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2011 POLLS: AGGRIEVED PARTIES, CANDIDATES FLOOD TRIBUNALS WITH PETITIONS

By NBF News
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The April 2011 general elections have come and gone leaving behind torrent of petitions from political parties and politicians who felt short-changed over the conduct and outcome of the elections.

From every state of the federation, political parties and politicians have besieged the tribunals with various petitions. So far, about 400 petitions have been filed across the length and breadth of the country.

However, the figure, this time around, is low compared to the 1527 petitions filed in the wake of the 2007 general elections.

In spite of the fewer number of petitions trailing the 2011 polls, which is considered a major improvement on the series of flawed elections held in recent time, some of the petitions, if successful, could alter the power complexion of the effected areas.

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
At the presidential level, for instance, it is the Congress for Progressive Change [CPC] formed by former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari that is challenging the election of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his deputy, Namadi Sambo, at the Court of Appeal, sitting as the Presidential Election Tribunal. Although, no petition against a presidential election has been successful since 1999, the CPC has expressed confident that, with the evidence in its possession, it could upturned the result of the April 2011 presidential election. The party is relying on its acclaimed weight of evidence, which include the use of biometric and forensic analysis to check multiple voting and palm kernel 'thumb print.'

In the petition, the party is challenging results from the 17 Southern states and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, Buhari scored overwhelming total of votes. However, the bulk of his 12 million votes came mainly from the Northwest and Northeast geo-political zones. But the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], which platform President Jonathan contested and won the election, is not taking anything for granted, even as it described the CPC's petition as empty.

The party's lawyer, Chief Joe Kyari- Gadzama [SAN] has since asked the tribunal to throw out the petition. On their part, Jonathan and Sambo have described the petition as baseless, vague and an afterthought. According to them, all the allegations contained in the petition were frivolous, scandalous and unsupportable in law and in fact. Consequently, they urged the court to dismiss it.

They have secured the services of 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria [SAN]; Chief Wole Olanipekun, O.C.J. Okocha, Dr. Alex Izinyon, Damien Dodo, Dabian Ajogwu, Ighodalo Imadegbelo, Chief Assam Assam, O.A. Omonuwa, Jude Nnodum and Paul Erokoro to defend their victory. In addition, they have lined up 102 witnesses, an expert in forensic, another expert in finger print, a biometric analyst and a statistician in order to prove that the presidential election was conducted substantially in accordance with the Electoral Act.

GOVERNORSHIP ELECTIONS PETITIONS
At the states level, election tribunals are busy with petitions from aggrieved politicians. For instance, in Oyo State, the Action Alliance

[AA] is contesting the election of Governor Senator Abiola Ajimobi of the Action Congress of Nigeria [CAN]. The party has specifically taken INEC to court over the omission of its name and logo on the ballot papers used for the April 26 governorship election in the state.

Chairman of the party [AA], Kelani Anifowose and the governorship candidate, Mr. Taiwo Otegbeye, who vowed to pursue the matter to a logical conclusion, debunked allegations that AA was being sponsored by the PDP to rubbish ACN's victory in the state.

LAGOS STATE
In Lagos State, it is the Labour Party [LP] that is battling hard to upturn the election of Senator Oluremi Tinubu wife of ACN National Leader, Senator Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is representing Lagos Central.

Mrs. Tinubu won the Lagos Central Senatorial seat but the LP is kicking against it, saying that its logo was excluded from the ballot papers, a move the party complained, short-changed its candidate, Chief Durosinmi Etti, for the election.

The Labour Party is also contesting the outcome of the 2011 elections in five states, namely: Plateau, Abia, Enugu, Taraba and Gombe.

ABIA STATE
The story is not different in Abia State where the All Nigeria Peoples party [ANPP], All Progressive Grand Alliance [APGA] and the Labour Party [LP] are in court to unseat Governor Theodore Orji of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]. APGA governorship candidate, Chief Reagan Ufomba, LP Candidate, Stanley Ohajuruka and their All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) counterpart, Arch. Ndukwo Anagha, are already challenging the victory of Governor Theodore Orji of the PDP at the law courts over alleged electoral malpractices.

Also within his own PDP, an appeal is lying before the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal challenging the emergence of Governor Orji as a candidate of the party for the April election. Already the Court of Appeal has ordered an accelerated hearing of the appeal that was lodged before it by Chief Ikechi Emenike, challenging the judgment of a Federal High Court that declared Governor Orji as the authentic candidate of the PDP for April 26 gubernatorial election. It is the contention of Chief Emenike that he, and not Orji, that won the PDP primaries and there should be declared the authentic gubernatorial candidate of the party in Abia State.

