By Emmanuel Ezeh
Before Governor Sullivan Chime took over power in 2007, Enugu had one political family – the Ebeano dynasty. Anybody who was out of that circle was far from the corridors of power. One man was in charge – former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani.
All the crop of politicians, who emerged from 2003 to 2007 were all products of the Ebeano family. One of such persons is Senator Gilbert Nnaji representing Enugu East Senatorial district.
However, the political equation in Enugu State was changed by ex-Governor Sullivan Chime, who chased Nnamani out of control as soon as he became Governor in 2007.
Chime did not stop at that, he made sure that Nnamani did not return to the Senate in 2011. Instead, he chose Nnaji, one of the political sons of the ex-Governor.
But, though Chime succeeded in reducing Nnamani’s political power in Enugu State, what he could not achieve was to also whittle down his popularity among his people in Enugu East Senatorial zone.
Apparently because of the developmental projects he attracted to his people while he was Governor, Nnamani had remained a god of a sort among his people. This also accounts for the wild protest, which followed the outcome of the 2015 senatorial election.
As soon as the result was announced in favour of Nnaji, hundreds of Nnamani’s supporters took over the streets of Enugu. The protest, which lasted for three days, was first of its kind in the State.
They insisted that the votes of the people were for Nnamani and that as such he should be declared winner. In fact, Nnaji’s kinsmen, who voted against him during the March National Assembly election, were not left out in the protest.
The interesting thing in the contest is that both Chime and Nnaji are political sons of the ex-Governor, a situation sources said had continued to anger the ex- Governor.
He immediately proceeded to the tribunal to contest the result as announced by the INEC. Nnaji was declared elected with total votes of 69,544 as against total votes of 57,528 scored by Nnamani.
He approached the tribunal on the grounds that “the 1st Respondent was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election”, and that “the Election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).”
Premised on the above stated grounds, the Petitioners prayed the Tribunal for the following declarations and Reliefs:- “That it be determined that the 1st Respondent did not score majority of lawful valid votes cast in the Enugu East Senatorial District Election held on 28th March, 2015.
“That it be determined that the 1st Petitioner scored majority of lawful valid votes cast in the Enugu East Senatorial District Election held on 28th March, 2015.
“That it be determined that the 1st Petitioner is entitled to be returned by the 3rd Respondent as having been duly elected Senator representing the Enugu East Senatorial District at Election held on 28th March, 2015.
“Consequential order that the 1st Petitioner be issued forthwith with a certificate of return as the duly elected Senator representing the Enugu East Senatorial District pursuant to the election held on 28th March, 2015.
“In the alternatives to 2, 3, and 4 above, That it be determined that the election held in the Enugu East Senatorial District on 28th March, 2015 was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non- compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended); and that fresh election be held in Enugu East Senatorial District amongst the contestants who participated in the original election”. However, in his reply to the Petition, the 1st Respondent, Nnaji denied the Petitioners claim and accordingly urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.
They also incorporated in the reply a preliminary objection to the competence of the petition. Arguing this issue, Tochukwu Odo Esq., of P.I.N Ikwueto and Co., Counsel for Senator Nnaji had urged the tribunal to determine that the petition was without merit and ought to be dismissed for six simple but germane reasons: “The petitioners, have woefully failed to show that there was any non-compliance with the principles of the electoral Act in the conduct of the election.
“The petitioners’ evidence in support of the allegations in the petition are insufficient; and failed to establish therefore any alleged non-compliance with the principles of the Electoral Act that substantially affected the outcome of the election in the sense that but for the alleged irregularities, they (the Petitioners) would have won the election.
“Despite admitting that copies of the results of the election in the polling units were given to the Petitioners’ Agents PW.2, PW.3, PW.4, PW.6, PW.7 and PW.9 (all of whom claimed to be PDC Ward Collation Agents) failed, refused and neglected to produce any of copies of the result of the election (Forms EC*A (1) obtained from the Party Agents for any polling units.
“The report of the analysis of the Election Result (Exhibit PW. 5A-3) is not binding on the Tribunal as it consists of the unsubstantiated opinion of PW.5. the materials allegedly used in conducting the analysis, particularly the duplicate copies of the results of the election obtained/given to the Petitioners’ agents, were neither shown to the Honourable Tribunal nor contained (annexed) to the report.
“The said report was shown to have omitted relevant matters such as the results of the election in polling units with the same features/discrepancies as formed the basis of the report and wherein the petitioners won.
“The documentary evidence before the Honourable Tribunal completely contradicts the case of the petitioners. It is in the interest of justice to dismiss this petition.”
He submitted that the correct attitude of the law was that where an allegation was made that an election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices or non-compliance with the provision of Section 135 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2002 (which is in pair material with Section 138 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended), the law rests the Election Tribunal or Court entertaining the Election Petition with the power to decide from the evidence tendered before it in such a case whether the allege non-compliance was substantial enough to invalidate the Election.
He said that the petitioner must not only show substantial non-compliance but must also show the figures, that is, the affected or omitted; stating that the petitioner must not only assert, but must satisfy the Court, that the non-compliance affected the result of the election to justify its nullification.
In his final address to the court, Mr. O. Jolaawo of Rickey Tarfar and Co, Counsel to Nnamani, maintained that Nnaji was not duly elected or duly returned as the winner of the election having not scored the majority of the lawful votes cast at the election; and that it was Nnamani, who ought to have been returned as the winner having polled the highest number of lawful votes cast.
He submitted that given the state of pleadings and the evidence led by the petitioners, the allegations of irregularities and non-compliance with regulations in the election have been proved as required by law, stating that non-compliance with the Electoral Act implies conduct of an election contrary to the Election Act.
The court, after reviewing the issues raised by both parties, observed that the irregularities and a non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) cut across the entire Enugu East Senatorial District.
It noted that “It is important to state that some of the irregularities shown in Exhibit PW5A and in the above cross examination of the respondent’s witnesses are gross and fundamental. Irregularities such as absence of accreditation go to the root of valid elections.
“It is trite that no lawful election can take place without strict compliance which effect on the results of the election must be separately proved by the petitioners’ non-compliance arising from non – accreditation of voters is so fundamental and the effect it has on the result of the election lies in the fact of its occurrence.
“You must have an election lawfully so-called to be able to talk of the result of that election. Election results ensue from lawful votes cast by voters in a manner recognized by the law.
“Any election that occurred without accreditation of voters is a complete nullity as same had proceeded in complete and flagrant violation of the principles of the Electoral Act which the law itself jealously protects in Section 146(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010.”
The tribunal further stated that the respondents in an attempt to fault and discredit that inspection and forensic report, only paraded more polling units’ results which were also fraught with mutilations, cancellations and alterations that were not included in the challenged report.
“We are of the view that such additional discovery only further strengthen the irregularities and non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2010 in the conduct of the election”, adding that “there was no single incident form tendered before this tribunal by the respondents”.
The tribunal led by Hon Justice M. O Adewara, in its verdict maintained that “the election held on the 28th March, 2015 for Enugu East Senatorial District was not conducted in substantial compliance with the Principles of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and that the non-compliance substantially affected the results of the election.
“That the election is hereby declare null and void. “That the 3rd Respondent, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is hereby ordered to conduct a fresh election for Enugu East Senatorial District of Enugu State.”
As soon as the news of the judgement filtered into town, there was a spontaneous reaction across the Enugu metropolis. Jubilant residents took over Enugu, the State capital, such that vehicular movement was crippled for more than five hours.
Although Nnaji has since gone to court, it has remained on the lips of residents of the State, who are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the appeal. (National Mirror)