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Court sacks Senator, orders fresh elections

Source: Thisdayonline.com

Osun State governorship aspirant and Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Iyiola Omisore, has been sacked from the Senate by the Court of Appeal in Ibadan, Oyo State.

Omisore, representing Osun East Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, will now vacate his seat at least until a fresh election is conducted to fill the vacancy.

The appellate court ordered the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh poll in the district within 60 days of the judgment.

With fanfare, the federal lawmaker had last week approached the state secretariat of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he picked his nomination form after paying N3 million, a fee the national headquarters of the party declared illegal.

The court, in a unanimous decision, voided Omisore's election on the ground that it was fraught with widespread malpractices, acts of thuggery and non-compliance with the Electoral Act.

Omisore's election had been challenged by his main rival, the Action Congress (AC) candidate in the April 21, 2007 National Assembly election, Babajide Omoworare.

The AC candidate had argued among others that Omisore, by virtue of his impeachment as the deputy governor of Osun State in December 2002 for financial misconduct, was not qualified to contest the election in the first place.

He also alleged widespread electoral irregularities observed during the election, particularly at Ife Central, Ife North and Ife South which he advanced gave Omisore undue advantage over other contestants and led to his being declared winner of the election.

He then prayed the tribunal to void the votes in the areas in contention and return him the winner of the election with the remaining votes.

Omoworare, following the dismissal of his petition by the lower tribunal, had headed for the appellate court seeking reliefs which included declaration that the election was invalid in view of alleged violence during the election and prayed the court to declare him winner of the said poll.

In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, the appellate court faulted the lower tribunal which upheld the election of Omisore despite the fact that there were enough proofs of “widespread violence, acts of thuggery, electoral malpractices and non-compliance with the electoral laws”.

The appellate court maintained that the lower tribunal judges grievously erred by failing to attune themselves to the word “widespread” while the tribunal “seriously somersaulted” in overlooking the absence of the signatures of presiding officers on the election result sheets, absence of voting in some polling booths arising from violence and acts of thuggery.

The appeal panel, which relied heavily on the Buhari v Obasanjo celebrated election petition cases was unhappy that the lower tribunal ignored non-compliance and widespread electoral malpractices in Ife South, Ife North and Ife Central as well as in other polling units which are all part of the constituencies in the senatorial district.

The three-member appeal panel gave the former deputy governor a short-lived victory as they dismissed the issue of his non-qualification on account of his impeachment on December 13, 2002 since he had not been “found guilty of any criminal act by a regular court of law or a code of conduct tribunal”.

The AC candidate and his counsel, Folashade Aofolaju, praised the judges for the judgment but expressed that they had looked forward to AC being declared winner at the court with the avalanche of evidences and the somersault of the lower tribunal.

Speaking with reporters after the ruling, Omoworare said he was happy that justice came his way at last.

Aofolaju stated that she was partially satisfied with the judgment, adding that she would have preferred a situation where the court would go ahead to declare her client as the authentic winner of the election.

Omoworare described the journey as tortuous, but was happy that eventually, justice was served.

The AC candidate, however, expressed fears on the success of a re-run election in view of the fact that there was yet no electoral reform in the country that would address the mistake of the past.

“We will just keep trying our best. We all know elections are not properly conducted. We all expect electoral reform, which was what the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria said when he was sworn in. We have not seen any effort to that effect.

“The only thing we have seen is that they are trying to suppress the Justice Muhammadu Uwais report. Now, are we going to have free and fair election if this election is done all over again. I can't answer the question, the people of Nigeria and Ife/Ijesa should answer the question,” Omoworare stated.

He urged the people to resist further stealing of votes by unpopular and unwanted politicians.

“I have always said that people should resist people stealing their elections. Stealing of ballot boxes is worse than armed robbery because the effect is monumental. It affects the children yet unborn,” he said.