EBONYI GUBER TUSSLE: THE BURDEN BEFORE THE STATE ELECTION TRIBUNAL
Since the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal started sitting in Ebonyi State after the April 26, gubernatorial election, there have been increased tension and anxiety in the state following revelations made at the tribunal and the discharge of some of the petitions against Governor Martin Elechi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The tension has been worsened recently by the alleged N500 bribe scandal leveled against the tribunal by a group who claimed to be concerned religious leaders in the state.
The bribery allegation came on the heels of the rejection of the forensic reports earlier allowed by the tribunal for the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and its candidate, Senator Julius Ucha to be tendered before the tribunal.
The so-called religious group in a newspaper advertorial had alleged that the deputy governor and a youth leader were given N500 million for onward delivery to some members of the tribunal, which they claimed Governor Elechi had suspected was not appropriately disbursed.
But in swift reactions in other advertorials placed in the national dailies, the Christians Association of Nigeria, Ebonyi State chapter and state chapter of the PDP dismissed the bribe allegations as false, saying that those who made the allegation were faceless people who disguised as religious leaders.
After the April governorship election, Governor Elechi was declared the winner of the election in the state with about 287,217 votes as against 125,248 of his closest rival, Senator Ucha.
However, soon after the election, three prominent opposition governorship candidates in the state, Senator Ucha (ANPP), Amb. Frank Ogbuewu (APGA), and Mr Kelvin Opoke (PDC), went to the state election tribunal, claiming that the April governorship election in the state was marred by irregularities.
With the commencement of sitting at the tribunal, the Elechi government began the last battle for its life as government officials regularly stormed the tribunal sitting, which many suspected was aimed at cowing down those who may come to give evidence against the government.
Soon after the tribunal headed by Hon Justice Nuhu Galadanchi began sitting, it threw away the petition filed by the APGA governorship candidate, Amb. Ogbuewu, as well as that of PDC's Mr. Opoke, saying that they lacked diligent prosecution.
With this, the tribunal was left with only the petition from the ANPP and its candidate, Senator Ucha, which many considered to be weightier than the dismissed ones going by the revelations made in the analysis of the Forensic report conducted by Intell Strategic Defense System based in Lagos.
Many in Ebonyi State believe that the ANPP and Ucha petition which has Chief Elechi as first respondent; the PDP, second respondent; INEC, third respondent and 1772 others, is not something that could easily be wished away going by the ingredients in it. What are these ingredients?
Ucha and his party had on May 26 in a Motion Exparte prayed the tribunal for an order directing the 3rd respondent, INEC, and the other respondents to 'allow the petitioners, their counsel or any Forensic expert retained by the petitioners to inspect, scan and\or take copies of the following: ballot papers, result sheets, voters register, entries and data in the Direct Data Capturing Machines.'
The petition equally sought the order of the tribunal directing the 3rd respondent and others to 'certify and issue to the petitioners copies either of the photocopies or scanned copies of either the copies of the original documents or copies of the scanned documents' as well as 'such further order or other orders as the honourable tribunal may deem fit to make the circumstance of the case.'
The tribunal in its wisdom on June 7, after going through the application made by ANPP and its candidate in the motion, in an order following the motion, granted it.
'After reading the motion paper, the supporting affidavit sworn to by the petitioner\applicant accompanying written address, and after hearing Mr F. I. Aniukwu Esq with Mr Anacor & M. U. Okoro Esq of counsel for the petitioner\applicant; it is hereby ordered as follows: That this application be and is hereby granted; that the respondent particularly the 3rd and 4th respondents are hereby ordered to allow the applicants all they applied for in connection with the prayers contained on the motion paper,' the tribunal chairman, Justice Galadanchi said.
With the tribunal giving the go-ahead for forensic experts to be called in, the staff of Intell Strategic Defense System, ISDS, Lagos arrived in Ebonyi to carry out forensic examination on the documents requested by the petitioners.
In the report signed by Fingerprint expert, Ahmed A. Ibrahim of ISDS, a retired Assistant Superintendent of Police, he said: 'We have been instructed to examine the ballot papers from the Ebonyi State gubernatorial election held on 26th April, 2011 with regard to alleged multiple thumbprint impressions being placed on said ballot papers and other electoral irregularities for PDP votes.'
