By Ola Ajayi
GOVERNOR Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State can now heave a sigh of relief as the Court of Appeal tribunal in Ibadan Monday confirmed the declaration of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, which returned him as the winner of the 2007 governorship election.
While affirming the declaration of INEC, the four-man panel that gave the judgment dismissed the appeal of the governorship candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Senator Ibikunle Amosun to upturn the verdict of a lower tribunal which gave victory to Governor Daniel.
In less than an hour judgment, the Presiding Justice, Justice Mohammed L. Garba affirmed the decision of the lower Election Petition Tribunal which had earlier confirmed the election of the governor.
Senator Amosun had challenged the declaration and return of Otunba Daniel by INEC, saying it was fraught with irregularities, violence, stuffing of ballot boxes, intimidation of voters, snatching of ballot boxes and non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2006.
He also prayed the court to declare him the governor of the state or in the alternative nullify the election which ushered Governor Daniel to the governorship seat.
But, in a unanimous decision, the Presiding Justices, H.M Ogunwumiju, Adzira Gana Mshelia, and Adamu Jauro said the evidence adduced by the ANPP candidate were not sufficient enough to declare him the governor or nullify the election of the sitting governor.
They all affirmed the initial judgment of the lower tribunal which dismissed the petition on the basis that the allegations were not proved as required by law.
While giving judgment, the panel concluded that the appellant had abandoned certain aspects and therefore resolved it against the appellant.
They also said it was not enough for the counsel to the appellant to dump large volumes of documentary evidence on the tribunal and expect the tribunal to sieve through them.
The counsel, according to them, ought to have sieved through the documents and attached the ones relevant to their prayers.
According to the four-man panel, â€œthe consideration of some of the issues are interwoven. Appellant did not prove any of the issues beyond reasonable doubts as provided by the Electoral Act. PW 40 was not enough to discharge the burden of proof on the respondents. I therefore resolve all the issues against the applicant. This appeal is left without any merit and thus it fails. The appeal is hereby dismissed. The decision of the lower tribunal is affirmed and for the avoidance of doubts, the declaration of the 3rd respondent as the winner of the April governorship election in Ogun State is hereby upheldâ€.
All the supporters of the ANPP candidate that thronged the court wore forlorn looks as they discussed the judgment in low tones. On the other side, supporters of the governor went wild in jubilation.
There was heavy presence of the security operatives with some men of the State Security Services barring some journalists who came some minutes past 9am from gaining entry into the court room.
In his reaction to the judgment, Governor Daniel described the affirmation of his electoral victory by the Court of Appeal as another triumph of the will and mandate of the people of Ogun State and a confirmation of the popularity of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party.
DanielÂ said the fact that the lower Tribunal had earlier thrown out the case filed by the candidates of the Action Congress, AC, All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, and the Democratic People Alliance, DPA, and the Court of Appeal concurred with the judgment of the TribunalÂ showed that he won fair and square in the election.
He said â€œI give glory to the Almighty God for yet another victory. I dedicate the victory to the people of Ogun State whose mandate has now again been overwhelmingly affirmed. I once again extend my hands of fellowship to all stakeholders to join us as we continue to make the Gateway State the pride of all in terms of good governance, expansion of economic activities and robust provision and renewal of critical infrastructure for the good of our people.
â€œI also appeal to all stakeholders to play politics without bitterness and place the interest of Ogun State above personal ambition and sectional interest,â€ the Governor said in the statement.