Ike Nnachi, Abakaliki
The Ebonyi State Election Petitions Tribunal has affirmed the election of Ebonyi State Governor, Francis Nwifuru.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced Francis Nwifuru winner of the March 18 poll.
It also declared Chukwuma Ifeanyi Odii of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as first runner-up and Bernard Odoh of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as second runner-up.
But both Odii and and Odoh and their parties rejected the outcome and vowed to challenge it.
They subsequently approached the Tribunal seeking the nullification of Nwifuru’s election on the grounds of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and alleged failure to score the majority of lawful votes cast at the guber poll.
In separate petitions, the duo of Odoh and Odii argued that Nwifuru was not qualified to contest the election on the platform of the APC because he was still a member of the Peoples Democratic Party.
However, Nwifuru’s party, the All Progressives Congress submitted a letter before the Tribunal showing that the governor resigned from the PDP while serving as Speaker of the State House of Assembly, and defected to the APC before its primary election.
In its judgment on Wednesday, the three-man panel of the Tribunal chaired by Justice O. Lekan held that the issue of nomination and sponsorship by a political party, being a pre-election matter, should have been challenged before the Federal High Court before the election.
The Tribunal then declined jurisdiction to entertain the grounds of Nwifuru’s sponsorship by APC, saying it was an internal political party matter.
“Membership of a political party is a non-justiceable issue,” the Tribunal held.
The Tribunal also said it could not overturn a Federal High Court judgment which observed that Nwifuru defected to the APC while serving as a lawmaker, faulting the PDP for not appealing the trial court judgment before now.
The panel observed that “the petitioners (PDP) were consistently inconsistent” when they initially contended that Nwifuru was still their member at the time but eventually admitted he had defected to the APC.
The Tribunal further said the petitioners failed to prove that Nwifuru was at the time of the election not qualified to contest the Governorship Election.
It noted that there is substantial material evidence before the Tribunal which shows that the governor duly resigned his membership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On PDP’s assertion regarding alleged over voting, mutilation and inflation of results, the Tribunal observed that the petitioners called 20 witnesses who failed to prove that the disputed polling units results sheets were defective or not stamped in line with relevant laws.
The Tribunal observed that the petitioners failed to produce the polling unit results given to their polling unit agents as evidence of alleged electoral malpractice.
“The allegations of the petitioners remains unproven,” Lekan maintained, citing a Supreme Court judgment which states that over voting can only be proved using the Voters Register, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System report and Form EC8As.
The tribunal also noted that the applicants have no locus to challenge the membership of a candidate of another political party
It noted that apart from an aspirant who participated in the primaries of the 3rd Respondent (APC) no other person has the right to challenge the membership of Nwifuru.
The tribunal further held that the claim of the petitioners that Nwifuru’s APC Form is a forgery holds no water as same was not supported by any evidence from the petitioners.
It averred that where a party forwarded the name of a candidate to INEC it means that such a candidate is a full fledged member of such a political party.
It further held that exhibit R5 which is the votes and proceedings of Ebonyi State House of Assembly clearly disclosed the date the governor defected from PDP to APC.
“It is not for the Tribunal to invoke section 109 of the 1999 constitution as amended against the 2nd Respondent, but that of the members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly.
“It will be unjust to hold that the 2nd Respondent was not qualified to contest the Governorship election of Ebonyi State by mere fact that he failed to vacate his seat in line with the order in Judgment delivered by Justice Ekwo,” the tribunal said.
The tribunal therefore held that the petitioners failed to prove all the grounds of their petition.
Subsequently, the panel dismissed the petitions, affirming Nwifuru as the duly elected governor of the state.
In his own reaction, Odoh said he was going to appeal the judgment.
The geophysics professor said it was not over and urged his supporters to remain firm, calm and peaceful.
He said: “It is not over yet. Let your hearts and souls not be troubled as a result of today’s ruling by the Ebonyi State Governorship Election Tribunal.
“Don’t worry, you’re on the right part of history as the storm would certainly be over. Greatness is not achieved by being a mediocre mind. Remain firm while we journey till the end.
“History and posterity will be kind to all men and women who stood firm for the right course of action towards advancing our democracy and advocating for a better society where rule of law, justice and fairness is attainable.
“We have directed our legal Team to review the judgment and commence appeal processes as provided by law.
“We shall get to the finishing line joyfully by exploring and exhausting all the legal processes as provided by our law as this would lay the desired foundation for the future we all desire and deserve for our dear State,” he said.
Director of Strategy and Grassroots Mobilisation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Abia Onyike, said the party will study the judgment before taking a decision on the next line of action.
Governor Nwifuru thanked the people of the state for their support and pledged to work harder to repay the trust of the people.
He called on his opponents who took him to court to close ranks with him for the development of the state.
According to him, their wealth of experience is needed in the development the state.