Guber Election Tribunal: Mixed reactions trail controversial judgments

Many State Governorship Election Petition Tribunals have delivered judgments on the outcome of the March 18, 2023, governorship elections in Nigeria.

Some of the states include Kano, Bauchi, Zamfara, Plateau, Benue, Enugu, Lagos, Benue, Cross River, Gombe, among others.

The judgments so far have been greeted with different reactions from different people depending on which side of the divide one belongs to.

While some people have commended the judgments as reflecting the true position of the law, others have come down heavily against them, describing some of the judgments as pure miscarriage of justice.

Out of the states where judgments have so far been delivered, Kano and Enugu States’ rulings seem to be the most controversial.

On Wednesday, September 20, the governorship election petition tribunal in Kano sacked the incumbent Governor and candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, Abba Yusuf, as governor of the State.

In a judgement delivered through zoom, the tribunal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to withdraw the certificate of return issued to Yusuf.

It affirmed the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Nasir Gawuna, as the duly elected governor of Kano State.

DAILY POST recalls that Yusuf, who was declared the winner of March 18 governorship elections got 1, 019, 602 votes to defeat his closest rival, Gawuna, who got 890, 705 votes. But, Gawuna and his party were not satisfied with the result, so they filed a petition to challenge Yusuf’s victory.

During the judgement, the tribunal deducted 165, 663 votes from Yusuf’s votes on the ground that the ballot papers were not stamped, signed and dated by INEC as the law required.

The court declared the 165,663 votes invalid, and ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to the APC candidate.

According to the tribunal, it was the NNPP and Yusuf who provided materials that were used against them as evidence.

“The respondents themselves in my opinion were the ones who helped this court to arrive at the conclusion that this petition is meritorious for the following reasons: The first respondent supplied certified true copies of all the critical electoral documents on the fact of which we found the clear evidence to arrive at the conclusion that the second respondent did not win the March 18 election in Kano State,” the court held.

Soon after the judgement was delivered, there were violent protests across Kano by citizens, who were chanting pro-Yusuf’s slogans. They insisted that they voted for Yusuf and that no court would impose a candidate they never elected on them.

The situation almost got out of hand when the protesters became violent, burning and destroying both public and private property worth millions of Naira. The situation forced the state government to quickly impose a curfew on the entire State so as to arrest the ugly development.

Reacting to the judgement, the NNPP’s National Working Committee, NWC, described it as laughable and nothing short of pure miscarriage of justice.

The party’s acting National Chairman, Abba Kawu Ali, vowed that the party would appeal the judgement.

He said: “New Nigeria People’s Party received with utter incredulity and disbelief the judgement of the Kano State Election Petition Tribunal on the March 18, 2023, Governorship elections.

“The reported judgement nullified the free, credible and globally acclaimed fair election of our governorship candidate, Abba Kabir Yusuf, and brazenly awarded the election to the APC’s candidate, Nasiru Gawuna.

“The Tribunal arrived at this unjust judgement by unfairly subtracting 165,663 votes from the Governor’s tally in order to enable it to unfairly award the election result to the candidate of the ruling APC. In doing so, the Tribunal obviously affirms its belief that the vote tally of the APC candidate was sacrosanct.

“The judgement of the three-man Kano State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal is laughable and nothing but a pure miscarriage of justice.

“The decision of the Tribunal is a slap on the face of constitutionalism and rule of law and is capable of further discouraging the electorate from having confidence in the judiciary.

“The NNPP recalls with regret that this Tribunal has simply replayed the unholy script of 2019 by overturning the will of the people and awarding election results to those who evidently lost the election. The NNPP will appeal this most unfair judgement. We call on millions of our supporters in Kano and in the rest of the country to remain calm and maintain the peace.”

Also, the party’s national secretary, Dipo Olayoku said parties could not be blamed for INEC’s inadequacies, even as he insisted that the judgement was questionable and against the Electoral Act.

However, counsel to the APC, Sanusi Musa, dismissed insinuation that the APC was desperate to take over Kano State, noting that it was the NNPP officials and the State government that had threatened problems in the State.

On his part, a tech analyst, Wale Shaibu insisted that the APC would not want to give up Kano State easily.

“Just like Lagos, you know how crucial Kano State is to electoral success in the country; I mean for the presidential polls. I don’t believe any party would want to lose the state. So, expect them to do anything to get the state back,” he said.

However, there are others who believe that if the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, had won the presidential election, Yusuf could have survived the APC’s onslaught.

This opinion was strongly expressed by a legal practitioner, Ahmed Tanimu, when he said: “Kano overwhelmingly voted for Yusuf, however, the devil that is affecting the mandate is because Atiku did not win the presidential poll. If Atiku had won, he would not be removed from office by the tribunal.”

In a related development, the Tribunal’s ruling in Enugu, which upheld the election of Governor Peter Mbah and dismissed the petition of the Labour Party (LP) candidate, Chijioke Edeoga is also generating reactions.

The INEC had, on March 22, declared Mbah, the candidate of the PDP as the winner of the March 18, governorship election in the state, after polling 160,895 votes to defeat his closest rival, Edeoga, who got 157,552 votes.

Dissatisfied with the declaration, Edeoga filed a petition at the tribunal, challenging Mbah’s victory at the poll. Among the grounds of the petition by the LP candidate was that Mbah’s election should be voided for allegedly submitting a forged discharge certificate from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).

Delivering judgement on Thursday, a three-member tribunal headed by Kudirat Akano dismissed the petition on the ground that Edeoga failed to prove his allegation that Mbah submitted a forged certificate to INEC.

