The perspicacity of the Justices of the Court of Appeal who on December 31, 2015, upturned the judgment of the Abia State Election Petition Tribunal, which affirmed the election of Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu is laudable. The erudition and intellectual prowess adduced by the Justices in reaching their conclusions are commendable, logical, sound and inviolable. It is a locus classicus of how to insist on substantial justice.
Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in fulfilment of its constitutional obligation of organizing general elections in Nigeria conducted an election on April 11, 2015, for the occupation of the office of governor of Abia State.
In the election, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) sponsored Dr Okezie Ikpeazu while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) sponsored Dr Alex Otti. At the end of the election, INEC announced that there would be supplementary election in some polling units across nine local government areas on April 25, 2015. It also cancelled results in Obingwa, Isiala Ngwa North and Osisioma Ngwa Local Government areas of the state due to irregularities, election malpractices and violence, which resulted in over-voting.
Curiously, the same INEC returning officer who cancelled the results unlawfully de-annulled them and declared Ikpeazu winner of the election at the end of the supplementary election with 264,713 votes against Otti’s 180,882.
As a result, Otti and his party approached the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Umuahia for redress. But in what is now known as a pure miscarriage of justice, the Tribunal dismissed its petition and affirmed the election of Ikpeazu.
Dissatisfied with the Tribunals decision, Otti and APGA appealed to the appellate court, praying for redress and insisted that votes recorded for Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa were not real and should remain cancelled.
In its wisdom, the appellate court saw the merit of the case and set aside the decision of the Tribunal and declared Otti winner of the election, having fulfilled all the requirements of the law.
Reacting to the highly celebrated decision few days ago, the National Vice-Chairman South East Zone of the PDP, Retired Colonel Austin Akobundu, reportedly went emotional, saying the decision has disenfranchised many Abians through the cancellation of the results of three local government areas. Unfortunately for him and his party, law is not about emotions but facts. Interestingly, the facts in this matter speak for itself.
It is important to note that the court in its considered decision agreed with the prayer of the petitioners that there were substantial violation of the electoral act and over-voting in three local government areas of the state, namely, Isiala Ngwa North, Osisioma Ngwa and Obingwa. The Appellate court reprimanded the Tribunal for glossing over the evidences laid before it and for saying the prayers of the petitioner was ‘ungrantable’.
This is how the Appellate court Justices captured it: “We find it quite perplexing that the Tribunal instead of reading and considering carefully the pleadings and evidence adduced in the petition and determining all the issues raised by the respective parties, seemed more concerned with getting rid of as many of the reliefs as possible by striking them out for one unacceptable reason or the other. All the reasons given are untenable and at the end of the day amount to depriving the appellants of fair hearing guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These generalisations that the claims of the appellants/petitioners were not grantable without giving plausible and definite reasons are unacceptable in law.”
As a result of the findings of the Appeal court that there were over-voting, the court subsequently cancelled the controversial results emanating from the three local government areas in compliance with the electoral law.
This laudable action is what the PDP called disenfranchisement. This is how Akobundu evoked his emotions: “We are appalled that the Appeal Court supposedly manned by men of high jurisprudence would wittingly decide to disenfranchise a majority section of Abia electorate in three local governments, all in an effort to give undeserved victory to Alex Otti and APGA, which they didn’t get at the election.”
I want to humbly submit that this statement is fallacious. There is no such evidence of disenfranchisement before the Tribunal or Appeal Court. The Court cannot speculate. The only evidence produced before the court is the case of over-voting. The card Reader data also helped to expose the injustice perpetrated against APGA by PDP. According to the Appeal Court, the correct accreditation for the whole of Isiala Ngwa North was 23, 786 but Ikpeazu was credited with 19, 858 votes while Otti was allotted 6,913 votes making a total of 26, 771 between the two candidates. This excludes the candidate of other parties that participated in the election.
For the whole of Osisioma Ngwa, 18,616 voters were accredited. But the dull election riggers allocated 47, 444 votes to PDP and gave APGA paltry 2,685 votes. If you think that is hilarious, that of Obingwa was indeed a mockery. Whereas the correct accreditation figure stood at 50, 967, the PDP gave itself 82, 240 votes and donated 6,952 votes to APGA.
Having discovered this daylight electoral robbery, the Appeal Court said: “Therefore, if the results of the three local government areas are deducted from the final results declared by the 3rd respondent (INEC), the votes of the 1st and 2nd respondents (Ikpeazu and PDP respectively) will be reduced from 264,713 to 115,171; while the appellants (Otti and APGA respectively) votes will be reduced from 180,882 to 169,332”.
In its unanimous decision, Justice Oyebisi Folayemi Omoleye delivering the lead judgment held: “Having resolved all the above issues other than the issue relating to the powers of the Returning Officer with regards to cancellation and de-annulment of election results, in favour of the Appellants, we hereby hold that this appeal has merit and ought to succeed. The appeal is accordingly allowed.
“The judgment of the Tribunal delivered on November 3, 2015 is hereby set aside. It is ordered that the results for Isiala Ngwa North, Obingwa and Osisioma Ngwa local governments areas of Abia State be and are hereby cancelled. With the cancellation of the results in the three local government areas, the scores of the 1st appellant and the 1st respondent are as follows: 1st appellant 164,332 votes and 1strespondent 115,444 votes.
“The election, return and declaration of the 1st respondent, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu as the governor of Abia State are hereby nullified and set aside. The 1st appellant, Alex Otti, having scored the majority of lawful/valid votes cast at the elections/supplementary elections of 11th and 25th April 2015 respectively, held in Abia State for the occupation of the seat of governor of Abia State and having satisfied the constitutional requirement of one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the seventeen local government areas of Abia State is hereby returned as the duly elected governor of Abia State.
“It is hereby ordered that the Certificate of Return already issued to the 1st respondent, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu by the 3rd respondent, INEC is hereby set aside. It is further ordered that the 3rd respondent, INEC shall forthwith issue the Certificate of Return to the 1st appellant, Alex Otti, as the winner of the Abia State Governorship elections on the 11th and 25th April, 2015. It hereby ordered that the parties shall bear the costs expended by them in the prosecution and defence of the appeal, respectively.”
It is imperative to note that the Appeal court took the decision in conformity with Section 140 (3) of 2010 Electoral Act. It states that if a tribunal or Court determines that a candidate who was returned as elected was not validly elected on the ground that he did not score the majority valid votes cast at the election, the election tribunal or the court as the case may be shall declare as elected the candidate who scored the highest number of valid votes cast at the election and satisfied the requirement of the constitution and the Act.
In arriving at its decision, the court of appeal also found out that there was no re-run election as the Tribunal so motu raised and used in gifting the election to PDP. The Tribunal had held that APGA and its candidate cannot ask for the cancellation of the election in the affected three local government areas because there was a re-run, to which the appellant participated. The appellate court said the Tribunal decision was “unwarranted, unsupported and patently perverse”.
Chinedu Offor, an Abia based Legal practitioner wrote in from Aba, Abia State.