In all the petitions across the country, attention is on the Action Congress of Nigeria [ACN], which is seeking to extend its stronghold outside the South West, particularly in Akwa Ibom and Benue States.

AKWA IBOM
The pre-election violence that erupted in the state, creating bad blood between the PDP and ACN, later snowballed into election litigation after Governor Godswill Akpabio of the PDP was declared as winner of the election by the INEC. His main challenger and former Minister of state for the Federal Capital Territory [FCT], Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, of the ACN has vowed to nullify Akpabio's election at the tribunal even as he described the election as a sham. Coming from a party that has recorded the highest number of victories at the election tribunals in the political history of the country, his threat to unseat Governor Akpabio cannot be dismissed with a wave of hand.

It is on the strength of this that the winner of the election, Governor Akpabio has hired one of the nation's top legal luminaries and former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo SAN to lead his defence team at the Governorship election tribunal. He will be confronting another hot head in the legal profession and former Attorney General of Lagos State under Tinubu, Professor Yemi Osibajo SAN among others to prove within the 180 days stipulated by the Electoral Act that the petitioner has no case his client.

Already, the governor has started the defence of his mandate on a bright note, as five applications by the petitioners have been thrown out, while the Tribunal has granted three of his requests so far, at the preliminary state.

This is not to say that Governor Akpabio would have an easy ride at the Tribunal, given the resilience and tenacity of the petitioner and that of his political platform. Before the Tribunal, the petitioner premised his case on issues of corrupt practices in the conduct of the said election and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010.

It is on these grounds that he is contesting the results in all the 31 local government areas in the state, including the two where he won - Uyo and Uruan local governments, with the former also landing his party a seat in the House of Representatives.

Specifically, Akpanudoedehe is asking for an outright cancellation of the entire election and a re-run, arguing that Akpabio's 957,585 votes to his 163,449 votes would not be enough for the governor to be considered re-elected, while adding an incongruous angle to his prayers by saying none of the candidates in the election won, including him, in an election that was not stalemated and where one of the candidates satisfied the requirements of the law with the votes he garnered at the poll.

But some observers of the contest are worried that given the confession of the petitioner that he did not win the election and the fact that he won in only two Local Governments out of 31, he may not have a strong case against Akpabio who scored the highest votes.

In urging the tribunal to throw out the petitioner, lead counsel to the Governor, Chief Ojo in paragraph 78 of his reply noted 'The petition rather than serve as a legitimate means of addressing any alleged illegality or act of non compliance in the conduct of the election is on the contrary a further manifestation of the unbridled ambition of the petitioners, with the active connivance of persons not interested in the development of Akwa Ibom State, to occupy public office at all cost and by all means including but not limited to acts of violence and brigandage prior to and after the election.'

Ojo noted that his client would be relying on ballot papers, all the Forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C, EC8D, Voters Registers, report of Independent Observers, electronic recordings of some of the events of the election day during polls, photographs/pictures of scenes, voter's cards, forensic experts, reports of analysis of election materials among other documents alongside over 300 witnesses to disproof the petitioner's claims final result was recorded and declared on Forms EC8D, EC8E before receipt of scores in Eket and Usit Ubium Local governments.

Another ground that Akpabio is seeking to knock out Akpanudoedehe's petition is the issue of his constitutional qualification to contest the election in the first place considering that his nomination by the ACN as its candidate failed to satisfy all requirements of the law.

The governor is hinging on Akpanudoedehe's defection from the PDP to the ACN; a process that his lawyer is contesting is at variance with the relevant provisions of both the Electoral Act and the Constitution.

Besides, the governor's legal team is confident that the petition would be an easy meat given that 'all the witness Statements on Oath attached to the petition are incompetent and liable to be struck out/and or expunged for non compliance with the provisions of the Election Tribunal and Court Practices Directions 2011 and the Oath Act' adding that 'the petition is incurably defective and in contravention of Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 {As Amended} for failure of the petitioners to join several individuals including members of Security agencies against whom they have made largely criminal allegations'.

BENUE STATE
In Benue state, the ACN in its attempt to capture the state-not known to be in opposition party has filed 11 petitions at the tribunal for the governorship and National Assembly polls. While one is challenging governorship election, three of the petitions are challenging the senatorial polls while seven are kicking against the outcome of the House of Representatives polls.

