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Tribunal Upholds Obiano's Election as Governor

By James Eze
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The Anambra Governorship Election Petition Tribunal presided over by Justice Ishaq Bello sitting in Awka, Wednesday dismissed all petitions by parties to the last governorship elections in the state, challenging the election and the declaration of Chief Willie Obiano, who ran on the platform of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) as the governor of the State and upheld it saying that he won majority of votes cast and was duly declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act.

The Tribunal had listened to petitions from Dr. Chike Obidigbo and another versus Obiano in EPT/AN/GOV/01/2013, Senator Dr. Chris Ngige and Anor. versus INEC and 4 others in EPT/AN/GOV/02/2013, PDP versus INEC and 25 others in EPT/AN/GOV/03/2013 and Comrade Tony Nwoye versus INEC and 25 others.

It had earlier dismissed suits by Dr. Chike Obidigbo who had approached it to recognize him as the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in place of Obiano but the tribunal rejected his prayer on the ground that he was not sponsored as a candidate by the party as allowed by the Electoral Act.

The Tribunal which recalled that it had earlier dismissed the petition by APC which withdrew its case and was struck out also dismissed the petition from Nwoye and PDP as well as that of Ngige and All Progressive Congress (APC) on the ground that it lacked merit and could not be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.

The Tribunal had tabled issues by parties to be resolved on whether the November 2013 governorship election was substantially affected by irregularities, whether the petitioners proved their grounds, whether voters registers used for the INEC were marred by irregularities contrary to Electoral Act, and whether the 3rd respondent (Obiano) was guilty of double or multiple registration in Lagos and Anambra States and forgery of INEC documents and not qualified to contest.

After reviewing the body of evidence before the court as canvassed by the parties in the suit on the issue that Obiano did not effect the transfer of his voter's card from Lagos where he voted in 2011 to Anambra State, the Tribunal said it believed Obiano's testimony that he applied through the Electoral Officer, Nsofor at Otuocha for transfer of voter card and was directed to see REC for same later which was admitted in evidence.

On the issue of double or multiple registrations levelled against Obiano, the 3rd respondent was not involved in double or multiple registration as it held that the petitioners could not prove the allegation beyond all reasonable doubt being a criminal offence.

Justice Bello questioned the position of PW 11 which claimed he was disqualified saying the witness could not explain why INEC which keeps original copies of documents including voter's card did not produce the voter's card INEC issued on August 21 in 2013, also dismissing claims of forgery against the 3rd respondent regarding forging INEC documents including his voter's card which the tribunal said was not forged as according to the tribunal INEC processes and keeps custody of the electoral documents and had not said so and did not attempt to cover up Obiano's double or multiple registration, just as the tribunal noted that the petitioners failed to call INEC to back their claims.

The tribunal equally held that Obiano was not involved in either double or multiple registrations and there was no basis for the allegation as neither the petitioners nor PW 11 saw the respondent register twice or thrice nor see him in possession of more than one voter's card, adding that the tribunal was not empowered to handle issues of multiple registration which he said were within the jurisdiction of High Court.

The Justice Bello-led tribunal also dismissed the petitions that claimed that INEC abandoned its case saying that the electoral commission had told the tribunal that it was relying on evidence given by the petitioners' witnesses saying it could not be correct to say that the 3rd respondent abandoned his pleadings in the petition adding that 'evidence got under cross examination is same as one obtained under other examination.We consider it necessary to say that the burden of proof is on the petitionersCourt does not grant declaratory order but must be satisfied with evidences.. '
On the issue of non-compliance and prayer to void the election and return of Obiano as governor on grounds of alleged corrupt practices, inflation of votes, conflicting and inconsistency in figures released by INEC which it claimed failed to administer the oath of neutrality, which it claimed made the exercise not to comply with the Electoral Act, the tribunal held that the petitioners once again failed to prove the allegations.

The tribunal also dismissed the suit by the Nwoye and PDP for calling only 25 witnesses out of 4,608 polling units, stressing that 'it is not enough to allege disenfranchisement stronger and more compelling reason is required.None of the witnesses tendered 2011 voters register not even the August revised voter register by INEC to prove their names were removedDisenfranchisement is a criminal offence which must be proved beyond all reasonable doubts. It is imperative to all evidences of voters' disenfranchised, tender individuals' voter cards, lead evidence that their names are not in the polling units where they voted. None of the witnesses who claimed they were disenfranchised were called to testify'.

On the issue of INEC failing to display voters register, the tribunal observed that the electoral commission did not fail to do so, as according to it, INEC complied and the process of correcting mistakes could not be described as giving advantage to the 3rd respondent and 'no such manipulation is proved', just as it held that parties are in agreement that INEC supplied voters register before election when the stakeholders meeting was held and confirmed by PW 11.

In a swift reaction to the judgment, the National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh said the verdict is a reaffirmation of the mandate the people of the State gave to Obiano in the November 2013 election.

Umeh called on the people of the state to support Obiano's giants strides to develop the state and called on opponents to accept defeat magnanimously and sportsmanly so that peace could prevail.