The tribunal ruled that the NYSC discharge certificate, assuming it was indeed forged, was not among the requirements for the qualifications of a person for the office of the governor in line with Sections 177 and 138 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

It held that Mbah was qualified to contest the election even without submitting any NYSC discharge certificate, adding that a Senior Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent is a minimum academic qualification for election for the office of the governor in line with Section 177 of the constitution.

The tribunal argued that since Mbah did not submit the NYSC certificate to aid his qualification for the office, his election could not be voided on the grounds of non-qualification.

Justice Akano also ruled that Edeoga equally failed to prove that there was non-use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) during the election in Nkanu East Local Government Area; therefore, the tribunal dismissed the LP’s contention that Mbah did not win a majority of valid votes at the poll.

However, the tribunal agreed that Edoga proved the allegation of over-voting at some polling units in Amagu Ugbawka, Nkanu East Local Government Area.

But, the LP and its candidate, Edeoga, had rejected the tribunal verdict, and vowed to test it on appeal.

“We wish to convey the acknowledgment by the Labour Party and its candidate, Chijioke Edeoga, of the judgement as delivered at the tribunal, and to state our preparedness to challenge the outcome of this judgement at the Court of Appeal, and to all extents as permitted by law,” Edeoga’s spokesman, George Ugwu, said.

For Gov Mbah, it was a judgement well delivered as he applauded the tribunal’s verdict, describing it as a victory for democracy and Enugu State.

He also extended a hand of fellowship to the opposition candidates and their political parties, saying that collective efforts were needed to build Enugu State.

Mbah said: “There is time for everything under the sun. There is time to strive and time to unite. We all put ourselves forward to serve Ndi Enugu.

“The people have spoken and the tribunal has also affirmed. If service was the motivation, then it is time to rise above partisanship and come together because there is so much work to be done.

“Our arms are wide open and I beckon to my brothers, who ran this race with us, to join us in the onerous task of building a new Enugu State of our dreams.

“In the same vein, I enjoin all our supporters to be magnanimous in victory. Politics is over. Governance began on 29th May when we were inaugurated. It is time to unite.”

Lending his voice to the rulings by the governorship election tribunals across the country is the president of the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, who admitted that he was not in the best position to comment on the validity or otherwise of some of the judgments, since he is not a lawyer, but insisted that any judgement that was based on technicality would be upturned at a higher court.

He said: “The issue with the judgement of the tribunal is something I cannot adequately address because I am not a lawyer. And since I am not a lawyer, I wouldn’t want to comment on the validity or otherwise of the judgement since I cannot interpret what the judges have done.

“For now, all we would want to do is to give them the benefit of the doubt and if for any reason, they used technicality rather than law, then of course, it will eventually be upturned by a higher court. So, let us wait and encourage the petitioners to go ahead to a higher court if they are not satisfied. I believe justice will eventually emerge, whether it is that of Kano or Enugu.”

Commenting about the ruling on Enugu governorship election, a legal practitioner and former national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Maxi Okwu, commended the judges for producing the judgement in a record time, but claimed that they turned the judgement upside down.

He said: “I just received a copy of the Enugu judgement and I must commend the tribunal for being so fast. I commend them for the fast production of the judgement, which is the way it should be.

“But, I have issues with their judgement. As far as I am concerned, they turned the judgement upside down. I have not read the whole judgement but from what I can gather, there are some issues that must be resolved at the Court of Appeal, and ultimately, the Supreme Court.”

He argued that the issue of Mbah’s NYSC certificate was not properly addressed.

He picked holes with the area that required the petitioner, Edeoga, to provide the original of the forged document, stressing that the only authorised body to do that is the issuing agency, in this the NYSC.

“I don’t think the issue of forgery was properly dealt with. Nobody is saying that NYSC is a requirement for contesting election into the office of governor of a state, but the same constitution makes it clear that if you present a forged document to INEC as part of your requirements to contest an election, you are disqualified; and the only agency that will prove whether a document or certificate is forged or not is the issuing agency.

“So, how does anybody expect the petitioner to produce the original of the forged NYSC certificate when the NYSC gave evidence and it was struck? A subpoenaed witness is a court witness; how can you strike out evidence by such a witness? Well, let me read the whole judgement first but on prima facie, I am worried. However, I believe that justice will be obtained at the higher courts,” he stressed.

Commenting on the judgement by the Kano governorship tribunal, he said even though he has not read the judgement, he could sense danger from what he has read in the media.

“For the Kano tribunal, I have not read their judgement but from what I have gathered from the media, it is another recipe for disaster,” he said.

He wondered why APC went to court when its candidate accepted defeat and congratulated the winner.

“The APC candidate himself conceded; it was his party that went to court. So, that is a very funny situation. The party is qualified to go to court but the issue is that the man they presented refused to go to court and congratulated the winner.

“Well, let us wait and see how it goes but like I said, it is not over in most of these areas. For the governorship, there are still two steps to go – the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

“Let’s see how it goes but the picture is still very worrisome. We have been receiving all sorts of confusing judgments here and there by concurrent panels. Let us see how they will be resolved at the higher level,” he stated.

Also speaking, the president of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shettima noted that some of the rulings so far had reflected the true will of the people. He also commended INEC for conducting a credible election, while calling for further amendments and corrections on the electoral law to ensure better results in future elections.

“So far so good, some of the rulings have actually reflected the true will of the people, while a few others may not stand the test of time on appeal. No election is devoid of electoral malpractices.

“So, we must commend INEC for a good job, while we look forward to further amendments and corrections because we are learning and we will continue to learn,” he said.

Guber Election Tribunal: Mixed reactions trail controversial judgments

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