By DAYO JOHNSON
AKURE — THE Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, the Ondo State capital, yesterday, dismissed petitions filed by governorship candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and that of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Olusola Oke challenging the declaration of Governor Olusegun Mimiko, the winner of last year’s governorship election by the Election Petition Tribunal.
The appeals were dismissed for lack of merit.
It was a unanimous verdict by a five-member Court of Appeal led by Justice M. L Garba and supported by Justice A G Mshelia, Justice Ejembi Eko, Justice Daniel Kalio and Justice E A Agim.
Akeredolu and Oke had approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the verdict of the lower tribunal headed by Justice Andovar Kaka’an that dismissed their petitions against the victory of Dr. Mimiko in the October 20, 2012 governorship election in the state.
But in a swift reaction, the two losers vowed to proceed to the Supreme Court to get judgement, declaring that the judgments by the ltribunal and appeal court were at variance with each other on the issue of fraud in the voters register which is the meat of their petitions.
This is coming as the winner Dr. Mimiko appealed to them to sheathe their swords and join his administration in moving the state forward.
Delivering the one and a half hour judgement on Akeredolu and Oke petitions, yesterday, Justice Daniel Kalio said that Oke presented 38 grounds of appeal.
He disagreed with the tribunal that the alleged injection of persons in the voters register by Akeredolu was a pre-election matter and that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
According to Kalio the Election Petition Tribunal was not right to have declined jurisdiction on the petition that the injection is a pre-election matter.
He was, however, quick to add that the appellant has not proved that the non-compliance affected the result of the election.
All five judges unanimously agreed in dismissing the appeal in the judgment.
The two appeals were read separately by different judges but they were similar in their pleadings, but with little allegation of criminality in that of Oke.
The Judge also submitted that Akeredolu failed to prove the allegations of substantial non-compliance of the 2012 Election with Electoral Act beyond reasonable doubt.
On Oke’s appeal which was based on 37 grounds, Justice Ejenbi Eko submitted that, “The person contesting the results of an election must show how his allegation substantially affected the conduct and the outcome of an election.”
Eko, however, said that the issue of voters register raised by Oke was germane and which the tribunal described as pre-election matter, the appellate court said the complainants failed to prove how illegal injection of names substantially affected the conduct and the results of the said election.
He frowned at the failure of INEC to display the hard copy of the voters register as stipulated by law particularly with complaints that parties were unable to open the soft copies given them by the commission.
On allegation of irregularities and malpractice alleged by Oke, the judge said Oke who was the 45th witness must have been a superman to be present in all the areas listed in his evidence.
He described Oke’s submission during his evidence at the lower court as “a bundle of primary and secondary hear-say,” adding that it is only an omnipresent being that can be everywhere at the same time.
Justice Eko therefore dismissed the petition for lack of merit.
The lead judge, Justice Garba Muhammed urged losers at the election to be sportsmanly to congratulate the winner.
Meantime, both the PDP and the A CN have rejected the verdict insisting on going to Supreme Court.
Oke said: “This judgment remains unacceptable to us and the good people of Ondo State.
“We have accordingly directed our legal team to study the judgment for further decision in the matter.
“It is relieving that the court agreed with us that violation of the voters register is not a pre- election matter and that registration was not compiled in compliance with the provisions of electoral act. We intend to be guided by this finding in our further actions.”
Governor Mimiko while addressing people of the state who visited him at Government House after the verdict, said an affirmation of the mandate given by people of the state.
“This mandate given by the people is beyond reproach,” he said, adding that the petition of the opposition could not stand hence its dismissal by the Court of Appeal
Mimiko thanked the people of the state for their support, saying the victory is a divine endorsement of his administration.
He added, “This contest is over. The opposition should join hands with us to move this state forward.”
Reacting to the Appeal Court’s judgement, yesterday, Mr. Olurotimi Akeredolu, himself a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, in a statement said: “The Court of Appeal, sitting in Akure, delivered its judgment affirming the decision of the Ondo State Election Petition Tribunal which dismissed my petition challenging the legality of the conduct of an election based on a heavily compromised Voters Register.
“As it happened in the lower tribunal, I received the judgment with equanimity and hastened to confirm my decision to proceed to the Supreme Court for final adjudication in this matter.
I take this step imbued with an unshaken belief in the justness of our cause. I appeal to our numerous supporters who may be taken aback by the current situation to exercise yet more patience.
“I reach out to party faithful to keep hope alive and remain steadfast until the final victory is won. I shall not abandon our people in this hour of need.
“As we expect the Supreme Court to pronounce on the propriety of this brazen act of subversion of the people’s wish, we know that the people themselves, conscious of their deprived state, are the ultimate decider of the political fate of those who offer to serve them.”