By Oginyi Ruth, Igwe Agnes, Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy, and Joy Okeke
The Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State Capital, on Monday declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for Ezza South/Ikwo Federal constituency, Comrade Chinedu Ogah as the winner of the February 23rd, 2019 National Assembly elections.
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had earlier declared Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Chief Lazarus Ogbee as the winner of the election.
The electoral umpire declared that Ogbee polled 31,296 votes while Ogah got 27,700 votes after canceling some polling units where Comrade Ogah won.
But, the APC candidate proceeded to the tribunal asking to be declared the winner on the grounds that there were deductions from his votes in some of the polling units and wards in the election and should be declared the winner as he scored the lawful votes cast in the election.
The tribunal restored the cancel votes in the election, declared that Ogah scored the lawful votes and was validly elected.
The 3 man committee led by Justice Sika Henry Aprioku, ruled that from the evidence presented before the tribunal to back up his claim, Ogah scored 36,238 votes in the election while Ogbee got 33,263.
He said, “It is not the first respondent that won the majority of the lawful votes in Ezza South. The total number of votes scored by the petitioner (APC) and first respondent (Ogbe) for Ezza South/ Ikwo Federal constituency is as follows; Ezza South LGA APC 8,311, PDP 17,139. Ikwo LGA APC 27,927 PDP 16,127.
The total votes for APC are 36,238. The total votes for PDP 33,200 votes.”
“It is the petitioner that scored the majority of the lawful votes having scored 36,238 votes as against the PDP candidate, the first respondent who scored 33,200 votes. We entirely agree with the petitioner that he scored the majority of the lawful votes from our own computation.”
“The certificate of return issued to the 1st respondent by the 3rd respondent (INEC) as representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal constituency is hereby withdrawn forthwith and must be issued to the petitioner, Comrade Chinedu Ogah as the winner of the election conducted on the 23rd of February, 2019 to the membership of the House of Representatives to represent Ezza South/Ikwo Federal constituency”, the tribunal ruled.
Mba Okweni Tofa, SAN who is counsel to the APC candidate (petitioner) thanked the Tribunal for restoring the mandate of the people have observed that the results of his client were canceled by INEC.
“We looked at the entire result of the election when we reviewed the whole thing and found out that the polling unit result which forms the basis of the election were not what were collated at the ward level and we filed our petition challenging the result declared by INEC on the grounds that they did not collate the proper result of the election.
“What they collated did not reflect the outcome of the election at the polling units.
We then asked the tribunal which has the power to conduct the election by The Electoral Act to re-compute the result of the election based on the outcome of the election at the polling units.”
Barr Roy Umahi counsel to the second respondent who was visibly angry over the judge said he knew he was going to lose the case.
He accused the Judge of being biased and will appeal the judgment because the Judge was counsel to one of the parties as he has always been aggressive against him, Barr. Roy, during the court proceedings.
Barr. Roy said, “I want to say that I am not altogether disappointed with the judgment because I expected that it will be this way. We will start drafting the notice of our appeal today.
Chinedu Ogah, while reacting said, “The tribunal saw that APC won the election, they have restored the faith of the masses, the mandate of the masses who saw them as the last hope of the common man. Ezza South/Ikwo mandate has been restored and it is a challenge to me to deliver.”
“I feel happy over the judgment. It showcased that the mandate of the masses has been restored. This has shown what the tribunal can do. They really looked in the eye of the masses. They have seen that the masses voted for the APC.”
In his address to newsmen, Comrade Ogah described his victory at the tribunal as evidence that judiciary remains the hope for a common man.
He stated that though the state governor is a PDP member, but did not interfere in the court’s judgment which was a sign of advancement of democracy in the state.
Comrade Ogah while commending the judiciary for their objectivity and respect for the rule of law, as well, as his supporters who stood by him amidst trial, assured them of better representation.
He called on the ousted lawmaker not to panic as he would accommodate him, stressing that going to Appeal Court to challenge the verdict would be a waste of resource as he was optimistic that his victory was divinely orchestrated.
