The legal battle to determine the real winner of the November 16th, 2019 governorship election in Kogi state finally came the way of Governor Yahaya Bello on Monday, as the Supreme Court, dismissed two separate appeals that challenged his re-election.
The appeals were lodged by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Musa Wada, as well as the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and its own candidate, Natasha Akpoti.
Whereas Wada of the PDP came second in the election, Akpoti of the SDP got the third highest number of valid votes.
In different unanimous judgements, a seven-man panel of Justices of the Apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Ibrahim Tanko, held that both appeals lacked merit.
While the lead verdict in the case of the PDP and its candidate, was prepared by Justice Inyang Okoro, that of the SDP was prepared and read by Justice Uwani Abba-Aji.
In the first appeal, the Supreme Court, upheld the earlier judgement of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, which had on July 4, dismissed the case of the PDP and its candidate, and validated the majority decision of the Kogi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal that affirmed governor Bello’s election victory.
The apex court said it was satisfied that the Court of Appeal neither denied the Appellants fair hearing, nor wrongly evaluated their case against the outcome of the Kogi State governorship poll.
“The appellants failed to prove before this court why it should disturb the concurrent findings of the two courts below”, Justice Okoro held in the lead verdict.
The apex court stressed that the Appellants failed to substantiate their case, noting that they adduced evidence with respect to only 24 out of the 729 polling units in the state.
“It is abundantly clear that this appeal is devoid of any scintilla of merit and it is accordingly dismissed”, the court held.
PDP and its candidate had insisted that governor Bello was not validly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
In their petition at the tribunal marked EPT/KG/GOV/06/2019, they sought the annulment of governor Bello’s re-election, alleging that he rigged himself back to office.
The appellants alleged that the election was invalid by reason of widespread electoral malpractices, violence and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
They prayed the court to nullify the Certificate of Return that was issued to governor Bello by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and declare that Wada scored majority of votes cast at the election and fulfilled requirements of section 179(2)(a) and (b) of the Constitution.
Alternatively, the Petitioners prayed for an order directing INEC to conduct supplementary election in polling units where elections were cancelled, noting that the margin of lead between the 2nd Respondent and the 1st Petitioner, was Iess than the registered voters in the cancelled polling units.
They further sought a declaration that the Kogi governorship election that held on November 16, 2019, and the subsequent declaration and return of the 2nd Respondent (Bello), were voided by corrupt practices in breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (As amended), which substantially affected the results of the election.
In further their alternative prayer, the Appellants, urged the court to order a fresh election in Kogi State.
However, in its judgement, the Supreme Court, held that allegations of corruption the Appellants raised against the election were criminal in nature, and therefore ought to have been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
It accordingly resolved all the issues against the Appellants.
Similarly, the court also resolved seven issues Akpoti and the SDP raised in their own appeal, against them.
Akpoti and her party had aside challenging the election over alleged irregularities and non-compliance, also alleged that governor Bello gave false information in an affidavit he submitted to INEC.
It will be recalled that the tribunal had in a two-to-one split decision on May 23, affirmed governor Bello’s election after it also dismissed all the petitions.
Nevertheless, while two Justices of the three-member panel tribunal, dismissed the petition by Wada and the PDP for want of merit, a third member of the panel, gave a dissenting judgement that upheld the petition and ordered fresh election in Kogi State.
In their majority verdict, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Kashim Kaigama and a member of the panel, Justice Baraka Wali, held that the petitioners, failed to by way of credible evidence, substantiate their allegation that governor Bello’s election was not in substantial compliance with both the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
The duo equally agreed that the petitioners were unable to prove any ground of their petition to warrant the nullification of the outcome of the election.
However, in a dissenting judgement, Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele, upheld the petitioners’ case and nullified election results in seven out of the 21 Local Government Areas in the state.
Justice Ovbiagele went ahead and sacked governor Bello by declaring that he was not the winner of the governorship election, having failed to secure majority of lawful votes and the required constitutional spread.
She ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in seven local governments within three months.
The Court of Appeal however dismissed the entire petition in a unanimous judgement by a five-man panel of Justices.
The panel, led by Justice Adamu Jauro, held that the appeal was bereft of merit.
Dissatisfied with the decision, both PDP and Wada took the matter before the Supreme Court, where they also lost on Monday.
INEC, governor Bello and his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, were cited as Respondents in the appeal.
INEC had on November 18, declared governor Bello winner of the election.
The Returning Officer, Ibrahim Garba, who is the Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, declared that Bello polled the highest number of votes in the election with 406,222 to defeat Wada of the PDP who scored 189,704 in the election.
As collated by INEC, Bello defeated Wada with a total of 216,518, while Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) came a distant third in the election with 9,482 votes.