ACN governorship candidate in the state, Professor Steve Ugbah has approached the Tribunal with his petition to challenge the election of Governor Gabriel Suswam. His counsel, Andrew Wombo had in the preliminary stages of the petition sought an order of the tribunal to obtain and inspect certified true copies of election materials used at the April 26 elections, to prepare his petition. In his petition, he raised the issues of rigging, violence and ballot stuffing among other alleged electoral offences as grounds for nullifying the election.

On the issue of rigging the ACN alleges: 'The PDP in Benue State introduced the use of violence in last Saturday's election to enable it rig the votes. There is abundant evidence to show that, the results announced by INEC giving victory to PDP are based on rigged votes. We have a video clip of INEC officials thumb printing for PDP at Okpokwu.

Also at Ohimini, Oglewu-Ehaji ward, 8,500 votes were recorded in the elections even though less than 4,000 voters were registered during the voter registration exercise.

Similarly in Apa local government, Edikwu ward, the INEC returned 8,000 votes while registered voters are less than 5,000.

In Katsina-Ala local government, the voting materials, including ballot boxes meant for Michihe ward LG/009/BN, were intercepted by Barrister Chive Kaave, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of Benue State and the Chairman of Katsina-Ala Local Government, Hon. Augustine Avaan, who took them to the house of Mr. Agbidye Igyongo; the government house Accountant where they stuffed them with ballot papers in favour of PDP. In Tiir ward of Kastina-Ala West, Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Solomon Wombo spearheaded the snatching of ballot boxes, stuffing them with PDP papers and moving them to an illegal collation centre at Wombo – his house whereas the official collation centre is at Gbor. His brother, Msugh Wombo against whom we had lodged a report was caught with fake result sheets.

'In Guma local government, the stuffing of ballot boxes was organized and supervised by David Tsevende; the Permanent Member of SUBEB, Mr. Tivlumun Nyitse; Permanent Secretary, Government House Administration and Hon. John Tondo; the Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Benue State who also organized thugs for them.

Another tactic of disenfranchising ACN supporters according to Ugbah 'was the refusal of the Electoral officials to produce complete register of voters in constituencies where they knew ACN had many supporters. For instance, at Tse-Kyuur polling centre in Mbatian ward of Ukum local government, over 800 people had registered as voters. On the day of the election however, only about 200 names were on the voters' list. Even then, the officers came a few minutes to 12 midday and they had barely accredited 20 people when they declared that the time for accreditation was up. They thus succeeded in denying the voters at this centre their right to vote because it was stationed in the village of our candidate for the Benue State House of Assembly, Mr. Jacob Chiangi Uja.

But as the governorship tribunals commence sitting, the Governor of Benue State, Hon. Gabriel Suswam, said there is no way the petition filed against his election by candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the governorship election, Prof. Steve Ugba, can be sustained.

Governor Suswam specifically said the pattern of votes during the elections showed that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was still the dominant political party loved by the people of the state and remains the party to beat at all times adding that he was neither scared nor worried by the case instituted by the ACN candidate as his lawyers were capable of handling the case based on the facts before them.

Giving details of the elections in Benue State based on verifiable facts, he said out of the 28 seats in the state House of Assembly, the PDP won 20 leaving the remaining eight seats for the ACN, while the PDP also garnered eight seats out of the 11 seats available in the House of Representatives.

On the senatorial elections, Suswam also recalled that the PDP won two out of the three seats, while the ACN got the remaining one seat. Also in the presidential election, the PDP got 694,776 votes whereas the ACN managed to get 223,007 votes.

According to Suswam, 'You can see that the people of the state are for the PDP and they demonstrated their love for the party with the way they voted for us during the election.

'The results from the conduct of National Assembly to the presidential elections no doubt showed that we are on ground and there were no way the people of the state could just change their minds when it was time for the governorship election.

'To me, though some people are saying the action of the ACN people is meant to distract me, but I see it as the beauty of democracy. The democracy is meant to adjudicate when there is a dispute. 'If the judiciary does not have a role to play, the Constitution and the Electoral Act would have been silent on it.

'However, I want my opponent to know that we all from Benue State and we will all return to the state. Therefore, in whatever we do, we should always have the interest of the people at heart. 'Because we have no other state than this, we should all join hands to make it better.' As Nigerians awaits the outcome of the election petitions, the Judiciary is expected to live up to its respected position as the last bastion of the common man.