By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The Supreme Court, yesterday, upheld the outcome of the April 11, 2015, governorship elections that brought Governors Udom Emmanuel and Okezie Ikpeazu of Akwa Ibom and Abia states respectively to power.
In the case of Governor Emmanuel, a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, in a unanimous judgement, vacated the decision of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct fresh election in the state.
The apex court, in a lead judgment delivered by Justice Cintus Nweze around 9:40pm yesterday, said there was merit in the appeal lodged before it by both Governor Emmanuel and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The court, however, reserved its reasons for setting aside the judgement of the appellate court till February 15.
Justice Nweze said: “I have invested considerable Judicial time considering arguments on this appeal. It is my view that there is considerable merit in the appellants complaint against the appellate court.
“I find that the orders by the appellate court must not be and are hereby set aside.
‘’ In there place, I affirm INEC’s declaration of Udom Emmanuel as the governor of Akwa Ibom state, having won majority vote. Reasons for this judgment will be given on Monday, February 15.”
It will be recalled that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had on December 18, 2015, nullified the outcome of the April 11 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.
The appellate court equally vacated the judgement of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which had on October 21, ordered a re-run poll in 18 out of 31 Local Government Areas in the State.
In their unanimous judgment, a five-man panel of Justices of the appellate court said there was sufficient evidence that the election that produced Governor Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was not conducted in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
The court held that the Justice Sadiq Umar-led tribunal, failed to properly evaluate both oral and documentary evidence presented before it by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Umana Okon Umana.
Justice Adefunke Okojie, who delivered the lead verdict, stressed that the lower tribunal erred by not according probative value to a document that indicated that the election was characterised by “massive over-voting”.
She noted that exhibit -322 tendered before the tribunal, showed that the number of votes recorded at the end of the election, exceeded the total number of accredited voters.
Besides, it was the position of the appellate that the said exhibit, which was a report on number of voters that were captured by the Smart Card Reader Machines, indicated that there was an excess of 685,78 votes.
Justice Okojie said it was not enough for the tribunal to anchor its reason for nullifying election in only 18 LGAs on the fact that a total of 566, 436 voters in the affected areas were disenfranchised during the governorship poll.
She faulted the tribunal for holding that the petitioners failed to prove that allegation of electoral fraud and non-compliance was not substantial enough to warrant the outright cancellation of the governorship election.
In the case of Governor Ikpeazu of Abia State, seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, voided the verdict of the Owerri Division of the Court of Appeal which sacked Ikpeazu from office.
Justice Sulaiman Galadima who delivered the lead judgment, said there was merit in the appeal lodged by both Ikpeazu and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the Abia State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
“I have come to the conclusion that this appeal lacks merit, judgment of the court of appeal is hereby set-aside. No cost is to be awarded. Reasons to be given on February 26”, Justice Galadima held.
Both Ikpeazu and the PDP had gone before the Supreme Court to challenge the Court of Appeal Judgement that declared the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Dr. Alex Otti, as the valid winner of the April 11, 2015, governorship election in Abia State.
Counsel to appellants, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, urged the court to allow the appeal which was filed on January 18, 2016.