The Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, the Ondo State capital on Monday dismissed the appeals filed by the candidates of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN, and of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), Chief Olusola Oke against the affirmation of the victory of Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Labor Party, in last October election, by the Election Petition Tribunal.
The appellate court also threw into the dustbin of legal history the petitions filed against the victory of Mimiko at the Election Petition Tribunal.
In its judgment delivered before a capacity filled courtroom, the five justices of the appeal court held that losers of an election should be bold enough like a good sportsman to congratulate the winners of the election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Mimiko of Labour Party (LP) as the winner of the election held on October 20, 2012. Displeased with the results, the ACN’s and PDP’s candidates filed petitions against the outcome of the election.
The Tribunal headed by Justice Andovar Kaka’an had on May 3 declined jurisdiction to entertain the petitions on the ground that the issues raised about the voters’ registers used for the election was pre-election matter.
Also, the Tribunal held that the issue of non-compliant with the Electoral Act raised by the petitioners could not hold water.
Not satisfied with the outcome of the verdicts, the duo of Akeredolu and Oke approached the appellate court to upturn the verdict of the Tribunal.
While Akeredolu filed 38 grounds of appeal, Oke filed 37 grounds. The major issues raised included the voters’ register which they said was not a pre-election matter and that the elections held in substantial non-compliant with the Electoral Act.
At the last hearing of the appeal, the lead counsel of Mimiko in the appeal,Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) described the appeal against his client as a legless appeal.
Akeredolu’s lead counsel, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi (SAN) had urged the court to uphold the appeal as the tribunal erred by dismissing his petition without considering the merit.
According to him, “the central issue in this appeal is the 2012 voters register which we discovered was not used on election day after having been assured by INEC that it is the valid register for the poll.
Citing ANPP v Usman, Olujimi submitted that “the tribunal did not consider the evidence of PW 40 and 41 that the register used contained over 100,000 new names secretly injected into it with no evidence that the names were valid registrants.
In the PDP Appeal, its counsel, Mr Olusola Oke also told the court that INEC had before the lower tribunal admitted the injection of additional names into the voters register without display or publication which was a violation of the Electoral Act.
But Mimiko and LP counsel submitted that the Electoral Act made provisions for complaints about voters register, but appellants failed to prove that the alleged injected names voted for Mimiko as the total number of valid votes cast was less than total number of registered voters.
In their judgement, the judges, namely M.L Garba, A.G Mshelia, Ejembi Eko, Daniel Kalio and E.A Agim, held that the appeals filed against the verdict of the Tribunal lacked merit and were accordingly dismissed.
Although the court held that the Tribunal was wrong to have declined jurisdiction on the petition on the account that issue of voters’ register was pre-election matter, the judges however said they were not able to prove that the injection affected the outcome of the election.
The appellate court held that the issues raised in the petitions were criminal in nature and would need to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Since the petitioners failed to lead evidence in the regards or prove their cases of electoral fraud, the appeal would be dismissed.
Both Justices Eko and Kalio who read the lead judgments held that the appeals filed by Akeredolu and Oke lacked merit and were dismissed.
However, both the PDP and ACN kicked against the verdict of the appellate court, saying they would pursue the matter to Supreme Court.
The PDP in a statement by Wale Ozogoro, said “The judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered today fall short of the expectation of the Ondo State people and we shall challenge it. It is heart warming to note that the learned jurist authenticated the validity of VOTERS REGISTER as a process and not a pre-election matter.
“They equally agreed that there were injections but that we refused to prove how the injection had substantially affected the result of the election. We are consulting as a party with our candidate Chief Olusola Oke and the national leadership of the party and our counsel on the next step we are going to take.
“However, we are resolute and determined to attain justice in this matter, therefore, we shall go to every length to prove that the criminal injection into the voters register certainly did affect the outcome of the election”
The ACN through its Publicity Secretary, Mr Rotimi Agbede said “the judgement of the Court of Appeal sitting in Akure upholding the ruling of the lower tribunal on the appeal brought before it by ACN/Akeredolu has come to the party as a rude shock and a worrisome development.
“This is moreso considering the fact that a bad precedence is being laid in our legal jurisprudence to accommodate illegal injection of names into the voters register in subsequent elections.
“It is rather unfortunate that the judiciary through the pronouncement of the Court of Appeal, had again delayed justice and deprived d people of Ondo State the much desired freedom from d rudderless govt of the LP in the state.
“One can not help but laugh at the rationalisation given by the appellate court that the appellants did not prove how the manipulated voters register substantially affected the outcome of the election. If that is the case, then what happens to this popular saying in the legal parlance that you can not build something on nothing.
” Also amusing is the issue of compromised voters register which was termed to be pre-election matter by the lower tribunal but has now assumed a new status that need to be proved to have subtantially affected d result of the election.
” The party viewed the judgement as a miscarriage of justice that must be put to legal scrutiny at the apex court in the land. Consequently, this judgement is going to be challenged at the supreme court by the party and its candidate.”