Comrade Ogah, however, pointed out that it is the responsibility of anybody occupying such prestigious post to provide jobs to the teaming jobless graduates which would be the first thing he would do by networking the green chamber to attract dividend of democracy to his area.
He said that empowerment of youth and women would form his priority as the era when Abakaliki man was known as wheelbarrow pusher was over.
He said he would ensure that his strength and wisdom was channeled into entrepreneurship and called for their unrelenting support.
One of the ardent supporter, Comrade Ogochukwu Elem, appreciated the judiciary for proving critics wrong and maintained that they remained “voice for the voiceless”
He commended supporters for their faithfulness and sincere support for Comrade Ogah, adding that the victory was not for the Comrade alone but to all those who fought for the enthronement of Justice in Ikwo/Ezza South constituency and advised for more support to enable Ogah to return the constituency to lost glory.
On his part, APC member from Ikwo LGA, Hon. Nwali Onyebuchi described the victory as an evidence to prove that judiciary has redeemed its battered image and advised Comrade Ogah to maintain his uncommon character of carrying everybody along, even as he encourages Hon. Ogbee to give the opponent his support to ensure the constituency moves forward.
With the court vindication, APC now has one National Assembly member from Ebonyi and it is the first time an opposition party is winning in an election tribunal in the state.
Conversely, the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abakaliki has dismissed the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Candidate for Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency in the 2019 general elections, Mr. Uchenna Nshi, against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga.
Hon. Ogbaga was returned to the National Assembly for the fourth time by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after 2019 general election.
Mr. Nshi had dragged Ogbaga and INEC to the tribunal, seeking the declaration of the election that produced Ogbaga invalid on the grounds that the election was marred by corrupt practices, intimidation of voters, violence, non-compliance to the electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and unlawful alterations of results in favour of the Second Respondent, Ogbaga.
The appellant further urged the Tribunal to set aside the results of polling units, wards, and Local Governments as declared by the 1st Respondent (INEC) which gave the 2nd Respondent victory based on the above grounds.
In the judgment delivered by the 3 man panel Chaired by Justice Sika Henry Aprioku, the tribunal held that the petition lacked merit as the Petitioner failed to bring preponderance of evidence to prove his case.
On the allegation of criminal alterations of results in favor of the 2nd Respondent, the tribunal held that the Petitioner was unable to discharge the burden of proves as he failed to bring credible evidence or witnesses to back his claims.
The tribunal also held that the allegations of corrupt practices, non-compliance with Electoral Act 2010 as amended and Guidelines for the election were not substantiated by the Petitioner, even as he did not prove to the court how they affected the outcome of the election.
He said the testimonies of the petitioner’s witnesses on the alleged corrupt practices and non-compliance to the Electoral Act and Guidelines amounted to hearsay as they confirmed during cross-examination that they were not present at the polling units where the infractions took place and accordingly, are unreliable and cannot be attached any probative value.
That the APC candidate failed to call any witness who was present at any of the polling units where the alleged malpractices on the Election Day and violence during the election, and that the testimonies of the witnesses of the Petitioner who were not present in any of the polling units in contention were not true.
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The tribunal, therefore, rules the judgment in favor of the 2nd Respondent, Hon. Ogbaga, saying that his election was valid by reason of the failure of the Petitioner to discharge the burden proves of non-compliance to the Electoral Act and Guidelines, malpractices, and criminal alterations of the election results.
The petition was dismissed for the lack in merit and awarded the cost of N150,000 each in favor of the 1st and second Respondents while N20,000.00 cost was awarded in favour of the 3rd Respondent.
Reacting to the judgment, Hon. Ogbaga described the judgment as the reaffirmation of the verdict of INEC that conducted the election and call on the petitioner not to see the dismissal of his petition by tribunal as a loss; rather, he should work with him as a younger brother and in-law, for the good of the constituency, as he has the capacity to protect their interests.
Counsel to the Petitioner, Barrister Mbam Pius, who held brief for the led Counsel, Michael Odoh, said, by the time they get a copy of the judgment, they would decide whether to test its veracity in the appellate court or not.