By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Supreme Court, Monday, gave reasons why it upheld the April 11, 2015, governorship election that brought Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state to power.
Adducing reasons for the unanimous judgment it delivered on February 3, a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, maintained that neither the All Progressives Congress, APC, nor its gubernatorial candidate in the state, Umana Okon Umana, was able to prove that the election was rigged.
The Supreme Court panel faulted both the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal and the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which it said failed to properly evaluate the evidence and case that the contending parties filed before them.
It will be recalled that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had on December 18, 2015, nullified the outcome of the April 11 governorship election in Akwa Ibom State.
The appellate court equally vacated the judgement of the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which had on October 21, ordered a re-run poll in 18 out of 31 Local Government Areas in the State.
In their unanimous judgment, a five-man panel of Justices of the appellate court said there was sufficient evidence that the election that produced Governor Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was not conducted in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
The court held that the Justice Sadiq Umar-led tribunal, failed to properly evaluate both oral and documentary evidence that were presented before it by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and it governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Umana Okon Umana.
Justice Adefunke Okojie who delivered the lead verdict, stressed that the lower tribunal erred by not according probative value to a document that indicated that the election was characterised by “massive over-voting”.
She noted that exhibit -322 that was tendered before the tribunal, showed that the number of votes recorded at the end of the election, exceeded the total number of accredited voters.
Besides, it was the position of the appellate that the said exhibit, which was a report on number of voters that were captured by the Smart Card Reader Machines, indicated that there was an excess of 685,78 votes.
Justice Okojie said it was not enough for the tribunal to anchor its reason for nullifying election in only 18 LGAs on the fact that a total of 566, 436 voters in the affected areas were disenfranchised during the governorship poll.
She faulted the tribunal for holding that the petitioners failed to prove that allegation of electoral fraud and non-compliance was not substantial enough to warrant the outright cancellation of the governorship election.
More so, the appellate court held that the petitioners, having adduced evidence that the election was not properly conducted as required by the law, it said the onus was on the respondents- Governor Emmanuel, PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to prove that there was substantial compliance.
It held that the tribunal was wrong by laying the whole burden of proof on the petitioners, saying “whichever way one looks at it, facts show that votes recorded at the end of the election where far in excess of the total number of accredited voters”.
The court therefore declared that the 1st respondent, governor Emmanuel, was not duly elected by majority of lawfully cast votes.
“The tribunal was wrong by failing to invalidate the entire election. The appeal succeeds. The judgement of the tribunal sustaining election in 13 LGAs of the state is hereby set-aside.
“The entire governorship election is hereby nullified. Consequently, the election and return of the 1st respondent as the duly elected governor of Akwa Ibom state is hereby nullified.
“The 4th defendant, INEC, is to conduct a fresh election in Akwa Ibom state within 90 days”, Justice Okojie held.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, governor Udom, the PDP and INEC took the matter before the Supreme Court, where they challenged both the verdict of the tribunal and that of the appellate court.
Similarly, both the APC and its candidate in Akwa Ibom state, Umana, also lodged their own cross-appeals before the apex court.
Meanwhile, the apex court panel, yesterday, insisted that the petitioners before the lower court, failed to prove their criminal allegations beyond every reasonable doubt.
The Supreme Court further held that APC and Umana, failed to prove their allegation that electorates in Akwa Ibom state were disenfranchised, polling units by polling units.
It said the lower courts erred by placing heavy reliance on the evidence of Pw-48, who the petitioners brought to testing that there was dis-enfranchisement of voters in 18 out of the 32 Local Governments Areas in Akwa Ibom state.
The apex court noted that the witness had in his Evidence-in-Chief admitted that he was not at his polling unit at the time of the polls .
The court also held that the over generalisation that there was anarchy in Akwa Ibom state during the election, was wrong, saying neither the Nigerian Police report nor any of the security agencies that participated in the exercise, confirmed such incidents.
It said the evidence of the security agencies before the lower courts, contradicted the testimony of the witnesses the were brought by the petitioners.
According to Justice Centus Nweze, who delivered the lead verdict,”The two lower courts metamorphosed into an inquisitory forum shopping for schemishes, even though there was no demonstration in court “.
The apex court held that the judgment by the tribunal and the appellate court were consistent with the law and thus accordingly set aside.
Similarly, the apex court, yesterday, equally justified its decision to uphold the elections of Governors Ibrahim Gaidam and Ifeanyi Okowa of Yobe and Delta States, respectively.
The Supreme Court panel headed by Justice Walter Onnoghen, insisted that petitions that were lodged against the election of the two governors, lacked merit.