Nasarawa governorship election: Sule wins appeal, joins Uba Sani, Otu, Mbah, Alia, Sanwo-Olu for Supreme Court battle

The city of Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital, was thrown into jubilation following the Court of Appeal’s judgment upholding the election of Governor Abdullahi A. Sule, with markets and streets instantly turning into carnivals in celebration of the victory. 

At the end of the March 18 governorship election, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Sule of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner of the election, with  David Ombugadu of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) placing second.

However, in a split judgement, the Justice Ezekiel Ajayi-led state election petition tribunal, nullified the victory, declaring that on the strength of the facts from the various polling units, Ombugadu scored majority valid votes during the exercise.

Dissatisfied however, Governor headed for the appeal and urged the panel to set aside the tribunal’s judgement in its entirety.

And with the victory, Sule will be doing further legal battel to defend his mandate alongside his counterparts; Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu(Lagos), Peter Mbah (Enugu), Hyacinth Alia of Benue, Bassey Otu of Criss River  and Uba Sani of Kaduna state among others.

The appeal court

In its ruling Thursday, the appellate  court removed from its records the evidence and exhibits from PWs 5, 6,7,8,12,13,20, and 21 which the tribunal relied on in arriving at its verdict.

Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Uchechukwu Onuemenam, ruled that the statements of the witnesses were not front-loaded in line with the Electoral Act.

Specifically, the panel observed that  Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Section 132(7) of the Electoral Act 2022, and Paragraphs 4(5) (6) and 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, state that written statements on oath must be filed alongside the petition within the simulated time.

“Where a trial court admitted and acted on an illegally inadmissible evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to ensure that such illegally inadmissible evidence is expunged,” she held.

In line with this, the panel held that the remaining statements and evidence from PWs1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 22 cannot sustain the tribunal’s verdict.

The court similarly ruled the tribunal erred by deducting 1,868 votes from the governor’s votes based on the allegation of over-voting in four polling units.

The panel held: “A party alleging over-voting must present voter registers in the affected polling units, BVAS machine, and Form EC8. The petitioners merely dumped their evidence on the tribunal without showing how over-voting occurred.”

They expressed disgust at the tribunal which summarily dismissed evidence and testimonies of RW 1 to 22 called by the governor.

Justice Onuemenam said: “It is perverse, and as the tribunal didn’t give reasons for its findings. A court must give reasons of fact for arriving at its findings. I resolve the issue in favour of the appellant.”

The panel further averred that the tribunal also erred by re-computing votes and making a declaration that returned Ombugadu as winner of the election.

She said: “A court of law is only allowed to act on legally admissible evidence. If documents are unlawfully allowed by a trial court, the appellate court is duty bound to exclude the documents and discountenance the evidence.”

To this end, the appellate court held thus: “On the whole, I hold that this appeal has merit and succeeds, the majority judgement of the tribunal delivered on October 2 is hereby dismissed.”

Consequently, it vacated the order of the tribunal directing INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Governor Sule as winner of the governorship election.

Jubilation 

And with the judgement filtering into town, some residents of Lafia expressed delight at the development.

A resident, Mr. John Abimiku, told our reporter that the verdict has restored hope. “People of Nasarawa state had overwhelmingly voted for Governor Abdulahi Sule despite the vehement opposition of the PDP.”

Blueprint observed heavy security presence at strategic locations in the capital city to curtail possible breakdown of law and other.

In his reaction, an elated Governor Sule said the victory was for the good people of the state.

He said: “I want to use the opportunity to also congratulate opponents for their doggedness they have done their best and their best has come to the point where we are at the moment.”

“We love the good people of Nasarawa state in respective of their ethnicity and religion. I want to call on them that if they truly love Nasarawa state this is the time for them to come and partner with us because they can see clearly that we remained one in Nasarawa state, they can see clearly that we had a plan for Nasarawa state.

“We are grateful to the God Almighty for giving us the opportunity to see a day like this, we will continue to show appreciation to the leadership of  this party both at the national and at the state level. We will continued to show great appreciation especially our major stakeholders here in the state,” the governor added.

Describing the earlier judgement which sacked him as a wakeup call, he said: “If it had not happened, maybe we will not all be awake at this moment and God Almighty is the one who gives the opportunity in this kind of wakeup call.

“I want to call especially on members of our own party to be sincere with yourself first, because if you are not sincere with yourself, you cannot be sincere with others.”

The battle continues

But for the Nasarawa PDP stakeholders, the battle has just begun, so declared Kefas Elisha, a party chieftain who said “we will dance to the time of glory, God is still God.”

Cross River PDP too

In a related development, the Cross River PDP has expressed its readiness to challenge the appeal court judgement which affirmed Governor Bassey Otu as winner of the governorship election in the state.

The party’s decision to challenge Otu’s electoral victory is contained in a statement Thursday by its state publicity secretary, Mike Ojisi in Calabar, the state capital.

Ojisi said: “While we are saddened by this temporary setback, we are, however, glad that there is still room at the Supreme Court and this is the beauty of our judicial system and democracy.

“We kindly appeal to our teeming supporters and party faithful to remain calm, as we are still committed to seeking legal opinions and exhausting all legal means toward reclaiming our mandate.”

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the appeal court sitting in Lagos had, Wednesday, affirmed the judgement of the election petition tribunal which affirmed Otu’s victory after dismissing the petition filed by the PDP candidate, Sandy Onor, a professor, for lack of merit.