Before Supreme Court dissects Abia dispute

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Scales-of-JusticeThe battle for the Abia State Government House, Umuahia has moved to the Supreme Court where the learned silk will again trade legal tackles, as they did, first at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Umuahia, and later at the Court of Appeal, Owerri. The Supreme Court is the highest Court and last legal bus stop in Nigeria.

At the end of submissions by all the parties, the court will determine who between Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) really and rightly won the governorship election conducted in the state on April 11 and 25, 2015.

While the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal had on November 3, 2015 dismissed Otti’s petition against the declaration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of Ikpeazu as the governor of Abia State as “not grantable”, and affirmed that declaration, the Court of Appeal delivered judgment in Otti’s favour. The Court upturned Ikpeazu’s election and ordered the INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Otti as the duly elected governor of Abia State.

Now Ikpeazu and his party – the PDP, have headed to the Supreme Court, hoping that the Apex Court would uphold the tribunal’s verdict. They are also hoping that at the worst of situation, the Court would order a re-run election to be held in the three contentious local government areas; namely, Osisioma, Isiala Ngwa North, and Obingwa.

As noted and admitted even by the tribunal, elections in those three local government areas were characterised by various forms of malpractices and irregularities, including violence, all of which resulted in massive over-voting.

It must be admitted that going on Appeal is well within the constitutional rights of Ikpeazu. The crux of the matter in this battle of wits, which is the over-voting and its implications for election results was robustly canvassed and admitted by the parties, including Ikpeazu and INEC, and was not contested. Thus the votes garnered from the tainted elections in the affected three local government areas were denied the two contestants – Ikpeazu and Otti, and a final computation of the result made by the Court of Appeal, based on virus-free and valid votes earned by each of them.

Those who promote the view that disallowing the padded figures from the three local government areas would amount to disenfranchising the electorate there miss the point. The fictitious figures imported into the result were disallowed not because a large and significant number of legitimate voters did not vote for fault of theirs, or as a result of other factors that were not entirely of their making, but because those who were qualified to vote and were duly allowed to do so, either conducted themselves in manners not approved by the electoral guidelines, or they actively condoned or / and connived with those who perpetrated such unwholesome acts.

To say the least, what happened was gross indiscipline, simplicita, and the result showed in the fraudulent returns of padded and bloated figures which clearly was indicative of over-voting. For instance, the evidence and exhibits adduced and established even at the tribunal showed that for Osisioma where 18, 616 voters were accredited, votes cast stood at 44,283. And Ikpeazu earned 47, 444 votes. Another example: In Isiala Ngwa North where 23,786 voters were accredited, Ikpeazu won 19, 858 votes, to Ottis 6,913. These add up to 26,771 votes between the two candidates alone (Ikpeazu and Otti), excluding the votes won by the other candidates of the other political parties who also participated in the election.

Now, wait for this: in Obingwa, while the number of accredited voters was 50, 967, Ikpeazu had an unbelievable allocation to his account, 82, 240 votes!

It can only be American wonder, or abracadabra, or call it what you may, that 50,967 could have geometrically risen to 82,240.

The question to ask is: should those who perpetrated this magnitude of electoral fraud be applauded and allowed to profit from, and be rewarded for such brigandage? The obvious answer of course is ‘no’! They should in fact be punished severely, as a deterrent to others.

Given the foregoing, the Court of Appeal declared: “In the circumstance, it is apparent that there was over-voting in Osisioma LGA, Isiala Ngwa LGA, and Obingwa LGA and the votes purportedly generated therefrom are smeared and infested with illegality, by reason of the clear provisions of Section 53 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended)”.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Section states, “where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the election for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date fixed by the Commission where the result at that polling unit may affect the overall result in the constituency.”

But having regards to other issues, situations and circumstances, the Court in its reasoned judgment made it clear that ordering of fresh election will arise only where a clear winner did not emerge after deduction of the illegal votes.

Now, the computation of votes credited to Ikpeazu in respect of the disputed three local government areas stands thus: 47, 444 in Osisioma, 19, 858 in Isiala Ngwa North, and 82, 240 in Obingwa, bringing the total number of votes to 149, 269. When these “unlawful votes” are subtracted from the total votes credited to Ikpeazu in the overall result, which is 264, 713, he will be left with 115, 444 votes.

On the other hand, as the Court also held, the figures of votes credited to Otti are 2, 685 in Osisioma; 6,913 in Isiala Ngwa North and 6, 952 in Obingwa, bringing his total number of votes to 16, 550. If the “unlawful votes” are similarly deducted from the total of 180, 882 which he earned in the overall result, Otti will be left with 164, 332 votes.

Based on the above, the five-member Court of Appeal presided over by Hon. Justice Oyebisi Folayemi Omoleye in a unanimous judgment nullified and set aside Ikpeazu’s election, as the governor of Abia State, and declared that Otti “having scored the majority of lawful/valid votes cast at the elections/supplementary elections of April 11 and 25, 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 17 local government areas of Abia State is hereby returned as the duly Elected Governor of Abia State.”

Abians, and indeed the whole of decent humanity who abhor miscarriage of justice are waiting on the eminent jurists of the Supreme Court to do the needful regarding the election and the verdict of the Court of Appeal. That will be a firm way to excise the reign of banditry, brigandage, recklessness and impunity permanently from our body polity and restore respect for the rule of law, justice, equity and civilised conduct as the bedrock of civilised and civilising society.

  • Amajo, a teacher, wrote in from Ndume Ibeku, Umuahia.

(Source: The Guardian)

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