THE supposed apprehension behind the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abakaliki over the 2015 governorship election in the state was last week reduced following the ruling of the tribunal on the petition filed by the Labour Party, LP Governorship Candidate, Edward Nkwegu challenging the victory of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Governorship Candidate, Engr. Dave Umahi.
By Peter Okutu
Before the tribunal started its sitting in Abakaliki, many had thought that the LP candidate would not petition the tribunal since he openly congratulated and embraced Governor Dave Umahi before former Governor Martin Elechi and prominent stakeholders at the Government House Abakaliki but the reverse had become the case.
The governorship election result as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, declared Umahi of the PDP winner of the election. Governor Umahi, according to the results, won in all the 13 local councils of the state.
Now, some critics of Umahi, who predicted that he would lose the election are looking for ways to worm their way into his administration. They had spoken confidently that the former Governor Martin Elechi’s candidate, Arc Edward Nkwegu would defeat Umahi during the last election their predictions and permutations did not materialize.
One of the reasons that made some people in the state to support the LP governorship candidate was because he had the backing of Martin Elechi.
Umahi’s supporters said his critics failed to realize that Governor Umahi had been the brain behind the myriads of politiical successes recorded by the out-gone administration. According to them, Umahi, a former PDP chairman, initiated and powered the victory of Elechi’s first and second term victories in the state.
They said Umahi had been the political backbone of Elechi but the fact which had been hidden from many stakeholders was unraveled during the election as Umahi proved his political sagacity, experience and dominance in the political arena of the state.
However, Nkwegu picked holes in Umahi’s victory and approached the tribunal to reverse it.
The court in its first ruling delivered by the Chairman of the tribunal, Theresa Alabi, ruled that it is unconstitutional for the governorship candidate of Labour Party to bring in 46 additional witnesses from across the 13 local councils of the state contrary to the earlier six witnesses attached in his petition.
In the second ruling delivered by the presiding judge, justice E. Oresajiafor ruled that the first petitioner did not have the consent or authority of labour party from the beginning to institute the petition.
He sited section 133(1 & 137) of the Electoral Act 2010 that the interested parties participated in the last general election which the first respondent of the PDP won whereas the second respondent of the LP, Nkwegu did not deny that he did not participate in the election.
Oresajiafor struck out the name of Labour Party from Nkwegu’s petition stressing that the LP was not interested in the petition challenging Umahi’s victory in the last general election.
LP hails ruling: In a reaction, the national legal adviser of labour party, Barr Akingbade Oyilaka, commended the tribunal for the ruling and for expunging the name of Labour Party from Nkwegu’s petition challenging the victory of PDP candidate.
“I appreciate the tribunal for doing justice to this matter, the party which was not interested in the matter from the beginning was dragged into it and I tell you, the integrity of the party must be maintained at all cost” he added.
Also, the council to the first respondent (PDP), James Igwe (SAN) said “the applicant filed a motion seeking to amend his evidence to bring additional 46 witnesses from across the state but we said no to it because it is a trick to bring in a new evidence at this time and it is unconstitutional.
“The tribunal ruled that the applicant cannot at this time bring additional witnesses and that they are bound to proceed with the earlier six witnesses” he added. The counsel for the PDP governorship candidate include Arthur Obi Okafor, SAN, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, SAN, Barr. Roy Umahi while, JUK Igwe, SAN and Peter Eze among others are standing for the PDP.
Why Nkwegu lost: In a chat with Vanguard, Barr. Roy Umahi argued that the witnesses approved for the Petitioner were not enough to prove any case against the PDP or its governorship candidate during the last election.
“The legal interpretation is that any allegation by Labour Party will no longer hold water. If tthey made an allegation with reference to Labour Party alone, that will not hold water because LP is no longer in the petition.
“It is not our cup of tea that Labour Party pulled out. As far as the party is concerned the election went fairly and freely; the party is not making allegation against the winner of the governorship election.
“That is what the winner comes to gain; the party is satisfied with the conduct of the election. However, the LP candidate is now pursuing his petition as the candidate of the party even though the party is not aggrieved over the election.
“The most devastating aspect of the ruling is that the LP governorship candidate is no longer allowed to bring millions of witnesses or documents to substantiate his case.
“That is where they have problem and even as his lawyer tried to manipulate his way at the tribunal, there is no more way; how can six witnesses prove or challenge what happened in the last election in 13 local government areas, 171 wards and over 2000 polling units across the state? It will be turning water into wine for him to win at the tribunal”
“For Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu’s case, the law is straight forward that when a person did not participate in an election, that person cannot challenge the outcome of that election. “That is an area of Law that is already settled; he went to court to ask for the cancellation of an election he never participated in.”