By Edith Nwapi
Abuja, Nov. 11, 2019
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja on Monday reserved judgment in three separate appeals challenging the victory of Emeka Ihedioha in the March 9 governorship election in Imo State.
The Appeal Court, Monday, in Abuja, also reserved judgment in the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate Great Ogboru against the election of Ifeanyi Okowa as Governor of Delta.
A five member panel presided over by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, announced that judgment in the three appeals against Ihedioha would be delivered on a date to be communicated to parties, after parties in the various appeals adopted their written addresses as brief of argument in the appeals.
The appeals were filed against the judgment of the Imo Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which upheld the election of Ihedioha.
It includes that of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and its governorship candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume; Action Alliance (AA) and its governorship candidate, Uche Nwosu and that of the APC and its governorship candidate, Sen. Hope Uzodinma.
The appellants are asking the appellate court to void the election of Ihedioha on grounds that he did not obtain the constitutional one quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with Section 179 of the Constitution.
In their various submissions by their counsels, the appellants are asking the court to set aside the decision of the tribunal and declare them winner of the March 9 governorship election.
Also in the alternative order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election into the office of Governor of Imo State.
The three-member panel of the tribunal had in a unanimous decision delivered on Sept. 21, held that Ihedioha was lawfully declared winner of the governorship election by INEC.
The panel chaired by Justice Malami Dogondaji, had in the judgment dismissed Ararume, Nwosu and Uzodinma’s petitions for lacking in merit on the grounds that they failed to prove allegations made in their petitions.
They claimed that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutional one quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with the provisions of the law.
The petitioners also alleged substantial non compliance with the Electoral Act and Guidelines, including other irregularities.
The tribunal in its judgment held that the case of the petitioners was unmeritorious because they failed to call relevant witnesses and that evidence of witnesses called were based on hearsay.
The tribunal in addition rejected documents tendered by the petitioners in support of their claims on the grounds that those who led evidence in the documents were not the makers of the documents.
In his appeal, Ararume urged the appellate court to upturn the decision of the tribunal on the grounds that the lower court erred in law when it arrived at the decision that his case and that of his party lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it.
The appeal which was predicated on 22 grounds was argued by his lead lawyer, Mr Awa Kalu, SAN, while that of Nwosu and AA, was argued by Mr Niyi Akintola SAN, and that of Uzodinma and APC, was argued by Mr Damian Dodo, SAN.
They all urged the panel to allow the appeal and grant all the reliefs sought by the appellants.
However, lead counsel to Emeka Ihedioha and Peoples Democratic Party, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu , SAN and Mr K.C.O. Njemanze ,SAN respectively urged the court to dismiss the appeals for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
The respondents submitted that the appeal of the AA and Nwosu in particular constitute a waste of the Court’s precious time.
They argued that the Supreme Court in a judgment delivered on October 22, had already struck out the name of Uche Nwosu as candidate of the AA in the March 9 governorship election in Imo State.
The respondents also claimed that the appeal of Nwosu lacked merit going by a recent judgment of the Court of Appeal which nullified the candidacy of Nwosu in the governorship election.
Justice Omoyele after taking submissions of counsels in the matter announced that judgment will be delivered in a date that will be communicated to parties.
In the case of Ogboru against Okowa, the five-member panel of the appellate court led by Justice Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, also reserved judgment to a date that would be communicated to parties shortly after all counsels adopted and argued their briefs of argument in the appeal.
Respondents in the appeal are Governor Okowa, PDP and the INEC.
Ogboru and his party, APC are seeking to upturn the decision of the Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which returned Okowa for a second term as governor of Delta State.
INEC had declared Okowa and PDP winner of the March 9 governorship election in Delta State, haven garnered majority of the lawful votes cast in the election.
But the appellants in their 37 grounds of appeal filed by their counsel, Nicholson Ichekor, asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the entire judgment of the tribunal on the grounds that the tribunal erred in law when it dismissed their appeal for lacking in merit.
The three man panel of the governorship election panel led by Justice Suleiman Belgore, had in September dismissed Ogboru and APC’s petition against the return of Governor Okowa on grounds that the petitioners failed to prove the cases of irregularities and malpractices claimed in their petition.
However in the appeal against the decision of the tribunal, Ogboru and APC argued that the lower court erred in law when it relied on the issue of over voting instead of allocation of votes as canvassed in their petition to dismiss their petition.
The appellants in urging the court to nullify Okowa’s election claimed that in some polling units, the total number of votes cast at the election exceeded the total number of voters who were accredited to vote, adding that there was non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act in relation to accreditation of voters.
However, in response to the appeal, Okowa and the PDP urged the Court of Appeal to dismiss Ogboru and APC’s appeal for being incompetent and unmeritorious.
In their brief of argument by Mr Damien Dodo ,SAN and Mr Akinlolu Kehinde , SAN for Okowa and PDP respectively, the respondents submitted that the appellants failed to prove their allegations of over voting and non compliance with the Electoral Act.
The respondents claimed that they have led cogent, credible and reliable evidence to show that they won the governorship election held on March 9 in Delta.
They submitted that the appellants on the other hand failed to prove how their claims of over voting and non compliance substantially affected the results of the election.
In adopting his brief of arguments, PDP’s lawyer, Kehinde SAN, faulted the claim of the appellants which they said was based on the smart card reader report.
“Regardless of the fact that the total number of accredited voters recorded on the smart card reader report is less than the total number of votes cast on the election day, the appellants have failed to prove their allegations of over-voting.
“The reliance of the appellants on the smart card reader report is fatal to their case and this Honourable Court is humbly urged to so hold and resolve this issue in favour of the 2nd respondent” Kehinde submitted.
In addition, the senior lawyer argued that appellants’ case at the tribunal was one of over-voting and noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act on accreditation.
PDP further claimed that appellants failed to prove their allegations of over-voting and noncompliance with the Electoral Act polling unit by polling unit.
“The appellants failed to prove that the allegations of over-voting and non-compliance with the Electoral Act substantially affected the result of the election”.
In an attempt to prove their case, the appellants called a total of twenty (20) witnesses and tendered a total of 4, 523 documents in evidence during the trial.
In defence of the petition, the 1st respondent called seven witnesses and tendered 94 Exhibits, while the 2nd respondent called three witnesses and tendered six Exhibits.
The 3rd respondent did not call any witness, but tendered two Exhibits.
But the tribunal in a unanimous judgment, dismissed the petition for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
According to the panel, the petitioners failed to prove any of the grounds upon which the petition was brought against Governor Okowa.