There is anxiety as President Bola Tinubu and 25 state governors await the verdicts of the tribunals handling the presidential, governorship, National Assembly, and state assembly election petitions.
The panels are expected to deliver their judgments this month. Out of the 28 states where the governorship elections were held, the results of the polls announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission are being contested in no fewer than 25 states.
Most of the tribunals which were sitting in Lagos, Sokoto, Delta, Kano, and 21 other states as well as Abuja had reserved their judgments after the parties concluded their hearings and adopted their written addresses in line with the Practice Direction for the election petitions issued by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensen.
However, political parties and their candidates who are apprehensive about the outcome of their petitions resorted to prayers and others issued cautionary words and admonitions to the justices to do what is right.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, had in November 2022 sworn in 307 justices to handle the 2023 election petitions while an additional 39 justices were inaugurated on May 25, 2023, totalling 346, and they were expected to deliver judgments before September 16.
By law, the 346 justices sitting on the panels were mandated to hand down their judgments 180 days after the filing of the petitions by the aggrieved candidates. Section 285 (6) of the 1999 constitution provides that “an election tribunal shall deliver judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the petition.”
The presidential election petition tribunal had reserved judgment after the petitioners- the Peoples Democratic Party and its standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi and the Labour Party closed their cases in June after calling 40 out of the 150 witnesses earlier listed in their petitions challenging the victory of the All Progressives Congress and the President. While Tinubu’s lawyer prayed for a successful outcome, Atiku’s legal team admonished the tribunal to “shun executive intimidation and dispense judgment on the matter.’’
A member of the President’s legal team, Yusuf Ali, SAN, said he was hopeful of victory. He said, “We pray for success at the end of the day. Cases are conducted in the court and not in the media, either social or mass media. The court listens to facts and applies the law.”
The Director of Publicity for the APC, Bala Ibrahim, denied that the ruling party was under any form of pressure and expressed confidence that justice would be served. He said, “Which pressure? The ruling party has already delivered, unlike the Labour Party which is still groaning in labour. The pressure is on them. Obviously, anyone that is in labour is likely to be under pressure.’’
But a member of Atiku’s legal team, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, urged the tribunal to dispense justice on the matter. He said Nigerians and the international community were watching them. Ozekhome said, “Not for judgment date yet. I expect justice to be done. I expect the tribunal to shun blaring sirens of power or executive intimidation to do justice. I expect the tribunal to know that Nigerians, the international community, and indeed the whole world are watching.”
Weighing in, the PDP expressed confidence in the ability of the tribunal justices to dispense justice. On the party’s expectations from the tribunal, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Ibrahim Abdullahi, simply said “Success,” without making further comments.
But a loyalist of Atiku and Deputy National Youth Leader of the PDP, Timothy Osadolor, argued that given the weight of evidence before the tribunal, the party and the former vice president had every reason to hope that justice would prevail. Similarly, the National Legal Adviser of the Labour Party, Kehinde Edun, submitted that the party was hopeful about the outcome of the judgment.
‘APC not under pressure’
“We are confident and hopeful about the outcome. The party has done everything it ought to do. That’s why we are optimistic. We believe strongly in the judiciary. It is the only way our country can remain strong. When you lose hope, then it is over. It means you are now calling for anarchy. LP has come too far to lose hope at this stage. We have to continue to hope and believe they do the right thing,” the lawyer noted.
It was learnt that petitioners and respondents would this week adopt their final written addresses in a petition filed by the PDP governorship candidate, Ladi Adebutu, against the election of Governor Dapo Abiodun of the PDP. Abiodun got 276,298 votes while his PDP counterpart garnered 262,383 votes.
When contacted, the Ogun State PDP Secretary, Dr Sunday Solarin, said the party expected the tribunal to be fair. He said, “The PDP is expecting justice to be done to the petition brought to the tribunal. We have done all that is expected of us to do; we have confronted the tribunal with adequate evidence, and we have argued properly.’’
Similarly, the state APC Publicity Secretary, Tunde Oladunjoye, said the party expected justice from the tribunal. When asked if the party and its candidate were nursing any fear, Oladunjoye maintained, “I still stand on my first word which is justice. That is all I have to say.”
In Gombe, tension over the tribunal judgment was lowered a bit last week after the Chairman of the Gombe State Election Tribunal, Justice Morenike Obadina, postponed the ruling. The tribunal had Justice S. Muktar of the Kebbi State Judiciary and Justice Vincent Onyeka of the Imo State Judiciary as panel members.
The governorship candidates of the PDP, Jibrin Barde, and his African Democratic Congress counterpart, Nafiu Bala, had petitioned the tribunal following the electoral victory of Muhammadu Yahaya of the APC. The tribunal relocated to Bauchi over fear of interference.
The state APC Publicity Secretary, Moses Kyari, was positive that the verdict would favour his party. “We are hopeful, particularly for the House of Assembly. For the governorship, it has never been in doubt,” he said.
