BY PETER DURU, MAKURDI
The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Benue State are back in the trenches following last weekend’s nullification of Senator David Mark’s election by the Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi.
The appellate court had, in that ruling, also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a fresh election in Benue South within 90 days.
Mark’s victory in the Benue South senatorial election on March 28, 2015 had been challenged by Daniel Onjeh of the APC, who petitioned the Benue State Legislative Houses Elections Tribunal, asking for the cancellation of the election and the conduct of a fresh poll in the district.
The Justice Mosunmola Dipeolu-led panel, on October 7, 2015, dismissed Onjeh’s petition on the grounds that the evidence tendered before the tribunal was documentary hearsay.
But, in a unanimous judgment read by Justice Peter Ige, the appellate court dismissed the verdict of the tribunal and upheld the plea of the appellant that Mark’s election failed substantially to meet the provisions of paragraphs 39 and 40 of the INEC approved electoral guidelines and Sections 73and 74 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
Sunday Vanguard sought the reaction of the INEC Returning Officer at that election, Prof. Latif Tiamiyu, on the position of the Court of Appeal that he declared the result of that election while collation was ongoing in seven of nine local government areas of the senatorial zone.
Tiamiyu insisted that he applied himself to the provisions of the laws.
The university don, who said he was ready to defend his role in that election at any for a, said, “The senatorial election result in Benue South was announced by me after the collation of the result in the nine local government areas that make up the district.
“The information that the result was announced while collation was still going on is not correct.That didn’t happen. I have an integrity to protect and I am ready to defend that anytime.”
Also reacting to the appellate court ruling, the APC candidate at the election, Onjeh, said it was a verdict that he had longed for after the senatorial election which he said was skewed in favour of the former Senate President.
Onjeh, who took a swipe at Mark and the electoral process that ushered him into the Senate for a record fifth time, making him the longest serving senator in the history of the country, said he was the victorious candidate in that election.
Onjeh said, “I am ready for a rerun against Senator Mark because I know I will defeat him if an election is conducted today because we have not enjoyed any dividends from his stewardship .”
Meanwhile, the Media Director of Senator Mark Campaign Organization, Dr. Adakole Elijah, faulted the judgment of the appellate court describing it as ‘shallow and defiling all legal logic.”
“Onjeh merely complained that results were declared while collation was ongoing just because he noticed an error where the Returning Officer who signed the result dated it April 28., 2015,”Elijah stated.
“That does not in any way invalidate the result because the result that was announced did not in any way conflict with the figures appended to by all the agents of the parties after the collation of the result of that election.
“The Appeal Court relied on a result sheet which was not pleaded and listed by the petitioner. An evidence that was rejected by the trial court and was not pleaded at the Appeal Court by the appellant was relied upon by the court to nullify an election that was adjudged credible, free and fair. It clearly showed that the court had vested interest”.
While referring to Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa’s (now President of the Appeal Court) judgment in Senator Mark against Alhaji Usman Abubakar in 2007, the Media Director recalled that she held succinctly that an election was like pyramid which grows from bottom to top, stating that the Appeal Court misapplied the judgment.
He highlighted the achievements of his principal to include the construction of Agatu-Oweto Road which, he said, was at 75 percent completion stage, and the Loko bridge linking Benue State with Nasarawa State.
Other achievements, according to him, are construction of a multi-purpose dam with hydro component in Otobi/Akpa in Otukpo LGA at the cost of N17 billion, construction of blocks of classrooms in the nine local government areas of the senatorial district including Onjeh’s country home of Adum Onah Ipega, Orokam, Ogbadibo LGA.
He added that Mark attracted an earth dam to Otobi Onobi, Otukpo LGA, influenced the construction of rural roads in Oju as well as constructed a borehole in the College of Education, Oju to stem the incessant clash between students and the host community and also awarded scholarship to over 12,000 students of Benue State.
While the people await the decision of INEC on the data for the rerun, political activities are however gradually building up in the senatorial district as the parties prepare to engage in a battle that may decide where Benue tilts in future elections.