Governor Sheriff Oborevwori of Delta State on Friday scored a hat trick when the Governorship Election Tribunal sitting in Asaba dismissed the petitions brought against him by three opponents in the March 2023 elections for lacking merit and upheld him as duly elected.
The judgment which held at the Federal High Court, Asaba was delivered at separate times by each of the tribunal members headed by Justice C.H. Ahuchaogu in the petitions brought by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Kenneth Gbagi of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Mr. Kennedy Pela of the Labour Party.
Dismissing the Senator Omo-Agege and APC petition, the three-man panel of Justices held that the petitioners failed to prove allegations of non-compliance with the Electoral Act and over voting beyond reasonable doubt.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had declared Governor Sheriff Oborevwori of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the March 18 Governorship election with 360,234 votes.
Omo-Agege of the APC came second with 240,229 votes while Labour Party’s Ken Pela came a distant third with 48,047 votes.
On the issue of over voting, the tribunal held that to prove over voting, BVAS report must be produced. Leave was granted petitioner to inspect BVAS but no BVAS report was provided.
“Tribunal wonders why the petitioners failed to produce BVAS report. Tribunal agrees with respondents’ argument. By Supreme Court judgment, BVAS is mandatory to prove over voting.
“BVAS not produced but they tried to use other documents. Petitioner cannot circumvent the BVAS, as report of examination of back end server cannot replace the BVAS. This report is held to be irrelevant. Flowing from above, the report is inadmissible to prove over voting.
The tribunal held that the fulcrum of proof of over voting is the BVAS. The petitioner did not plead extract from BVAS and so could not tender same.
“Any evidence given by anyone that was not at the polling units is mere hearsay. Tribunal wonders why their agents at the polling units were not called.
“No evidence of wrongful entries was led by petitioner. An election cannot be nullified if it appears to the tribunal that it was conducted in substantial compliance. Tribunal cannot go out to find evidence for non compliance”.
On the issue of non-compliance, the tribunal said the petitioner jettisoned the provisions of the law to prove non-compliance in every unit.
“A petitioner who alleges non compliance must prove it polling unit by polling unit. Petitioner relied on only PW1 who was not even in any of the units. They can only be said to purport. In sum, the petitioner failed to prove non compliance”.
On the allegations of corrupt practices, the tribunal said no evidence was led as to who committed the crime and no evidence led as to how the allegations affected the outcome of the election.
The tribunal held that petitioners gave particulars of inflated figures but failed to show how it affected the result.
“The tribunal finds that the inflation is of no consequence and will not affect the result if removed. Issue resolved in favor of respondents.
“Not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast in the election. Petitioner was not able to strictly prove this. Considering earlier findings on the other grounds of the petitioner, this ground of the petition is bound to fail and it is held as failed.
“The petitioner led no evidence as to the votes that are unlawful and should be reduced. They complained of unascertained number of votes.
“Pleadings where no evidence is led amounts to no issue. They abandoned the case and sought to rely on the tribunal. This approach lacks credibility. Issue resolved in favour of respondents.
“The case of petitioner based essentially on hearsay evidence that is legally inadmissible. They have led no credible and indubitable evidence.
“Accordingly, there was even no need for the respondents to lead any evidence to disprove a collapsed case. The case is devoid of merit and I affirm the declaration of INEC and return the respondents as duly elected,” the Tribunal held.
On the petition filed by Chief Gbagi seeking the nullification of Governor Oborevwori’s election on the allegation that his Deputy, Sir Monday Onyeme was dismissed at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), the tribunal described the petition as an abuse of court process and dismissed the claim, pointing out that no evidence was led to prove that the respondent was dismissed from NOUN.
The tribunal said that the burden of proof was squarely on the petitioner. “The allegation of dismissal against the 4th Respondent is baseless and the tribunal so holds.”
Besides, the tribunal also held that Chief Gbagi was unsuccessful in his claims that Governor Oborevwori who was declared the winner did not score valid votes upon which he was declared the winner of the Governorship election. It is wrong for a petitioner to ask for nullification when he failed to discharge the onus of proof as the petitioner has done, the tribunal said.
The Tribunal said: “We hold that the petitioners have failed to prove that the respondent declared to have won election did not score the valid votes upon which he was so declared. It is not enough for the petitioners to tender documents; it is incumbent on them to speak to the documents and not to dump the documents. The petitioners merely dumped the documents. The ground of the petitioner is not sustainable and therefore dismissed.
“The petitioners have not been able to marshal any evidence to dislodge the respondent. There’s no evidence before us to dislodge the respondent as having been duly elected. There is no evidence before us to do so.
“In all, the case of the petitioner is dismissed,” the Tribunal held against Chief Gbagi.
In the petition brought by the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Mr. Kennedy Pela, the Tribunal held that the pleadings of the petitioners that the respondent submitted fake certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and therefore not qualified to contest the governorship election are in gross violation of the rules and are therefore struck out.
It held that the burden of proof is on the petitioners to prove their allegation of forgery, which must be beyond reasonable doubt. “There’s therefore no iota of truth in the petitioners’ allegation of certificate forgery. The allegation of forgery is spurious. The petitioner did not present any disclaimer to prove that the document that was presented was forged,” the tribunal held and dismissed all the pleadings of Mr. Pela and the Labour Party.