By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, on Wednesday, declined to nullify the election of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
In a unanimous judgement, the three-man panel tribunal headed by Justice Bawale Abdullahi affirmed the declaration of Tambuwal as the valid winner of the governorship election that held in the state on March 9.
It dismissed the petition that was lodged against Tambuwal’s election victory by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Ahmed Aliyu.
The tribunal held that since the result declared by INEC enjoyed a presumption of regularity, the burden was on the petitioner to prove otherwise.
It discarded some of the documentary evidence the petitioner adduced before it on the premise that they were not properly certified.
It noted that whereas some of the witnesses made their written statements in the Hausa language, the petitioner only tendered the version that was translated into the English language, in evidence.
In the lead judgement that was read by the Chairman of the tribunal, he held that the petitioner was unable to prove any of the allegations in his petition.
Justice Abdullahi held that testimonies of most of the witnesses were based on hearsay evidence.
He maintained that the APC candidate, having failed to discharge the burden of proof that was placed on him by the law, his petition was bound to be dismissed.
Other members of the panel that concurred with the lead verdict of the tribunal were Justices E.N. Anyadike and Kadi M.A. Oniye.
It will be recalled that the Sokoto State governorship election was declared inconclusive after 75, 403 votes were cancelled, a figure that was higher than the 3, 413 votes margin that governor Tambuwal led the other candidates with.
A re-run poll that was conducted on March 23, saw Tambuwal emerging victorious with a slim margin of 342 votes.
Dissatisfied with the outcome, Aliyu approached the tribunal to challenge the declaration of Tambuwal as the winner.
Aside from his contention that the election was marred by irregularities, the petitioner told the tribunal that Tambuwal and his party. the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, did not score the majority of the lawful votes cast.
He urged the tribunal to either declare that the election as inconclusive, or to order the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct fresh polls at polling units where results were cancelled.
He alleged that there were incidents of over-voting, non-compliance with the Electoral Act, illegal allocation of votes, mutilation and unlawful cancellation of results.
Besides, the petitioner, equally alleged that the ordered supplementary election did not hold in some polling units, while some units experienced failure of the Smart Card Reader Machines, leading to improper accreditation of voters.
Aside INEC, Tambuwal and the PDP were cited as Respondents to the petition.
Meanwhile, whereas the petitioner, through his lead counsel, Dr Alex Izinyon, SAN, called a total of 10 witnesses that testified before the tribunal, Tambuwal, through his lawyer, Mr Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, closed his defence after he presented eight witnesses that included INEC officials.
Both INEC and the PDP, failed to produce witnesses to defend the petition, saying they would rather rely on evidence they extracted from the petitioner’s witnesses during cross-examination.
However, in separate preliminary objections, all the Respondents, challenged the validity of the petition, urging the tribunal to dismiss it for want of competence.
INEC, through its lawyer, Mr Alhassan Umar, SAN, urged the tribunal to uphold the outcome of the election and declaration of governor Tambuwal of the PDP as the winner.
In a ruling delivered before the judgment, the tribunal, dismissed all the preliminary objections, declaring the petition as valid and properly filed before it.
The tribunal held that non-joinder of the Deputy Governor as a respondent in the matter was not a legal ground to warrant the dismissal of the petition.
Even though the tribunal conducted its proceedings in Sokoto state, it relocated to Abuja to deliver the judgement over perceived security concern in the state.
Though Tambuwal who served as Speaker of House of Representatives, emerged governor on the platform of the APC, he subsequently defected to the PDP to win his second term in office.