Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guber election petitions: S/Court orders retrial in Benue, Akwa Ibom

THE Supreme Court, on Monday, upheld the appeals filed by the standard-bearers of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in both Benue and Akwa Ibom states, Steve Ugbah and John Akpanudodehe, challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal, which had dismissed their petitions on the grounds that it was filed ex parte without leave of court.
Ugba is challenging the declaration of Gabriel Suswam as the governor of Benue State on the grounds that the April election was fraught with irregularities and fraud.
While Akpanudodehe is also challenging the victory of Governor Godswill Akpabio on the grounds that the election was marred by irregularities.
The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, held that the petitions should not have been dismissed on mere technicalities, pointing out that pre-hearing notice could be done orally.
In ordering that the matter be remitted to the governorship election tribunals for Benue and Akwa Ibom states for hearing on their merit, the apex court panel, presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, said “the justice of the matter is that the appeals be remitted back for hearing on their merit. I don’t know why judges should go on with the basis of pre-hearing conference alone to dismiss a petition without hearing it on its merit. Matters must be decided on their merits.
“It is too early for me to start losing my head over what is the difference between a letter or ex parte motion. Everybody is watching us. I am begging you in the name of justice, that matters should be decided on their merits and not technicalities,” he added.
Justice Musdapher stated that “our responsibility to whoever comes before us is to do justice without technicalities. Where is justice after the tribunal itself issued the pre-hearing notice? The same tribunal had fixed hearing and after some days somebody now brought an application for the dismissal of the petition, where is the justice in that situation.”
“They just want to take an easy way out to finish the matter, we will say no to it, democracy is the number of people who votes for A or B, let justice be done.”
He said the counsel had failed to convince the court on why it should depart from its last week’s ruling on the Kebbi governorship election petition, adding that the appeal was limited to whether Section 47(1) applied in the appeal.
“The appeal succeeds and it is hereby ordered that the tribunal should hear the appeals on their merits denovo.”
It will be recalled that the courts of appeal sitting in Benue and Calabar had dismissed the petitions of Ugbah and Akpanudodehe on the grounds that their pre-hearing notice was filed ex parte without the leave of the tribunal.
According to the decision by the Court of Appeal, Calabar Division, in the case between Akpanudodehe and Governor Akpabio, with Justice Adam Onum as chairman, “in our view, the substratum of the submissions of Chief Bayo Ojo on the central issue in this motion lies in the effect of paragraph 47 (1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.”
Meanwhile, Governor Suswam of Benue State has said he is not losing sleep over the judgment of the Supreme Court which, on Sunday, ordered the re-trial of the petition of the governorship candidate of the ACN, Professor Steve Ugba.
The governor, who addressed newsmen at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, said as a person who believed in the sanctity of the rule of law, he would not do anything to impede justice.
He noted that his lawyers would look at the issue and the constitution, which he said gave a time limit for tribunal cases, adding that “as a person, I respect the decision of the court and the decision of the court will not make me lose sleep.”
Suswam, however, called on his supporters to remain calm and assured them that nothing would shake his government, saying that “I remain the governor of the state for the next four years.”
He also warned the opposition that as the constituted authority, his administration would not condone any act of violence, adding that government had put adequate security in place to ensure the safety of people of the state.
“Whoever breaches the peace of the state will be arrested, because the security agents have been mandated to exercise their roles of protecting life and property,” he said.
Also reacting, Governor Akpabio, at the Akwa Ibom Government Lodge, in Abuja, where a reception was organised to mark the conferment of Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) on him, noted that there was no cause for alarm.
Akpabio, who was addressing a crowd of the people who came to felicitate with him on the award, said “there is no cause for alarm. The Supreme Court judgment would afford us the opportunity to show the votes that were willingly given to the PDP and myself. The votes are intact and we are ready for them to be counted, so that the defeat of the ACN and its candidate would be publicly displayed at the tribunal.”
According to him, “the retrial of the case would go a long way towards exposing the folly of the ACN, because their electoral worth in the state would be exposed.
“One and a half local government areas, no matter what, cannot win election for a governorship candidate. I will urge the people not to be worried by the judgment, because it would provide us an ample opportunity to disgrace them the more and even if elections were held 10 times over, the PDP would win 10 times.”