By Austin Ogwuda
DR Emmanuel Uduaghan was refereeing a novelty football match between the Protocol department and the Press Unit of Government House in the Government House complex on Tuesday evening when news of the invalidation of the election that brought him to office as governor reached him.
Uduaghan’s adjudication was immediately superseded by the superior pronouncement of the Benin Appeal Court even as proceedings on the football field immediately ceased and confusion and awe took hold on all, players, onlookers and referee.
It is the same confusion that equally shadowed the judicial proceedings in the election petition case that ended that Tuesday.
Indeed, after a Retrial Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Asaba dismissed the petition filed by the Action Congress (AC) governorship candidate for the 2007 polls in Delta state, Mr. Peter Okocha on 9th July, 2009 on the ground that Okocha was not validly nominated by his party to contest the election, both Uduaghan and the PDP officials had thought that the coast was totally clear for them.
They perhaps did not perceive any serious threat from the subsisting petition filed by Chief Great Ogboru, the candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP). After all, it was conceived in the mind of some associates of Uduaghan that Ogboru was a familiar object of electoral pounding. But how mistaken they were.
How it all began:
*16th April 2007, two days after the gubernatorial elections, the then INEC Delta State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Alhaji Ismaila Abdulkareem announced in Asaba, the outcome of the 2007 governorship election and gave a breakdown of the votes scored as follows:
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan scored a total of 1,004,403 votes to emerge winner thereby beating his strongest contender, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru of DPP, who scored 46,869 votes. Others were Felix Ozorbo – RPN – 944 Okeya Edwin – NMDP – 396 Igbini Emmanuel – PRP – 268
Taju Isichei – PPA – 3,677 Michael Aristole – ANPP – 6,304 Chief Onokpite Ogbe – CPP – 712
Abel Edijala – LP – 3,409 Johnson Boghuku – MRDD – 272 Chief Ngozi Ogbogo – ADC – 1,857 Peter Oghenevwogaga – A – 3,020 Dr. Emmanuel Mafina – DPA – 1,489
The INEC boss put the number of total votes cast at 1,071,8051 out of which 4,155 votes were rendered invalid.
He however noted that election did not hold in three local government areas namely; Ethiope East local government explaining that it was caused by “heavily indicting security reports” as well as Ukwuani local government area which he said “was as a result of burning down of INEC office and electoral materials before the commencement of the poll”.
*16th May 2007: Ogboru filed election suit before Election Petitions Tribunal at Asaba
Ogboru in his 9_point relief sought is praying the tribunal among others:
*for an order on 3rd and 4th respondents (INEC) to conduct fresh election for the governorship office in Delta state devoid of corrupt practices
*an order nullifying the governorship election purportedly held in Delta state on 14th April 2007 including returns made thereto
*It be determined that the 1st respondent (Uduaghan) was purportedly returned did not win the governorship election of 14/4/07 and was therefore not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election as majority of Deltans were substantially disenfranchised from doing so.
A total of 2,975 persons were indicated as defendants//respondents in the petition filed by the Democratic Peoples Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate, Chief Great Ogboru before the State Election Petitions Tribunal at Asaba.
A perusal into the petition showed that apart from the Governor_elect, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), INEC and the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Delta State, the outgoing governor Chief James Ibori, some of his commissioners and notable members of the PDP were among the 2,974 defendants.
They also included a former running mate to the Action Congress governorship candidate in the state, Chief Charles Obule, former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Young Daniel Igbrude.
*24th May 2007: Tribunal Grants Ogboru’s prayer for substituted service on Uduaghan, others
THE 5_man State Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Asaba on 24th May 2007 granted the governorship candidate of Democratic Peoples Party (PDP) Chief Great Ogboru prayer seeking to serve his petition and other court processes against the PDP governor_elect, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan and other defendants by substituted service.
The motion was supported with 17_paragraph affidavit deposed to, by him (Agbamu).
He stated in paragraph 13 of the affidavit that “I am informed by the bailiff of this honourable tribunal (Boniface Onyonyewoma) abut 8.40am on the 23rd May, 2007 at the tribunal premises and I verily believe him as to the following that he has twice gone to the 1st respondent’s (Uduaghan) residence in Warri to effect personal service on him but to no avail”.
29th June 2007: Tribunal stops Ogboru from inviting Metropolitan Police of London
Ruling on the application, the Chairman of the five_man Tribunal, Justice Ayobode Lokulo_Sodipe stated that granting the order at the interlocutory stage would amount to deciding on issues that are in the substantive petition and therefore threw away the application.
The tribunal maintained that “the law is that if the very same issue that must invariably come up for resolution in a substantive case rears its head in an interlocutory application then the court must avoid pronouncing on the very issue at the interlocutory stage.
*28th May 2008: Tribunal strikes out the petition
The Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Asaba on this day struck out the petition filed by Ogboru for lack of competence.
In a swift reaction, the State Chairman of DPP, Chief Tony Ezeagwu described the verdict as biased saying that “we are appealing the verdict right away. We long expected the judgment but never mind we appealing immediately. I am collecting the CTC (Certified True Copy) of the ruling today for the appeal”.
The Tribunal chairman, Justice Abdulahi Waiya in his ruling observed that the petition fell short of the mandatory provision of the Electoral Act 2006, noting that “it failed to state the political parties that took part in the election, the candidates and their respective scores”.
Ogboru approached the Court of Appeal Benin and his petition was sent back for retrial
*27th February, 2009: Fresh panel begins hearing of Ogboru’s petition.
A fresh panel declared that nobody can stop us from hearing Ogboru’s petition on merit as ordered by Court of Appeal
THE five_man Retrial Elections Tribunal sitting in Asaba, on that day ruled that it has the mandate of the Court of Appeal Benin to hear the petition filed by Ogboru challenging the election of Uduaghan on merit.
Ruling on oral application by Mr. Adebayo Adenipekun (SAN) and Mr. Efe Akpofure (SAN) both counsel to governor Uduaghan and PDP respectively, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice B.S. Mohammed stated that “it was clear that this tribunal is in receipt of two petitions (that of Peter Okocha and Great Ogboru) . It is not in dispute and cannot be disputed and it is very clear that this tribunal was constituted to hear the petition (Ogboru’s) on the merit”.
*8th April 2009: Tribunal heard that over 540 witnesses, 10 experts would be fielded
This was disclosed by counsel on both sides while addressing the Retrial Elections Tribunal sitting in Asaba on the harmonization of issues, preparatory to proper take off.
While Ogboru’s lawyer disclosed his readiness to call 200 witnesses and three experts, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said they have also lined up 200 witnesses including three experts. On its part Governor Uduaghan’s counsel told the tribunal that a total of 120 witnesses and three experts.
*9th July 2009: E.K Clark declines to give evidence
*5th August 2009: Ogboru closes case with 68 witnesses.
*12th August 2009: Uduaghan opens defence.
*19th October 2009: Tribunal strikes out the petition again
Chairman of the tribunal Justice B.S. Mohammed ruled that “a lot of doubt has been cast in the statements of the petitioner’s witnesses. The onus of proving non voting lies on the petitioner which the petitioner failed to prove.
But in a swift reaction, Ogboru said he would still approach the Court of Appeal again for justice.
*9th November 2010 : Court of Appeal Benin nullifies Uduaghan’s election as it upheld the submission by Ogboru that there was no election in the State.
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