agitated for, those amendments that they so pushed when they were in opposition that PDP rejected, today, nobody is discussing them. What we should be discussing is how we can ensure that the burden of proving irregularity is placed on the man who is conducting the election.

Oshoma condemned the idea of all “the national commissioners, state electoral commissioners, and the national chairman of INEC being appointed by the ruling party” stating that, “these are some of the recommendations of the Uwais panel report that we have complained we jettison. Until we go back to those issues, we’ll consistently have petitions because government seems to be the only employer of labour now.”

Some upset verdicts at tribunals

•Senator Emmanuel Udende of the APC lost his Benue North-East seat to
•Senator Gabriel Suswam of the PDP
•Napoleon Bali of the PDP lost his Plateau South seat to Labour and Employment Minister, Simon Lalong of the APC
•Senator Abubakar Ohere of the APC lost his Kogi Central seat to Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan of the PDP

Senators that’ll face supplementary polls
Senator Thomas Onowakpo, APC, Delta South
Senator Ede Dafinone, APC, Delta Central
Senator Jibrin Isah Echocho, APC Kogi East
Senator Fred Agbedi, PDP, Bayelsa

Sacked Reps
Muktar Umar Yerima, NNPP, Kano
Yusuf Datti, NNPP, Kano
Seyi Sowunmi, LP, Lagos
Thaddeus Atta, LP, Lagos (rerun)
Francis Wave, APC, Delta
Ngozi Okolie, LP, Delta (regained seat at Appeal court)
Munachim Alozie, LP, Abia
Emeka Nnamani, LP , Abia
Ibe Osonwa, LP, Abia
Amobi Ogah, LP, Abia
Ikenga Ugochinyere, PDP, Imo
Jonas Okeke, PDP, Imo
Sunday Nnamchi, LP, Enugu
Peter Gyendeng, PDP, Plateau
Musa Bagos, PDP, Plateau
Beni Lar, PDP, Plateau
Aminu Chindo, PDP, Katsina
Ismail Dalha, PDP, Katsina
Joshua Gana, PDP, Niger (rerun)
Adamu Yakubu, PDP, Jigawa (rerun)
Mohammed Jamilu, PDP, Katsina (rerun)
Iliyasu Abubakar, PDP, Katsina (rerun)
Shittu Ibreaheem, APC, Oyo (rerun)

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