Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
The victory of Gov Alex Otti of Abia State (Labour Party) at the March 18 governorship poll was Friday validated by the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia.
The candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Okey Ahiwe; and his All Progressives Congress, APC counterpart, High Chief Ikechi Emenike, had approached the tribunal to challenge Otti’s victory.
But the Justice H.T.D Gwadah-led thre-man tribunal in its judgment, dismissed all the motions and applications by the Petitioners, saying they lacked merit.
Other members of the panel were Justice Omolora Adeyemi, and Justice Boniface Ngyou.
The PDP and its candidate had alleged that Otti was not qualified to run for the governorship election.
They also claimed that the LP candidate did not win majority of lawful votes; and that his election did not comply with the electoral Act.
In its judgment, the panel held that the nomination and sponsorship of a candidate for an election, “are domestic affairs of a political party,” hence a non-member of the party lacks locus to challenge it at the court.
It also dismissed the application by the PDP candidate that Otti did not submit his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, discharge certificate.
According to the tribunal, NYSC certificate is not a factor for qualification or disqualification of a governor.
On the alleged irregularities and non-compliance with the electoral act, the tribunal held that the Petitioners could not provide evidence to substantiate such claims, hence it was deemed that they dumped their petition.
According to the tribunal, the Petitioners failed to provide witnesses in all the polling units where it claimed there were overvoting, hence, it struck out the motion for lack of evidence.
It further held that the PDP candidate could not provide proof of his allegation that the result of Obingwa Local Government Area was taken to Abuja and doctored in favour of the LP candidate.
The tribunal, therefore, dismissed all the motions by the PDP candidate and his party.
In a related judgment, the tribunal struck out all the prayers by Chief Emenike and the APC, describing the Petitioners as meddlesome interlopers for seeking the nullification of Otti’s victory for alleged non-nomination and sponsorship by his party.
The tribunal held that “it is now cast on iron that non-nomination and sponsorship of a candidate by a political party is an internal affairs of the party and not justiceable.”
It held that a non-member of the party lacks the locus to challenge such action in the court, adding that it is only an aspirant of the party who participated in its primary election that can challenge such at the High Court.
The tribunal further held that Labour Party had demonstrated that “Otti is its member and was validly nominated and sponsored” for the election.
It held that Chief Emenike’s petition “has no foundation to stand and is hereby expunged from the records of the tribunal.”
“You cannot belong to a family and be dictating for another family how to run its affairs,” the tribunal declared.
The tribunal also scolded Emenike who came a distant fourth for asking to be declared winner of the election.
The APC candidate had also challenged the nomination of the PDP candidate, Chief Ahiwe and his running mate, Dr Jasper Uche, the duo of whom he claimed did not resign from their previous assignments as Chief of Staff to the Governor; and a Lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, respectively.
The tribunal held that earnings salaries from Government or driving Government cars does not necessarily make somebody a public servant in the case of Ahiwe.
It held that Dr Uche validly resigned his appointment as a Lecturer at UNN before contesting in the election.
The tribunal further described Emenike’s petition as “confusing, appalling and novel to election jurisprudence.”
The Tribunal affirmed that the declaration of Otti as the winner of the March 18 governorship poll in Abia State, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was valid, and affirmed the declaration.
In his response, representative of the PDP legal team, Chukwuemeka Nworgu, thanked the Tribunal and requested a copy of the judgment to enable his client study it and determine the next line of action.
Nworgu commended the tribunal for taking time to consider the matters raised, saying he would “miss the faces” of the panel members.
In his reaction, represntative of the legal team of Chief Emenike and the APC, Mr Fabian Okonkwo, also thanked the tribunal for discharging the petitions ahead of the constitutional deadline.
He said his cluents would study the judgment before knowing what next to do.
Chief Ume Kalu, SAN, who spoke for Otti’s legal team thanked the tribunal for the judgment, saying it has given a judicial seal to Otti’s victory.
There was eruption of joy in parts of Umuahia the state capital after the judgment was pronounced as residents went into celebration mood.