The fingerprint expert and his IT staff had looked at ballot papers for the PDP from Abakaliki, Ikwo, Ebonyi, Ezza North, Ezza South, Ohaozara, Ishielu, Ohaukwu, Ivo, Afikpo North, Afikpo South, Izzi and Onicha local government areas of the state with the help of INEC staff who brought out the ballot papers from their store room, sorted them into different parties before handing them over to the Intell IT staff who did the scanning.
'This process took place at INEC office in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State in the presence of INEC, ANPP, PDP, Police, and SSS representatives,' the Intell boss said.
He also disclosed that they did physical inspection of the scanned ballot papers and Forms EC4 and EC8 series, tallying the figures with physical counting of the ballot papers, saying that the process started from the INEC office in Abakaliki and completed in their office in Lagos.
After the exercise, what did they find? And Ibrahim said:
'A total of two hundred and four thousand five hundred and sixty-four (204,564) ballot papers were made available by INEC from one thousand six hundred and eight (1,608) polling units out of a total of one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five (1,785) polling units.
'I have compared the areas of friction ridge details of the fingerprints on the ballot papers using Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and can confirm that I found a total of one hundred and two thousand seven hundred and eight-two (102,782) ballot papers from one thousand and eighty (1,080) polling units with multiple thumbprints in favour of PDP in the ballot papers made available to us by INEC.
'In some polling units such as Nwankwo Amuda 003 of Amuda Amewula ward (01); Universal Primary Education Ogboji 11 (04) in Ogboji Ward (06) all in Ezza North LGA and Inyirinya (008) in Edda Ward (09) of Abakakili LGA over 95 per cent of the ballot papers were thumb printed by just two to three persons.
'Also a total of two thousand six hundred ninety-two (2,692) invalid votes resulting from a combination of no stamp, stamps without signatures and signatures without stamps on ballot papers were found.
'We also discovered a total of twenty two thousand nine hundred and ninety three (22,993) over-voting resulting from difference in a high value for number of votes in a polling unit and a total number of accredited voters for the same polling unit in EC8A INEC form.
'In addition, a total of twenty nine thousand six hundred and forty-five (29,645) ballots from one hundred and seventy seven polling units were not made available by INEC.
'A total of one hundred and ninety five thousand seven hundred and forty two (195,742) ballot papers were found to be involved in one form of election irregularities, multiple thumbprints, over voting from ECA record and invalid in favour of PDP.'
Ibrahim noted that his findings and conclusions are open to examination by any other competent fingerprint expert.
With Ibrahim and his team done with the report, the tribunal chairman and the two other members on September 8, accepted the Forensic report.
In their ruling they said: 'We have carefully examined and considered the reliefs set out in the motion on notice filed by the petitioners on 03\09\2011, the affidavit and further affidavit filed in support thereof together with all the annexed exhibits.
'We have also duly considered the totality of the written and oral arguments of all learned senior counsel in support and to oppose the application, including all the authorities that have been cited.'
In specific terms, the tribunal said that having carefully examined the affidavit filed in support of the application in Relief One, with particular reference to paragraphs three to seven, 'which the 3rd respondent, who is best suited in the circumstances to challenge the same, but have refused to and we are of the firm view that the reasons given for the delay in bringing this application, as relates to the expert witness, are substantial enough to constitute extreme circumstances to justify the grant of leave at this stage of the proceedings to hear this motion.'
The tribunal, therefore, said that it held it that it would be just and fair in the circumstances to permit the application to be taken at that stage of the proceedings, saying that 'as a result, relief one is hereby granted.'
The tribunal also granted the other five reliefs, which it said was for the overall interest of justice and fairness, adding 'and in so far as same may still be accommodated within the period limited by law for the petitioners to prove their case.'
'Many in Ebonyi State believe that the ANPP and Ucha petition which has Chief Elechi as first respondent; the PDP, second respondent; INEC, third respondent and 1772 others, is not something that could easily be wished away going by the ingredients in it. What are these ingredients?'