By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, upheld the election victory of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.
The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment by a three-man panel of Justices, affirmed the July 28 verdict of the Ekiti State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which declared Fayemi as the bonafide winner of the July 14, 2018, gubernatorial election in the state.
The panel, led by Justice Justice Stephen Adah, said it had no reason to dislodge the decision of the tribunal that the petition the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Prof. Kolapo Olusola lodged against Fayemi, lacked merit and deserved to be dismissed.
Justice Adah who gave only a summary of the appellate court’s verdict, resolved seven issues PDP and Olusola distilled in their appeal, against them.
Cited as Respondents in the matter were Fayemi, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the APC.
Though the appellate court heard the appeal on Tuesday, it reserved and delivered its judgement around 7:15pm on Thursday.
Other justices of the appellate court that concurred with the lead judgment that the appeal was unmeritorious were Justices Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson and Emmanuel Agim.
Meantime, reacting to the development, the appellants, through their counsel, Mr. Alex Akojah, gave indication that the matter may likely end at the Supreme Court.
Akojah said his clients would carefully study the decision with a view to determining their next line of action.
It will be recalled that INEC had declared Fayemi winner with a total of 197,459 votes as against 178,121 votes that was polled by Olusola.
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Olusola and his party, PDP, went to court.
In their petition marked EPT/BKS/GOV/01/18, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to sack Fayemi on the premise that the governorship election was not only flawed, but conducted without substantial compliance to the Electoral Act.
They further contended that Fayemi was not qualified to participate in the contest, having been earlier indicted in a report by a commission of inquiry that was constituted by the Ekiti State Government to probe his first term in office as governor.
Prof. Olusola prayed the tribunal to declare him governor, insisting that he secured the highest number of validly cast votes.
However, the Respondents, through their lawyers, Chief Charles Edosomwan, SAN, Akin Olujinmi, SAN, and Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, persuade the tribunal to dismiss the petition which they argued was grossly incompetent.
The Respondents, aside contending that the petitioners failed to prove their allegation that the election was marred by irregularities, further drew attention of the tribunal that the said report that indicted Fayemi had since been quashed by a court of competent jurisdiction.
They insisted that the petitioners failed to discharge the burden of prove placed on them by the law, adding that various portions of the petition were vague.
Whereas the PDP candidate called a total of 71 witnesses that testified before the tribunal, Fayemi closed his defence after he produced four witnesses that testified on his behalf.
In its verdict, the tribunal held that the petitioners failed to by way of credible evidence, prove that the election was marred by irregularities.
The lead verdict was read by Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Suleiman Belgore.
According to him, both PDP and its candidate were unable to substantiate their claim that the governorship election in many polling units were characterized by lack of accreditation, over-voting, mutilation of results, inaccurate ballot account, snatching of election of materials, inducement of voters, irreconcilable figures and cancellation of results at polling units where they secured highest number of votes.
Justice Belgore held that “scanty evidence” the petitioners laid before the tribunal was not sufficient to warrant the annulment of votes credited to the APC.
He stressed that inability of the petitioners to call adequate witnesses to testify with regards to the polling units where the alleged irregularities occurred, amounted to dumping of evidence before the tribunal without pleadings.
Justice Belgore held that in the absence of credible evidence substantiated with pleadings, all the allegations raised by the petitioners were therefore deemed abandoned.
“Evidence of facts not pleaded goes to nothing”, the tribunal’s Chairman held.
He said the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, with respect to the Ekiti state governorship election, would continue to enjoy the presumption of regularity, until such presumption is displaced with credible evidence.
The tribunal held that scanty evidence before it, “did not resolve presumption of regularity in favour of the petitioners”.