Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital has reserved judgment in the petition instituted by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Barr Emmanuel Jime against Governor Samuel Ortom of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Jime is challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for returning Governor Ortom as the winner of the 2019 Benue Governorship election.
When the petition came up for adoption of final written address, lead counsel to Ortom, Sabastine Hon (SAN) urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost, saying it ought not to have been filed.
Hon insisted that the petition was “bedeviled and riddled with fundamental errors that no reasonable tribunal will grant any relief to it adding that, “it is self-contradictory in many respects in terms of the figures and scores of the candidates; it is also contradictory to the evidence led.”
He contended that Jime, who contested the 2019 Benue governorship election was different from the one that instituted the petition “because of variation in the scores at the poll and those complained of in the petition.
He stressed that “as a matter of fact in paragraph 5.06, page 37 of their final written address, the petitioners admitted that there were errors in the petition.
He invited the court to take a look at Exhibit P33 to P44 for Gboko LGA, Exhibit P95 to P103 for Logo LGA and Exhibit P53 to P58 Guma LGA, which were tendered in evidence during the trial by the petitioners.
Also, Offiong Offiong SAN, who led a team of lawyers for INEC, submitted that contrary to argument by Jime’s counsel that only minimal proof rather than the balance of probability was required; the petitioners must prove their case on the balance of probability and not on minimal proof. He cited the authority of Ucha Vs Elechi 2012 13NWLR Part 330 on Page 359.
Defending why INEC did not call any witness, Offiong submitted that INEC was not obliged to call any witness, adding that it was until the petitioners proved their case that the respondent would call witness(es) to disprove same.
Offiong further submitted that the law remains that to prove non-substantial compliance, a petitioner must do so polling unit by polling unit, ward by ward and concluded that the petitioners did not meet that standard.
According to the INEC counsel, even if the votes in the 31 polling units, to which the petitioners called polling unit agents as witnesses were canceled, it would not come anywhere near to canceling the over 80, 000 margin of lead with which INEC declared Ortom the winner of the poll.
He submitted that the onus on the petitioners to prove non-compliance was an uphill task with difficult legal requirements and procedure.
On his part, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), who appeared for the PDP while urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition, said it was founded upon misconception of well established principles of electoral jurisprudence.
Chief Uche also urged the tribunal to discountenance all arguments of the petitioners that were founded on INEC Manual and Guidelines for Election officials 2019. According to him, Section 153 of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which empowers INEC to make guidelines did not cloth the commission with powers to make statutory guidelines. He insisted that the guidelines and manuals were not statutory and were not subsidiary legislation.
On the use of card reader, it was the submission of the PDP lead counsel that smart card reader was introduced only for authentication of voters card (PVC), not as a method of proving over voting.
According to him, the card reader report tendered by the petitioners was only dumped on the tribunal and no attempt was made to link it to any particular piece of evidence and referred to the authority of Umana 1 2016 12 NWLR Part 1526 page 179 on 254.
He finally submitted that the petitioners had not demonstrated non-substantial compliance and urged the tribunal “to hold that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and dismiss the petition with substantial cost because it fails on all ramifications.”
However, Yusuf Ali (SAN), who appeared for Jime and the APC, prayed the tribunal to uphold the petition and nullify the election of Ortom and declare Jime and APC as the rightful persons to be given the Certificate of Return as the winner of the 2019 Benue governorship election.
The learned silk told the tribunal that Ortom’s lawyers misconstrued the tables and the figures in the petitioners’ final written address.
“He (Hon) seems to have forgotten that the contention in the petition is the incorrect figures recorded by INEC in Forms EC8A and the petitioners cannot rely on the same. Where the tribunal finds that unlawful votes are credited to any of the parties, the tribunal has the powers under the law to nullify such votes,” Ali submitted.
It was his further submission that with the procedure of front loading, documents cannot be said to be dumped, adding that after all, all the witnesses made their statements on oath and refered to PW15 (Joe Abaagu) and PW17 (Emmanuel Jime), that since their written statements on oath refered to the documents tendered in evidence, same documents could not be said to have been dumped on the tribunal.
On the issue of card reader report, Ali submitted that the content of the card reader report was tested through RW1 (Alex Adum), in addition to the testimony of PW15 and PW17.
He referred the tribunal to paragraphs 31 to 45 of the petition where steps for proper election under the law were pleaded and submitted that INEC admitted the paragraphs in paragraph eight of their (INEC) reply to the petition.
“INEC did not follow the steps for the conduct of the 2019 election and failure to adduce evidence has made INEC’s case worse,” Ali submitted, adding, that “they have admitted all the acts of infractions pleaded and testified in the petition.”
In his argument on why the petitioners had to call evidence polling unit by polling unit, the petitioners’ lead counsel submitted that it was only when it had to do with violence or ballot snatching that a party was required to call witnesses who “see and not like in this (Jime’s) case,” where the main complaint was non-compliant that could be shown by documents.
After hearing the respective counsels for the parties, the chairman of the tribunal, Justice Henry Olusiyi, held that judgment in the petition was reserved to a date that would be duly communicated to parties.