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Reaffirming the Peoples mandate

By Emeka Ozumba
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When the Hon Justice Ishaq Bello led 3-man panel at the Anambra State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal sitting in Awka delivered its Rulings on 4th June 2014 on the four petitions pending before it since December 2013 over the outcome of November 2013 elections, the landmark verdict did not just bear judicial imprimatur but most importantly, it reaffirmed the mandate freely given to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and its flag bearer Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano.

Following the declaration of Chief Willie Obiano as Anambra State Governor-elect on 1st December 2013, four petitions were filed at the Anambra State Gubernatorial Election Tribunal Awka on December 20, 2013. These include; Dr Chike Obidigbo & APGA vs Chief Willie Obiano; Dr Chris Ngige & APC vs INEC & 4 others; PDP vs INEC & 25 others, and Comrade Tony Nwoye vs INEC & 25 others. The petitioners had asked the Tribunal to nullify the results of the gubernatorial elections held in Anambra state on 16th, 17th and 30th November 2013 on five main grounds;

Dr Chike Obidigbo claims that he is the lawful candidate of APGA and also challenging alleged unlawful exclusion in the elections by INEC.

That the election of the 3rd Respondent, Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the INEC Manual for Election Officials 2013/2014;

That the said election was marred by various acts of corrupt practices;

That the said Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano was not elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election;

That the said Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano was not qualified to contest the election.' That he allegedly registered more than once and posses more than one voter card

Whereas the petitioners tried to buttress their allegations with supporting affidavit and witnesses, Chief Willie Obiano both in sworn affidavit and in his evidence in-chief following the supporting testimonies of several witnesses assembled by his legal team, debunked all the allegations especially the contrived allegation of double registration. Testifying on oath over a two-day cross-examination by counsel to the petitioners, Chief Obiano told a packed tribunal how he approached INEC Electoral Officer in Otuocha to request the formal transfer of his original voter registration from Lagos to Anambra to enable him vote during the elections.

Accordingly, the transfer process initiated by Willie Obiano through the Electoral Officer on 19th August 2013 eventually led to the issuance of a new voter card ending with Number 00332 in Awka on 3rd September 2013 which he subsequently voted with during the elections that led to his emergence as Governor. This fact was buttressed by INEC when they stated at the tribunal, 'there is no substance to the allegations by the petitioners, INEC is the only agency that can determine how many times anyone registered, and Chief Willie Obiano voted in his ward during the elections.' Furthermore the INEC Counsel confirmed that Chief Obiano was duly elected Governor of Anambra State in a free and fair elections held in November 2013, tendering three sets of documents which include; Local Government Results, State Result sheets, and the Declaration of Candidates Form (Form EC 8C, Form EC 8D and Form EC8E) respectively.

Throughout the duration of the tribunal sittings, the learned Justices displayed preference for strict adherence to the tenets of fair-hearing and were thorough and painstaking in the procedure adopted at the pre-trial, hearing and final address phases. The Justices streamlined all the issues brought before the tribunal, yet accommodated all shades of argument by the petitioners and respondents alike. Evident in the legal disputations by the parties was the use of supporting authorities in line with provisions of relevant sections of the Electoral Act, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the Evidence Act amongst other citations.

Although the Honorable Justices discarded certain paragraphs in the petitioners' pleadings which were considered pre-election matter at the pre-hearing phase, some of the paragraphs earlier struck out were later reverted to the lower tribunal by an Enugu Appeal Court for further consideration. But the lower tribunal's second bite of the cherry did not provide any succor to the petitioners, judging from the eventual outcome from the argument by the parties and the unanimous decision of the honourable Justices on all the issues in their final rulings.

The Tribunal deftly articulated all issues tabled by the parties for resolution as follows; whether the November 2013 governorship elections was substantially affected by irregularities, whether the voters registers presented by INEC were marred by irregularities contrary to Electoral Act; whether the petitioners proved their grounds, and whether the 3rd respondent Chief Obiano was guilty of double or multiple registration in Lagos and Anambra States and the forgery of INEC documents and therefore not qualified to contest the elections.

Thus in the over seven hours of erudite judicial pronouncements broken only by mere five minutes break, the Chairman of the tribunal supported by his equally accomplished colleagues held the audience made up of legal luminaries, party faithful and enthusiastic Ndi Anambra spell-bound with his detailed recall and review of the arguments advanced by the legal teams of both the petitioners and the respondents.

First in line was Dr Chike Obidigbo whose application was dismissed by the tribunal for lacking locus standi to challenge the result of the election having not been a candidate in the election in the first instance, and having admitted in the course of the trial that Chief Obiano's name was published by INEC as the candidate of APGA before the election. The Justices equally dismissed the allegation of double registration, insisting that it was not enough to get certified copies of the alleged voter's card without proving that the respondent actually went to effect the registration in which case the petitioner had the burden of proof of getting the relevant electoral Officer before whom Obiano was seen physically effecting the multiple registration.

Likewise in other judgments the tribunal Chairman said, "we believe the insistence of the respondent that he effected a transfer of his voter's registration from Lagos to Anambra and that he has held no other voter's card other than the one issued to him last year after his application for transfer was consummated by INEC.' Furthermore the learned Justice averred that Ngige, Nwoye and PDP in their respective petitions failed to establish the various allegation of indulging in multiple voter registration, disenfranchisement of voters and that the governorship election was marred by substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. Hence, they concluded, "It is our view that the Anambra state governorship election conducted on November 16, 17 and 30, 2013, and the declaration of Chief Willie Maduabuchi Obiano (as winner of the election) complied substantially with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010(as amended), we therefore dismiss the petitions in its entirety for lacking any merit".

The fact that Chief Obiano won the gubernatorial elections fair and square had never been in doubt to majority of ndi Anambra, but the opposition with their well-oiled propaganda machinery tried to foist the impression on the people that the victory was not devoid of electoral sleight of hand. Hence they resorted to the tribunal. It is however heartening to note that Governor Obiano never allowed victory at the polls and the tribunal hearing to get in the way of implementing his laudable strategic economic blueprint for the State, thus he never looked back since 17th March 2014 inauguration and swearing-in event. No wonder the growing embrace of the mantra 'willie is working' by Ndi Anambra has reverberated across the nooks and crannies of Anambra within a short span of three months.

Even as news filtered-in that the tribunal has affirmed the overwhelming mandate to Chief Obiano; jubilant youths who were drumming and dancing defied the rains and visited the Government House Awka to show solidarity with the Governor. The Aguleri High Chief did not display much emotion as you would expect a gladiator, instead the Governor thanked the youths for their gesture, stating that the victory is for all; magnanimity akin to the hand of fellowship he extended to opponents during his acceptance speech on December 1, 2013. Therefore, now is a good time for all to sheath their swords and join hands with Governor Willie Obiano to realize the vision of making Anambra the first choice investment destination and the most preferred location for industries.

Emeka Ozumba, SA to the Governor of Anambra State on Media writes from Awka.