Reminded about the ADC’s allegations that the deputy governor forged his certificates, Kyari said, “Let him continue to be in court; it was the same document that the deputy governor presented in the first tenure and it was the same one he presented now. If he was not disqualified in the first tenure, why will he be disqualified now?’’
Bala in his response said, “We don’t have anything to say unless and until the judges decide our case. We have full confidence in winning because we have proved our case beyond reasonable doubt. We followed the Electoral Act and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He added, “I went to court because I am challenging the illegality and disqualification of the deputy governor. He submitted confusing documents before the Independent National Electoral Commission. I want to appeal to the judges to decide in good faith, and in good direction. I want justice for the people of Gombe State and Nigeria at large because injustice has been done and Nigeria will be great; Next time, nobody will submit forged documents or illegal documents before INEC.”
The Ebonyi State governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja had equally reserved judgment on the petitions seeking to nullify the outcome of the governorship poll held in the state on March 18. The petitions were filed by the PDP and its candidate, Chief Ifeanyi Odii, as well as the All Progressives Grand Alliance candidate, Prof. Benard Odoh.
The petitioners were praying the court to void the declaration of Governor Francis Nwifuru of the APC as the winner of the governorship contest. The Justice A. Ogunmoye-led three-member panel adjourned last Friday for judgment after the parties, through their teams of lawyers, adopted their final briefs of argument.
While adopting their process, Odii’s legal team led by Chief Chris Uche, SAN, maintained that Nwifuru did not secure the majority of lawful votes that were cast during the election.
The petitioners told the tribunal that Nwifuru’s election victory was characterised by corrupt practices, alleging that there was substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022. Besides, they argued that Nwifuru did not validly resign from the PDP before he was nominated as the governorship candidate of the APC.
According to the petitioners, Nwifuru, being a PDP member before the governorship poll, was not eligible under section 177(c) of the 1999 Constitution, to have been sponsored by the APC to contest as its standard bearer.
The Sokoto State elections petition tribunal was also expected to deliver its judgment on the petition challenging the declaration of Ahmed Aliyu Sokoto as the governor of the state. The tribunal had reserved judgment in the petition filed against Aliyu and his deputy, Idris Gobir, by Sa’idu Umar of the PDP.
After hearing and adopting their respective final written addresses on August 26, the three-member panel of justices led by Haruna Mshelia reserved its judgment, adding that a date would be communicated to the parties in September.
Apart from the allegation of gross irregularities in the election, the petitioner also argued there were discrepancies in Aliyu’s secondary school and university certificates. He prayed the tribunal to take cognisance of the register of Town Primary School, Sabon Birni from 1986-1987 and a letter from Town Model Primary School, Sabon Birni.
The spokesman for the PDP, Hassan Sanyinawal, insisted that his party, apart from having a good case, also presented sufficient witnesses to prove its case. “We are actually winning the case no doubt, apart from the fact that we have a good case, our set of lawyers were also able to do justice to our case before the tribunal. The issue of forgery against the governor and his deputy were duly proved beyond reasonable doubt so we have no fear whatsoever that we will win the case,” he stated.
But a member of the ruling APC in the state who spoke on condition of anonymity said the people’s mandate given to the party openly could not be taken away through the back door. “The PDP are only disturbing themselves; all their arguments in court cannot hold any water. They cannot get the people’s mandate through the back door, our party despite the opposition then was voted for overwhelmingly with almost 50,000 votes difference. All they think is that they can win through the court, it is not possible, they have no case” he added.
APC, NNPP pray
The situation is not different in Kano where party faithful have been fretting as they await the verdict of the court in the APC petition challenging the victory of Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf of the New Nigeria People’s Party. The tribunal had on August 21 reserved judgment in the petition.
The three-member panel led by Justice Oluyemi Akintan-Osadebay said that the tribunal would communicate the date for the judgment after all the parties had adopted their final written addresses. There was tension in the state a few weeks ago when supporters of the two parties protested over an alleged plan to influence the tribunal. Both parties have started praying for favourable results at the tribunal.
In Delta State, the governorship tribunal had yet to announce the date for judgment in the petitions brought by the APC candidate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege against Governor Sheriff Oborevwori of the PDP.
The three-man tribunal panel headed by Justice C. Ahuchaogu recently adjourned for judgment after the parties adopted their written addresses. Omo-Agege was challenging the declaration of the second respondent, Oborevwori, as the winner of the March 18, 2023 governorship election in the state by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Justice Ahuchaogu at the last sitting said the date for the judgment would be communicated to the parties and their counsels.
The Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr Valentine Onojeghuo, said by the grace of God, the party would win. He said, “Our expectation is very high and there is no doubt about that because we have been able to prove through our lawyers that we won lawful votes cast.’’
In Akwa Ibom, the tribunal had yet to conclude proceedings as it had scheduled September 11 for sitting. The governorship candidates of the Young Progressive Congress, Senator Bassey Akpan, and his counterparts in the APC and ANPP were challenging the outcome of the election that returned Pastor Umo Eno as the state governor.
The Tribunal Secretary, Ibrahim Usman, told one of our correspondents that the day for the judgment would be communicated after the adoption of the final written addresses. He said, “Just keep in touch when it is getting after 11th September; from 15-16, we will keep you informed.”
