By Peter Duru
The Benue State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal presided over by Justice Adebola Olusiyi has upheld the election of Governor Samuel Ortom and dismissed the petition filed by the All Progressive Congress, APC, candidate in the last election Mr. Emmanuel Jime challenging his victory for lacking in merit.
Mr. Jime had approached the tribunal to nullify the election on the ground that the March 9 poll and the supplementary election of March 23 were marred by irregularities and failed to substantially comply with the provisions of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
He also urged the court to, in the alternative, declare him the validly elected candidate in the election haven scored the highest number of valid votes cast in the election.
The petitioners had called 56 witnesses to argue his case, Governor Ortom called a witness who was the State Collation Officer, SCO, of his party the PDP while the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the PDP adopted the evidence SCO and also replied on the evidences given before the court by the petitioners’ witnesses.
Delivering judgement in the matter which lasted about 10 hours, Justice Olusiyi held that the evidence adduced by the 59 petitioners’ witnesses were hearsay and had no evidential value, “they gave evidences that were not credible, reliable and the lacked probative value.
“Electoral documents were also dumped on the tribunal by the petitioners and it is not possible for the tribunal to look at a document in private when they are not demonstrated in public.
“The onus of proving a fact, in this case, electoral malpractices, lied with he who alleges, in this case, the petitioners, who failed to discharge that responsibility.
“The petitioner has the burden to prove before the court that the non-compliance substantially affects the outcome of the election as provided for in section 141 of the electoral Electoral Act.
“It is also our position the function of the Smart Card Reader in an election stops at verifying the Permanent Voters’ Card. We are satisfied that the result sheets presented to us by INEC are a true representation of the number of votes cast in that election.
“It is our position that the petitioners have failed to prove that the second respondent (Ortom) was not duly elected on March 9 and 23 2019.
“The Petitioners failed to prove that the second respondent was not duly returned as winner of that election. They also failed to prove that the election failed to comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
“All the issues raised have been resolved against the petitioners. We find no merit in the petition, it failed woefully and consequently dismissed. And we hereby affirm the election of the second respondent,” Justice Olusiyi held.
Earlier, the tribunal had ruled on seven pending interlocutory motions and preliminary objections filed by the parties where it held that an application by the petitioner was intended to smuggle in new issues and fresh facts through its reply to the respondent’s reply to the petition contrary to the provisions of section 16(1) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)
On the strength of that, the tribunal expunged the additional witness statements on oath of the star witness of the petitioner.
The tribunal also declined the application by the respondents to have paragraphs and sections of petition expunged stressing that it would amount to going into the merit of the case.