Still Searching For Justice On Abia
WITH Dr. Alex Otti, Abia State governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the last election finally taking his case to the Appeal Court over the verdict by Abia State Elections Petitions Tribunal, two significant issues, instantly stand out. The first is his further demonstration of respect and belief in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. He is also making a bold statement in exposing what he believes to be miscarriage of justice by the Abia Tribunal.
The Tribunal had dismissed the Otti’s petition and upheld Okezie Ikpeazu, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate as the winner of the April 11, 2015, governorship poll. There is no need to comment on the fairness of the verdict as the Petitioner has proceeded to the Court of Appeal in his further search for justice. But the case in Abia is that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared APGA winner in nine out of 17 LGAs in the State while PDP was credited with eight LGAs. The Commission curiously returned Ikpeazu of PDP as winner of the election. Since that declaration, Abia has experienced some disquiet. This took root during collation of the governorship election results, when the Returning Officer for the election, Benjamin Ozumba, Professor of Gynaecology, former Provost of the UNN Medical College and Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, announced the cancellation of results for Obingwa, Isiala Ngwa North and Osisioma Ngwa based on evidence of rigging, electoral malpractices and violence.
But the former governor of the State, Chief T. A. Orji, in league with other PDP chieftains, sought to reverse the cancellations. This led to the act of revalidating the cancelled result that gave the PDP the lead against APGA.
Otti proceeded to the Election Petitions Tribunal, seeking the nullification of results from the four local government areas on the grounds that elections in those areas were marred by rigging, violence, electoral malpractices and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act. The petitioner called several witnesses and contended at the trial that the Returning Officer, having made a pronouncement on the cancellation of results from the three LGAs, lacked the powers to reverse himself as clearly provided for in S.68 of the Electoral Act 2010 as Amended.
In his ruling, Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Usman Bwala, agreed with the petitioner that the Returning Officer indeed cancelled results from the three local government areas based on incontrovertible evidence of rigging and later de-annulled himself. He added that there is nowhere in the Electoral Act 2010, 1st schedule to the Act, practice Direction and Manuals where the State Returning Officer has been conferred with powers to recant on his decision, hence describing his action as null and void and of no consequence.
The judge, however, asserted that it was due to the development that the ‘result in the affected Local Government and polling unit were declared inconclusive and a re-run held where all the parties participated in it held in these areas on 25/04/2015 and eventually a final declaration of the result was announced and the first Respondent was declared the winner.’ This is a critical issue, as analysts contend that the Returning Officer or any officer of INEC has only the right to make decisions relating to the result of the election but has no right to overrule himself. The power to overrule the decision, they say, is the function of the election tribunal or court and any other thing is tantamount to technically ousting the powers of the Tribunal or Court.
A supplementary election is said to hold where an election is held in a polling unit or units where election did not hold in the first instance. However, a rerun is a situation where election is held in a polling unit or units, votes collated and announced and subsequently cancelled which is why reruns are usually by order of a Tribunal or Court of competent jurisdiction. It is baffling that the Tribunal relied on this assumption and apparently disregarded all the evidence adduced in proof of the fact that elections in those disputed councils were marred by irregularities, which necessitated its cancellation by the Returning Officer in the first instance.
Equally, the final declaration of results announced did not include the result of any re-run election because no re-run election was held. Consequently, the position of the Tribunal on the issue, indicates that it completely misunderstood the case of both the Petitioner and the Respondents on the pleadings and the evidence before it.
However, assuming but not conceding that there was a rerun on that 25th April 2015 as purportedly ordered by the Returning Officer and it produced result, the only available option the learned Judges had was to exorcise and discount the figures of that cancelled result from the entire result and thereafter, recalculate the figure. One of the candidates will, in that case, automatically cruise with a phenomenal lead. This hope, regardless of all odds, remains alive.
• Johnson Chijioke, writes from Umuahia, Abia State
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