Similarly, the Kaduna State election tribunal inaugurated on June 1 had yet to end its sitting. It was gathered that the Justice Victor Oviawe-led panel will on Monday entertain the final written submissions by the counsels to the petitioners and respondents.
The PDP governorship candidate, Mohammed Ashiru, had challenged the declaration of Senator Uba Sani of the APC as the winner of the governorship poll in the state. Our correspondent learnt that the judgment day would be announced after the final submissions by both counsels to the parties.
In Enugu State, the tribunal has concluded the hearing and reserved judgment in the petition contesting the outcome of the governorship election in the state. The All Progressives Grand Alliance and its candidate, Chief Frank Nweke (Jr), and other opponents- APC’s Chief Uche Nnaji and the Labour Party’s Chijioke Edeoga were challenging the declaration of Governor Peter Mbah of the PDP as the winner of the election. The tribunal had earlier struck out the petitions of the APC and APGA candidates.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is full of hope that their candidate will emerge victorious from the Enugu State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
The state Chairman of the party, Mr Casmir Agbo who spoke to one of our correspondents, said “You know the matter that is in court you cannot predict but we are hopeful of victory because our case is watertight. Governor Peter Mbah initially is not qualified to be the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, contesting the election because he has a forged certificate which has been proven by the issuing authority.
“The law is very clear once the issuing authority says it did not issue it, that is the end of it; that is the Supreme Court decision. We are just waiting for the court to stamp it and the rightful winner of the election, Chief Chijioke Edeoga will take over.”
Agbo however, believes that because the LP has a good manifesto, once Edeoga takes over the glory of Enugu will be restored. Mbah could not be reached for comments as his spokesman, Mr Dan Nwome, said he needed to speak with the governor’s lawyers before making any comment on the allegations against his principal.
Ahead of the conclusion of proceedings by the tribunal in Rivers State, the APC, and LP have been insisting that the judgment would favour their respective candidates. The parties had been directed to adopt their addresses on September 6. The LP governorship candidate, Beatrice Itubo, described the poll as a daylight robbery.
Also, the APC Publicity Secretary of the APC, Darlington Nwauju, said the entire process was flawed. Itubo and Nwauku said they would pursue their petitions up to the Supreme Court if the ruling did not go their way.
Nwauju stated, “What we are expecting is judgment. We are expecting sound judgment because we are not asking to be favoured. Far from it. But we expect sound judgment that will help deepen the roots of democracy in the country, given the fact that our lawyers succeeded in laying bare all the evidence. “And some of that evidence has been widely canvassed by even the European Union report.”
In Benue State, the opponents of Governor Hyacinth Alia were waiting with bated breath for the tribunal to give them justice. The three-man panel sitting in Makurdi, Benue State, reserved judgment on August 14 in the petition brought before it by the PDP governorship candidate.
Since the chairman of the panel, Justice Ibrahim Karage informed lawyers to the two parties that they would be informed about the date for judgment, the issue has become a subject of discussion across the state.
The Publicity Secretary of APC in the state, Daniel Ihomun, who expressed confidence in the tribunal, noted that there was no way the opposition PDP could steal the mandate the people of the state voluntarily gave to his party.
He said, “As a party, we are not perturbed because we won the election free and fair and we know that justice cannot be taken through the back door. The court will dispense justice based on the fact before it.’’
Also, the state Publicity Secretary of PDP, Bemgba Iortyom, expressed optimism that the party would get justice from the tribunal. Iortyom stated, “It will be prejudiced for us to pre-empt what the court will say. By and large, we have implicit faith in the judiciary and we believe that with the basis of the fact of the matter, justice will benefit not just our party but the generality of the people of the state.’’
The National and State Houses of Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State will deliver judgment on three petitions on the general elections on Monday. The tribunal had heard 12 petitions comprising nine National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly cases in Kwara State and three cases filed in the elections in Ekiti State.
Two of the cases bordered on the House of Representatives election in Kwara State while seven petitions were filed in respect of the election into the Kwara State House of Assembly. The tribunal was also handling three petitions from Ekiti State on the senatorial and House of Assembly elections. The tribunal secretary, Aisha Fika, explained that the judgment notice would be pasted on the board.
In Lafia, Nasarawa State, the tribunal has fixed September 14 for the adoption of the final written addresses by the counsels to the petitioner and the three defendants. The PDP governorship candidate, Dr David Ombugadu was contesting the declaration of Abdullahi Sule of the APC as the winner of the election. During the proceeding last Wednesday, the counsel to the third defendant, APC, Mathew Burkaa (SAN), who did not call any witnesses, applied to close his defence, and it was granted by the tribunal.
On his part, the lead counsel to the petitioner, Samuel Okutepa (SAN), told the tribunal that the defendant had nothing to prove which was why he could not present any witnesses, adding that ‘’the defendant’s action had rendered the petition defenceless.’’ After listening to the counsels, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ezekiel Ajayi, adjourned the sitting to September 14 for the adoption of the final written addresses.