JUDGEMENT DAY AS TRIBUNAL DECIDES WINNER OF KOGI GUBER ELECTION BETWEEN YAHAYA BELLO AND WADA TODAY

All ‘Kogi Eyes’ In Abuja As Tribunal Delivers Ruling

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Ayorinde Oluokun

Aside the controversies over whether the deadly Covid-19 virus has landed in their midst or not, the most talked about issue among residents of Kogi in the past few days is the impeding judgment of the Kogi Election Petition Tribunal in the petition filed by Musa Wada, the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP against the declaration of Yahaya Bello of All Progressives Congress, APC, as the winner of the State’s November 16 governorship election.

Findings by this medium on Friday revealed that members of the two major Nigerian political parties are anxious, excited and hopeful that they will sing songs of victory when the three-man election tribunal panel headed by Justice Kashim G. Kaigama delivered its verdict on Saturday. But which of the two camps will laugh last?

This will be known after the tribunal determines the merit or otherwise of the petition in which Wada is asking for the overturn of the November 18, 2019 declaration of Bello as the winner of the gubernatorial election.

The Case Against/For November 16 Guber Poll

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, appointed Returning Officer for the election, Prof.  Ibrahim Garba, had at the end of collation of results from all the local government areas of the State declared the APC candidate winner of the poll with overwhelming 406,222 votes to 189,704 scored by his closest opponent, the PDP candidate.

Garba, who was the Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, declared that Bello defeated his main opponent with a total of 216,518.  Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) came third in the election with 9482 votes.

But Wada has been crying foul hours before the declaration of the final result of the election and it was therefore not a surprise when he headed for the tribunal soon after it was confirmed that he will not be governor of Kogi State.

In the 1,500-page three Volumes petition he filed at the tribunal which sat at the premises of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory at Wuse 2, in company of his lead counsel, JubrilOkutekpa, SAN, Wada and his party, PDP  contended that he won the November 16 poll. But they claimed that the poll was rigged in favour of the APC and its candidate. They also alleged that election was marred by widespread malpractices and violence and was conducted without substantial compliance with the Electoral Act. They therefore asked the Tribunal to declare that his APC opponent did not secure majority of lawful votes cast at the election.

Also, they asked the tribunal nullifying the Certificate of Return issued to governor Bello and declare that Wada scored majority of votes cast at the election and fulfilled the requirements of section 179(2)(a) and (b) of the Constitution.

In the alternative, Wada and PDP asked the tribunal to order INEC to conduct supplementary election in some polling units where elections were cancelled. This, they argued was because the margin of lead between the Bello and Wada were Iess than the registered voters in the cancelled polling units.

But Bello, APC and INEC who are the three respondents in the petition in their separate responses asked the tribunal to dismiss Wada and PDP’s petition. Instead, they asked the tribunal to affirm the victory of Bello in the 16 November poll as declared by INEC.

The counsels to the petitioners and the respondents affirmed these positions in their closing arguments on 7 May, the last day of sitting of the tribunal. In his closing argument,  Okutepa (SAN) contended that Wada and  PDP, won the majority of lawful votes cast in the election. He also urged the tribunal to reject the objection raised by Bello to the petition and instead, gives order that Wada should be returned as the duly elected Governor of Kogi State.

As expected, INEC, Bello and APC through their lawyers, Dr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), and Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN) asked the tribunal to dismiss the petition, pointing out that whereas the petitioners disputed the results of the election in 2,548 polling units in seven out of the 21 local government areas of the state, they only called 32 witnesses to prove cases of alleged election malpractices, substantial non-compliance to electoral rules and other forms of irregularities.

Hopes In Earlier Victories

As the tribunal deliver its verdict today, supporters of the two parties are also hanging their hopes on the repeat of the earlier victories secured by their different camps.

For one, supporters of APC will regard the tribunal’s earlier rulings in the petitions filed by the Social Democratic Party, SDP and the Action Peoples Party, APP as pointers to the fact that the PDP’s petition will also not receive favourable consideration. The tribunal had in a unanimous judgment on Friday dismissed APP’s petition, asserting that the party failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.  The petition was dismissed with a cost of N100k against APP.

The tribunal had also earlier dismissed the petition of Barrister Natasha Akpoti of SDP for lacking in merit. The judges awarded N600, 000 costs against her and her party in favour of Bello, APC and INEC. The two parties had canvassed arguments nearly similar to that of PDP against the election of Bello though they scored far less votes.

But Wada had also secured two victories on the way to the tribunal’s judgment. For one, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of INEC against forensic examination of materials used in the conduct of the gubernatorial election. The apex court also upheld his qualification to stand in the election as it dismissed allegation of forgery and false information in the primary school certificate he submitted to contest election.

The question of who wins what is surely the first leg of the legal battle in the Kogi governorship election will be answered in the next few hours.  The loser, on the other hand, will have opportunities of redeeming his hopes at the higher courts.

Updates soon…

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