From Godwin Tsa, Abuja

Three sitting Governors yesterday had their elections validated by the Supreme Court which dismissed the appeals challenging the outcome of the March 18 governorship election.

The Governors are Siminalayi Fubara; Agbu Kefas, and Ahmad Aliyu of Rivers, Taraba and Sokoto states respectively.

While Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun delivered the lead judgment in Rivers governorship tussle, Justices Tijjani Abubakar and Mohammed Lawal Garba, rendered judgments in Sokoto and Taraba states governorship disputes.

Rivers

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the election of Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State.

In a unanimous decision by a five-member panel led by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Mr. Tonye Cole, against the outcome of the governorship election that held in the state on March 18, 2023, for lacking in merit.

In the lead judgment that was delivered by Justice Ibrahim Saulawa, the apex court said it found no reason to dislodge the concurrent verdicts of the Court of Appeal and the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, which upheld Fubara’s victory at the poll.

The court held that Cole did not establish that the election was not conducted in compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022.

The APC pulled out from the case against governor Fubara of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) while it was being heard by the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal.

Despite the position of the party not to challenge the declaration of Fubara as winner of the gubernatorial contest by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Cole, vowed to prosecute his petition to its logical conclusion.

INEC had declared that Fubara of the PDP polled a total of 302,614 votes to defeat his closets rival, Cole of the APC who got a total of 95,274 votes.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of the poll, Cole approached the tribunal to challenge it.

The appellant, among other things, alleged that the Rivers State governorship poll was marred by corrupt practices, insisting that it was not conducted in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.

More so, Cole, alleged that Fubara did not validly resign his previous position as required by the law, before the election held.

He alleged that Fubara continued to sign documents as the Accountant-General of Rivers State, even after he was nominated as the candidate of the PDP for the governorship election.

Consequently, he urged the tribunal to nullify the Certificate of Return that was issued to Fubara and declare that he was not the bonafide winner of the election.

Cole further prayed the tribunal to declare that he was the authentic winner of the gubernatorial contest.

However, both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal dismissed his case for want of merit.

Though the appellate court, in the verdict it delivered on November 28, 2023, affirmed the unanimous judgement of the tribunal that dismissed Cole’s case, it, however, faulted the lower court over its position that the petition was invalidated by the withdrawal of APC which has the statutory responsibility of nominating and sponsoring a candidate for the election.

The appellate court held that the fact that APC withdrew from the petition against Fubara’s victory, did not prohibit its candidate, Cole, from pursuing the appeal in his own right.

The Supreme Court had earlier dismissed a separate appeal that was entered against Fubara by the candidate of the Allied People’s Movement, APM, in the election, Innocent Kere.

The appeal was dismissed after the Appellants, through their lawyer, applied to withdraw the case

Sokoto

The Supreme Court has upheld the election of Governor Ahmad Aliyu of Sokoto State after dismissing an appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and its candidate, Saidu Umar against his victory at the March 18 governorship election.

The apex court, in its lead judgement that was delivered by Justice Tijjani Abubakar, dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.

The court held that it found no reason to set aside the concurrent judgements of the Court of Appeal and the Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which dismissed the appeal that sought to upturn the election victory of Governor Aliyu, who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had announced that Governor Aliyu polled a total of 453,661 votes to defeat his closest rival, Umar of the PDP who polled 404,632 votes.

Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, Umar and the PDP approached the tribunal, alleging that Aliyu and his deputy, Idris Gobir, were not eligible to contest the gubernatorial poll.

The petitioners contended that Governor Idris and his deputy did not secure the majority of valid votes that were cast at the election to be declared winners by INEC.

They further alleged that the election was not only marred by irregularities but was also not conducted in substantial compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.

Aside from alleging that the governor and his deputy submitted forged certificates, with variations of names, to INEC in aid of their qualification to contest the election, the petitioners added that electoral fraud occurred in 138 polling units in the state.

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However, the three-man panel tribunal, in a judgement it delivered on September 30, 2023, dismissed the petition as lacking in merit.

The Justice Haruna Mshelia-led tribunal held that the petitioners were unable to prove any of the allegations they raised in the petition.

It held that evidence of most of the witnesses who testified for the PDP and its candidate were incompetent as their statements on oath were not front-loaded alongside the petition as required by law.

The tribunal held that the allegation of forgery, being criminal, ought to have been proved beyond reasonable doubt, a burden it said the petitioners failed to discharge.

More so, the tribunal noted that 70 per cent of exhibits the petitioners adduced before it, were out of context and they related to the State House of Assembly elections that were conducted on the same date the governorship poll was held.

The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, on November 27, 2023, upheld the decision of the tribunal.

The appellate court panel held that most of the proof of evidence the petitioners produced in support of their case was legally inadmissible.

It held that the tribunal was right when it expunged the incompetent exhibits that were either not pleaded or irrelevant to the case that was brought before it.

Not happy with the judgement, the PDP and its candidate went to the Supreme Court, where they also lost the case on Thursday.

Taraba

The Supreme Court has affirmed Agbu Kefas of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the valid winner of the governorship election that held in Taraba State on March 18, 2023.

Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba in a unanimous judgment on Thursday,  held that the NNPP and its candidate filed an incomplete record of appeal.

The Appellants had asked the Supreme Court to set aside the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Abuja which affirmed Kefas’ election victory.

The Court of Appeal had in the judgment it delivered on November 28, 2023, dismissed the appeal by the NNPP and its candidate as lacking in merit.

The court held that it found no reason to vacate the verdict of the Taraba State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which had on September 30, 2023, declared Kefas of the PDP as the bonafide winner of the gubernatorial poll.

The appellate court faulted the tribunal for not striking out the petition outrightly, noting that it was legally incompetent.

According to the appellate court, whereas the petitioners, in one breath, sought the nullification of the governorship poll on the premise that it was invalid because of non-compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, they also turned around and prayed to be declared winner of the same election.

It held that the petitioners sought both prayers, together, as main reliefs, instead of as alternative reliefs.

The appellate court held that reliefs the petitioners sought from the tribunal were “patently incongruous”, saying there was no legal or factual pedestal for a litigant to make inconsistent prayers at the same time.

More so, the court held that even if one of the prayers came as an alternative relief, the petitioners ought to have anchored it on separate facts.

It held that the “legal misadventure of the petitioners” was based on their “misapprehension of section 136 of the Electoral Act 2022.”

It held that the tribunal ought to have upheld a preliminary objection that was filed before it by Governor Kefas and struck out the petition for being incompetent.

Consequently, it nullified a portion of the judgement of the tribunal that dismissed Governor Kefas’ preliminary objection and accordingly struck out the petition for want of competence.

However, dissatisfied with the judgement, the NNPP and its candidate approached the Supreme Court, insisting that they were denied justice.

The apex court said it would communicate its judgment date to all the parties.

It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had on March 21, 2023, declared PDP’s Kefas, a retired Nigerian Army Lieutenant Colonel, as the winner of the governorship contest.

INEC announced that Kefas polled a total of 302,614 votes to defeat his closest rival, Prof. Yahaya of the NNPP who scored 202,277 votes.

Not happy with the outcome of the election, the NNPP and its candidate went before the tribunal, alleging that the poll was not validly conducted.

They equally alleged that Kefas was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the election.

While seeking the withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to Governor Kefas by INEC, the petitioners prayed to be declared winner of the contest, insisting that they satisfied all the constitutional requirements.

Their petition was dismissed by Justice J.G. A. Sunmonu-led three-man tribunal.