ASABA—Delta State Governorship Election re-run petition tribunal sitting in Asaba, yesterday upheld the victory of Delta State governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, in the January 6 governorship re-run election in the state.
The tribunal which delivered its judgment in the petition filed by the Democratic People’s Party, DPP , governorship candidate in the election Chief Great Ogboru held that Ogboru was not the candidate that won the majority votes cast in the said election.
Chief Ogboru, in his reaction however promised to appeal against the judgment even while commending the judges for their industry.
Delivering judgment, amidst tight security by a combined team of soldiers and policemen, the tribunal chairman, Justice Uzoamaka Ogwurike (Mrs.) said the first respondent, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, won the majority votes cast in the election, and so, his return by the third respondent, INEC, as the winner of the poll, was lawful.
According to the tribunal, the case of the petitioners was that INEC did not conduct a proper election in parts of Warri North, Warri South, Warri South-West, Bomadi, Ethiope West, Patani, Isoko South and Ika North East Local Government Areas, and the court should determine the lawful votes cast in the said areas, and thereafter, declare the first petitioner winner, having polled the highest number of valid votes cast in the election.
The tribunal said Uduaghan and the second respondents called witnesses to rebut the claim of the petitioners that elections were improperly conducted in the aforementioned areas, while the third respondent tendered the voter’s register, ballot papers, results and other electoral materials used for the election, which were admitted as exhibits without the petitioners’ impugning them.
Justice Ogwurikie said it was not the duty of the tribunal to help the petitioners to exercise their burden of proof and having failed to prove its case, even though counsel to Ogboru, Mogbeyi Sagay said the ballot papers did not correspond to polling units and wards, the tribunal found the allegation as lacking merit.
It, however, held that after considering the submissions of the petitioners and respondents, it was unable to come to a conclusion that Ogboru won the election as he could not exercise the burden of proof, which rested squarely on him in proving his allegation of improper conduct of the election by INEC.
The Tribunal declares…
In the words of the tribunal, “The petitioners having failed to prove their case are not entitled to the reliefs sought”, and consequently, it upheld the return of Dr. Uduaghan as the candidate that polled the majority of lawful votes cast in the election conducted by INEC pursuant to an order of the Court of Appeal, Benin-City, dated November 9, 2010.
However, on the competence of the petition, which the counsel to the respondents vehemently challenged, the tribunal held that the petitioners had inherent rights as parties in the election to question the conduct of the re-run poll if they have germane reasons to suspect and believe that it was improperly conducted or that votes were illegally awarded to another candidate/party.
It resolved the issue of competence in favour of the petitioners. The tribunal also rejected the ruling of a Federal High Court, Asaba last Wednesday, which declared that Ogboru was not validly nominated for the April 14, 2007 election
NCP’s request rejected
An attempt to ‘arrest’ the judgment by the National Conscience Party, NCP, governorship candidate in the April 26, governorship election, Mr. Collins Eselemo, who sought to be joined as a respondent on record was heard and dismissed by the tribunal before it delivered its judgment.
Eselemo had asked the tribunal to withhold the judgment and grant him leave to serve the necessary processes on the respondents and petitioners, and the merits of his application determined before any judgment could be delivered. But the tribunal, whose last day of sitting, as approved by the instrument that set it up, was Monday, held that his application lacked merit and threw it out.
All access roads to the tribunal were cordoned off by security agents while the tribunal delivered its judgment. Also, business premises, including the United Bank for Africa, UBA, adjacent the tribunal building were temporality shut down.
The major beneficiary of the judgment, Governor Uduaghan, however, went about state business during the period. He was at Koko with a team of investors from India and Saudi Arabia, who were in the state over the establishment of multi-billion petro-chemical and gas plants when the news of the dismissal of the petition against his election by Ogboru got to him.
He told Vanguard shortly after the tribunal’s judgment was a confirmation that Deltans made the right choice in the polling units and nobody could usurp the mandate they freely gave him until his tenure expired.
Senior government officials and sympathizers drove straight from the tribunal to the Government House Chapel in Asaba for thanksgiving. Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Comrade Ovuozuorie Macaulay told Vanguard: “It is our usual practice, we held a thanksgiving to thank God because it is not by our power, but by His might.”
Chief Akpeki who sauntered away from the tribunal after Uduaghan’s victory was announced, said: “I am now relieved that the votes of Deltans on January 6 counted and this fact has just been re-affirmed.”
Distraction from opposition
His words: “My worry is that the opposition is distracting the governor with this kind of case every now and then election is conducted, but my prayer is that they should join hands with Dr. Uduaghan to move the state forward.”
Chief Ogboru’s younger brother, Turner, who fielded questions from newsmen said: “We are very grateful to God that our petition has been concluded today. But the petition is alive and we will go to the court of Appeal. I can assure you that in the battle between the stone and the water.
The water wins with time. We are the water. In the judgment that has just been delivered there is a misconstruction of the burden of proof. And that will be corrected in the Court of Appeal like it was corrected on November 9, 2010; they will lose again.”
Delta State Commissioner for Information, Chike Ogeah, the state PDP youth leader, Mr. Arthur Akpowowo and Mr. Tempo Mudi, a former aide to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, said the PDP was the only major party in the state. In their separate reactions they said the petitioners failed to prove their case, adding that the distractions were over and the governor would now focus on his task of governance.
Chief Ogboru said: “First we must commend the dexterity and attitude of judges that took part in the re-run election petition of January 6 2011. These Justices set a standard on how an election petition should be handled. Within 25 days, they seized the issues and sat as required by law daily, even at personal inconveniences. We applaud them and commend them for their efforts and determination to keep the “Rule of Law” on course. On our part we can only say thank you and well done.”
“On the issues before the court, 75 per cent of them were resolved in our favour showing that our petition not only has merit, it was also not an academic exercise.
In a nutshell, the petition is competent and the DPP candidate, which I am, is qualified and duly nominated. Unfortunately, placing the burden of proof of non conduct of elections on the petitioner is akin to asking the petitioners who complained of non elections in some parts of the state to show how elections took place. That burden is on INEC/respondents as held in Ogboru vs Uduaghan at the Court of Appeal, Benin.”
Ogboru added: “It is for INEC to show how they conducted an election with ballot papers not traceable to any units or wards or Local Government Areas (LGAs). This INEC could not show. We consider this very narrow issue as a mistake and wrongful placement of a burden on the petitioners.”