•Says Oyetola, APC failed to prove allegation of over-voting
•No victor, no vanquish —Adeleke
•As Party supporters jubilate
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Shina Abubakar
Respite came the way of Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State on Friday, as the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, reversed the tribunal judgement that nullified his election.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of Justices, held that there was merit in the appeal that Adeleke filed to challenge his sack by the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
Aside from setting aside the judgement of the tribunal, the court, in its lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Mohammed Shuaibu, awarded a cost of N500,000 against the All Progressive Congress, APC, and its candidate, Gboyega Oyetola, who were cited as 1st and 2nd Respondents in the appeal.
Reacting to the judgement, the Governor of Osun state, Senator Ademola Adeleke described the outcome as “no victory, no vanquish”.
Speaking shortly after the judgement at his Ede country home, the Governor said Osun belong to all irrespective of political or religion affiliation. He urged members of the opposition party to cooperate with his administration to move the state to the next level.
“I thank the people of Osun for standing by me throughout the trial period and even now, irrespective of the outcome of the verdict. The people have spoken and the judiciary has aligned with their voices.
“Osun belonged to all of us, irrespective of party affiliation. This is democracy and the beauty of it is healthy competition. So, the judgement for me is a no victor, no vanquish. We should all return to the table and continue the good work of moving Osun forward.
“I urged the good people of the state to continue to be law-abiding. Me, I am assuring you that the good work is just starting, they should expect more dividends of democracy.
Also, members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, across the state trooped out en mass to celebrate the judgement.
The jubilant crowd were singing victory and solidarity songs in appreciation of the Governor’s victory.
Party supporters in Osogbo, Ede, the Governor’s country home thronged major street celebrating what they described as victory for the will of the people.
The Osogbo crowd danced from Oja-Oba through Isale-Osun, Asubiaro, Jaleyemi, and Odi-Olowo and stopped at Olaiya junction to dance for a few minutes before moving back through the named routes.
Speaking with journalists at Olaiya, Osogbo local government Caretaker Chairman of the Party, Ajibola Asimiyu said: “We are out to thank God that the people’s mandate is not taken away by the judiciary. Our resolve is to stand with the Governor till the very last minute. We voted for him and we will always pray for his success.
“Today, the Appeal Court has further affirmed our believe in the judiciary and we residents of the state, irrespective of political party affiliation, to cooperate with the Governor with a view to steering the ship of the state to enviable height”, he said.
The appellate court held that the tribunal was wrong to have solely relied on information that Oyetola and the APC extracted from the back-end server of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to hold that there was over-voting in favour of Adeleke and the PDP, in the contested polling units.
“The tribunal was wrong to have acted on the evidence in isolation of record from the voters register”, the appellate court held.
It described the voters register as “the foundation of any competent election”, noting that Oyetola and the APC, failed to tender the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVA, the device from which the data they tendered in evidence, was extracted.
Oyetola unable to prove case — Appeal Court
The appellate court held that the Respondents who were petitioners before the tribunal, were unable, by way of “cogent and compelling evidence”, to prove that Adeleke did not score the majority of lawful votes cast at the Osun state gubernatorial election that was held on July 16, 2022.
It equally held that the Respondents failed to discharge the burden of proof to establish that the election lacked validity by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022.
More so, the appellate court held that the evidence of an expert witness that testified before the tribunal lacked probative value since the said witness admitted that he was a member of the APC.
Though the court faulted the tribunal for not looking into a preliminary objection that was lodged against Oyeyola’s petition, it however dismissed Adeleke’s allegation that the tribunal was biased against him. It held that there was no evidence to show that remarks the Chairman of the tribunal made on Adeleke’s dancing prowess, affected the credibility of the majority judgement of the panel. The appellate court, nonetheless, flayed the remark of the tribunal Chairman that Adeleke could not “go lo lo lo” and “buga won”, describing it as “unwarranted and condemnable”.
It equally dismissed Adeleke’s contention that the failure of the second member of the panel to write her own decision, but merely appended her signature to the lead verdict, invalidated the majority judgement that removed him from office.
It held that section 294 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, only made it mandatory for Supreme Court and Appeal Court justices, sitting as a panel, to put their decisions in writing.
“On the whole, the appeal is meritorious and it is hereby allowed. The judgement of the lower tribunal delivered on January 27 is hereby set aside.
“A cost of N500, 000 is hereby awarded against the 1st and 2nd Respondents”, Justice Shuaibu held.
Meanwhile, in another judgement, the appellate court dismissed a cross-appeal that Oyetola filed to challenge Adeleke’s qualification to contest the election.
The court held that Oyetola was unable to prove that Adeleke submitted forged documents to INEC in aid of his educational qualifications.
Stressing that section 177(1) of the Electoral Act stipulated School Certificate or its equivalent as a minimum qualification, the court held that since Oyetola’s allegation was rooted in criminality, it ought to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
It will be recalled that the Justice Tertsea Kume-led three-member panel tribunal, had in a split decision of two-to-one, voided the declaration of Adeleke as the winner of the governorship election.
In the majority judgement, the tribunal upheld a petition that was brought before it by the former governor of the state, Oyetola of the APC who came second in the election.
It held that Adeleke did not score the majority of lawful votes, adding that the conduct of the election was not in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022. According to the tribunal, the petitioners, Oyetola and APC, successfully established that there was overvoting in 744 polling units in the state.
After deducting the said invalid votes, the tribunal declared Oyetola as the winner of the governorship contest, even as it directed the INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return it earlier issued to Adeleke.
However, in his dissenting judgement, the third member of the panel, Justice P. Ogbuli, affirmed Adeleke as the valid winner of the election, even as he struck out the petition that was lodged by Oyetola and the APC.
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