…amid a gale of sacks, reruns

The National Assembly Election Petition Tribunals set up to handle litigations in 36 states across the federation are racing against time to beat the deadline set by the Electoral Act, 2022 (as amended). The Act stipulates a 180-day lifespan within which the cases filed in March must be heard and determined, meaning that the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal is expected to end all proceedings by Saturday, 16 September 2023.

About 552 election petitions were filed by aggrieved candidates who participated in the National Assembly elections, according to a senior official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). While some of the cases were withdrawn by the petitioners, over 150 have been decided, and about 400 cases are expected to be decided this week as tribunals across the country end sitting on Saturday.

At least nine lawmakers have so far been sacked in Benue, Delta, Kogi, Lagos, Kano, Bayelsa and Abia States, with the tribunals ordering the withdrawal of Certificate of Return issued to them by INEC.

In some cases, like in Eti Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State and in Delta South Senatorial District, the court declared the election inconclusive and ordered a rerun within 90 days. More judgments are expected to be delivered in the days ahead.

Those who won at the tribunals are celebrating while most of those removed have rejected the verdict and vowed to go to the Court of Appeal to seek redress.

Some of those whose victory have been affirmed so far by the tribunals include the senator representing Borno Central, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan of APC; Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi West); Member representing Balanga/Billiri Federal Constituency of Gombe, Ali Isa; Rep Abdulmumini Jibrin of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) in Kano; Idahosa Dennis of Ovia Federal Constituency of Edo State, and Rep Obinna Aguocha (LP, Abia).

A gale of sacks

In Kogi Central Senatorial District, the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal invalidated the victory of Senator Abubakar Ohere of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduagan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner of the February 25 senatorial election in the district.

The Tribunal Chairman, Justice K. A. Orjiako, who delivered the unanimous judgement of the three-man panel, revealed that Sen. Ohere’s results were inflated in nine polling units in Ajaokuta Local Government Area while Akpoti-Uduagan’s results were intentionally reduced in the area by the INEC.

Justice Orjiakor said Akpoti-Uduagan’s results in the nine polling units of Ajaokuta LGA were 1,073 against the 77 that were recorded by the collation officers, while those of APC candidates were inflated to 1,553 against the actual figure of 1,031.

“The tribunal is also convinced that that petitioner’s 996 votes in polling units 009, 046 and 049 of Ganaja village of Ajaokuta LGA were deliberately not recorded at the ward collation center,” he said.

The tribunal added that it was not the duty of collation officers to reject results submitted by presiding officers from polling units in elections that followed the electoral guidelines substantially.

“The issues raised by the petitioner are hereby resolved in favour of the petitioners and after making proper corrections, Natasha Akpoti-Uduagan (PDP) having polled 54,074 against Abubakar Ohere (APC) who polled 51,291 is hereby declared the authentic winner,” he ruled.

Ohere faulted the decision of the tribunal, insisting that the facts of the law were not properly followed. The lawmaker, who was recently named the chairman, Senate Committee on Local Content, vowed to defend his electoral victory at the appellate court.

The tribunal sitting in Lokoja also sacked the Senator representing Kogi East, Jibrin Isah Echocho, after considering the petition by the PDP’s Victor Adoji.

The tribunal ordered the conduct of a supplementary election in 94 polling units with over 59,730 votes.

The panel’s Chairman, Justice Orjiako, who delivered the judgement, agreed with the prayers of the petitioners.

Adoji had through his counsel, Johnson Usman (SAN), challenged the return of Echocho because elections were cancelled in some polling units where PVCs collected were more than the margin of his (Echocho’s) win.

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The petitioner had pleaded with the tribunal to void the election and order a supplementary election in the affected 94 polling units in the senatorial district.

In Benue State, the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi sacked the APC’s Emmanuel Udende from the upper chamber of the National Assembly and declared Senator Gabriel Suswam of the PDP as the authentic winner of the Benue North East senatorial seat.

The Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Ory Zik-Ikeorha, and another member, ruled in favour of Suswam and PDP.

The duo averred that Suswam and PDP fulfilled the requirement of the law in proving his case of irregularities such as mutilation, non-signing of documents and non-inclusion of lawful votes.

But in a minority judgment, Justice Umar Mohammed opposed the decision of the two, saying that the petitioner failed to prove his case.

Suswam and PDP’s petition was predicated on one ground: that Udende did not score majority of the lawful votes cast during the election.

To this end, Justice Mohammed in his lone ruling held that the evidence by Suswam was grossly insufficient to sustain his petition.

In Lagos, a three-member panel led by Justice Abdullahi Ozegya nullified the election of Seyi Sowunmi, the member representing Ojo Federal Constituency of the state, and declared Lanre Ogunyemi of the APC as the winner of the election.

In Kano, the tribunal nullified the election of Muktar Umar Yerima of the NNPP, holding that Yerima was not qualified, having forged his primary school certificate.

According to the three-man panel led by Justice I. P. Chima, the case of the petitioner, Hafizu Kawu of APC, challenging Yerima’s emergence succeeded, having proven a case of forgery against Yerima.

The tribunal, therefore, held that the NNPP had no candidate in the election and that all the votes that were cast for Yerima were wasted votes. It said Yerima’s defence that he made a change of name in 2022 did not hold water having been using three (Umar Mukhar Zakari) names on his international passport since 2009, while his primary school certificate still bore Umar Mukhtar. It therefore directed INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Yerima.

In Delta State, the tribunal sitting in Asaba declared as inconclusive the election that brought Senator Thomas Onowakpo of the APC to the National Assembly to represent Delta South and ordered that his Certificate of Return be withdrawn.

His main challenger in the poll, Michael Diden of the PDP, had prayed the tribunal to declare him the duly elected senator or order a supplementary poll for the disputed Warri South.

INEC had cancelled the results for Warri South LGA, claiming that they were not supported by accreditation.

The three-member tribunal headed by Justice Cathrine Ogunsola held that Onowakpo was not duly elected by lawful votes cast, adding that the votes for Warri South LGA were wrongfully cancelled.

The panel ordered INEC to conduct a supplementary election for Warri South LGA of the senatorial district within 90 days.

Justice Ogunsola, who read the judgement, argued that the electoral body did not follow the Electoral Act before declaring APC winner of the election.

The tribunal held that it would be a travesty of justice for INEC to declare that there was no senatorial election in the area while holding that there were presidential and House of Representatives elections in the same locality.