The Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia on Tuesday affirmed Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu as the duly elected governor of Abia State, dismissing the petition filed against him by the Mr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Thisday reports.
Otti had gone to the tribunal to challenge the return of Ikpeazu by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the duly elected governor of the state following the April 11 poll and the subsequent supplementary poll of April 25, 2015.
But in a judgment that lasted 145 minutes, the tribunal unanimously upheld the election of Ikpeazu who had contested the governorship election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Chairman of the three-man tribunal, Justice Usman Bwala, who read the verdict, noted that the petitioner and his party failed to prove their allegations beyond reasonable doubt and the 20 witnesses who testified for them were bundle of contradictions.
He faulted the apparent over reliance of the petitioners on the card reader to prove his allegation of over voting, saying the card reader was a creation of a subsidiary legislation and not a substantive law.
According to him, the petitioner only considered the card reader without making any reference to the voters register hence the reliefs he asked the tribunal to grant him “are not grantable.”
The judge said: “Using of the card reader is not the only means of accreditation (of voters),” he said, adding that there was no way the card reader would replace the voters register, which is the statutory document that contains the names of people eligible to vote in the election.
Otti had sought five reliefs including the cancellation of the election result and for the tribunal to declare him as the rightful winner of the governorship poll.
“At one breath, the petitioner asked for cancellation of election and at another breath asked to be declared winner of the election. You cannot approbate and reprobate. You cannot say yes and say no,” he said.
The petitioner had asked for the cancellation of election results from Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Areas, citing irregularities but the tribunal said the allegations were not proved beyond reasonable doubt as the eye witnesses brought by the petitioners were a bundle of contradictions.
The tribunal was confronted with 39 motions in the course of hearing the petition, some of which were dealt with instantly. But the tribunal chairman took time to dispose all the motions that were reserved for the judgment day and overruled most of the applications from both parties.
On the issue of preliminary allegations of violence, intimidation, bribery, among other malpractices, the tribunal chairman held that the petitioner could not convincingly prove the allegations. For instance, the tribunal noted that the petitioners’ witness who alleged that he was offered N1 million, bribe did not report the incident to the police, EFCC or any other law enforcement agency.
While the petitioners laboured to prove their allegations, they also made efforts to shift the burden of proof to the respondents to dispose, which the tribunal said was contrary to the provision of the Evidence Act that “he who asserts must prove.”
Expectedly, the tribunal’s verdict has elicited different reactions from the parties concerned. Governor Ikpeazu said the tribunal only affirmed our victory, saying “there is no victor, no vanquished.
He stated that his triumph at the tribunal “is victory for service to our people; victory for development.”
He called on the opposition to join hands with him to move Abia forward as the state could not thrive under an atmosphere of opposing forces, adding that APGA members should be patriotic to Abia.
The state chairman of PDP said the verdict was not surprising because the people of Abia overwhelmingly voted for PDP as the ruling party “worked” for its victory.
But the dismissal of Otti’s petition hit APGA supporters like a thunderbolt so much so that they were ready to embark on violent protests.
But the presence of the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Victor Ike Oye, saved the day as he calmed the nerves of hundreds of the opposition supporters that gathered at the party secretariat.
Speaking from the balcony of the storey building, Oye told his party people to remain calm and not take the law into their hands.
He said that the party leadership would take the fight to a higher level since the tribunal has He told the downcast party faithful that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari “does not tolerate this type of thing,” adding that they would petition Mr. President over the “travesty of justice.”
To prevent outbreak of violence given the threats made by the opposition after the unfavourable verdicts from the National and State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, the noose of security was tightened around the state capital while the judgment was being read.
Both the police and army and the Department of State Security (DSS) personnel were mobilised in full force with complements of arms and armoured personnel carriers stationed at strategic positions.
There was heavy security presence along Ikot Ekpene road where both the state high court, venue of the tribunal and APGA secretariat are situated.
While Ikot Ekpene road was sealed off and traffic diverted to all the adjoining streets which witnessed heavy presence of security personnel.