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Drama Of Governorship Tussle Between Benue PDP, APC.

It has been a case of mixed grill for members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benue State over the just-decided governorship election petition, JOHNSON BABAJIDE writes.

The Court of Appeal recently upheld the election of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, after a protracted struggle over the rightful owner of the victory emanating from the March 23 exercise.

The governorship election case between candidates Governor Samuel Ortom of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Emmanuel Jime of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was very intriguing. At a point, matters came to a head, as the venue for hearing of notice of appeal filed by Jime was moved from Makurdi, the state capital, to Abuja. The development degenerated into a war of words between the two parties.

Governor Ortom had been declared the winner of the March governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Following his defeat, Jime had proceeded to the election petition tribunal to challenge Ortom victory.

But in a nine-hour judgment delivered by the chairman of the governorship election petition tribunal, Justice Henry Olusiyi, it was stated that the petitioners' witnesses' statements were contradictory, unreliable and not credible.

The judge added that the witnesses' statements were incompetent, frowning on the inability of the petitioners to identify necessary documents and link them to the case, thereby leading to a situation of dumping the materials on the tribunal.

Justice Olusiyi also held that the petitioner failed to prove the allegation of over voting, noting that voter register, and not the smart card reader, remained the valid method to ascertain the number of registered voters in an election.

'Card reader can only be alternative and admissible, if the National Assembly amends the Electoral Act to provide for it. Witnesses failed to prove allegation of over voting to warrant the cancellation of votes cast in polling units.

'We are satisfied that the result sheet presented to us by INEC is a true representation of votes cast in the election. We find no merit whatsoever in the petition. We hold that the election and proclamation of Governor Samuel Ortom by INEC is affirmed,' Justice Olusiyi said in the judgment.

Prior to the judgment, the tribunal ruled on seven applications and preliminary objections that border on pre-trial, smart card reader, introduction of new facts, among others. It ruled five of the issues in favour of the APC, while two were resolved in favour of the PDP. This is just as it refused the introduction of additional facts and four additional witnesses' statements by the APC, which was struck out in favour of the PDP.

According to the tribunal, the petitioners attempted to smuggle new facts into the case, contrary to Section 16 (1) of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).

Since it is the right of losers at the lower court to challenge judgment in the upper court, if they are not satisfied, the decision of the APC candidate to challenge the ruling at the Court of Appeal was described as a welcome development. It was said to be the right move, instead of resorting to illegal means to express their dissatisfaction with the tribunal's result.

But the new issues introduced to the case at the appellate court raised a poser, suggesting that the opposition party, APC, might have something up its sleeves or some ulterior motives.

The movement of the venue of the governorship election case from the Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division to Abuja Division was greeted with protest from the ruling PDP in the state.

According to a statement issued by the publicity secretary of the state PDP, Bemgba Ioryyom, the party rejected the change of venue from Makurdi to Abuja for the hearing of the appeal filed before the Court of Appeal by candidate of the APC, Jime, and his party against the judgment of the tribunal which upheld the victory of Ortom in the election.

The PDP expressed fear that something might be fishy with the change of venue. It was gathered that the legal team of Governor Ortom and the PDP received notices for hearing of the pending case from two different courts of appeal within 10 hours.

According to the statement by PDP publicity secretary, while one notice of hearing of appeal was received in the morning of Tuesday, November 19, from Makurdi Division, another was received from Court of Appeal, Abuja Division few hours later on the same day.

'In the morning, today, November 19, legal counsel to Governor Samuel Ortom and the PDP received a notice from the Makurdi Division of the Court of Appeal informing of dates scheduled for hearing of Jime and APC's appeal by the court in Makurdi.

'The notice read in part; 'hearing notice from court of appeal makurdi division.' appeal no ca/mk/ep/gov/57/2019 btw Emmanuel Jime and Anor and Independent National Electoral Comm and 2 ors comes up for hearing on 21.11.2019. please consider notification as proper service. Notice applies to CA/MK/EP/GOV/61/19 and CA/MK/EP/GOV/62/19.

'While the legal counsel for Governor Ortom and the PDP went to work in preparation for the scheduled court action which is only a few days away, another notice came in from the Court of Appeal, Abuja in the evening hours of this same day, informing that the Jime and APC appeal would be heard in Abuja.

'The notice from the appellate court in Abuja also read in part; 'HEARING NOTICE FROM COURT OF APPEAL SITTING AT ABUJA DIVISION.' Appeal no CA/MK/EP/GOV/57/2019 BTW EMMANUEL JIME and ANOR AND INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COM and 2 ORS comes up FOR HEARING on 21.11.2019. CONSIDER NOTIFICATION as proper SERVICE. NOTE; NOTICE APPLIES TO CA/MK/EP/GOV/61/19 and CA/MK/EP/GOV/62/19.'

The PDP in the said further that 'we find this development disturbing and unacceptable, as there are no reasons given for the shift in venue of the hearing of this appeal from Makurdi to Abuja.

'It is instructive that the Benue Governorship Election Petition Tribunal had, throughout the duration of its assignment, sat in Makurdi without any hitch or breach of the peace and order pertaining to its sitting.

'This was in spite of the fact that Jime and the APC, through their legal team, made several spirited attempts to have the sitting of the tribunal moved from Makurdi to Abuja. When this had failed, the defeated APC governorship candidate and his party launched series of blackmail and smear campaigns against the tribunal with the intent to have its sitting moved from Makurdi to Abuja, still to no effect as the tribunal sat in Makurdi without as much as a single incident till the conclusion of its assignment.'

The PDP therefore demanded that the earlier notice of the Court of Appeal, Makurdi Division served to Governor Ortom, the PDP and INEC in the appeal by Jime and the APC be upheld and the appeal heard in Makurdi.

But in a swift response, the opposition APC in the state advised its' rival party not to cry wolf over the change of venue which it said was 'ordered by no other authority than the president of the Court of Appeal.'

Spokesman of the APC, James Orgunga, who gave reason for the change of venue in a statement, said the change of venue was 'the internal processes of a court and cannot be controlled by any political party,' adding that 'the sitting location of a court cannot affect the substance or otherwise of a case.'

It will be recalled that after the governorship election petition tribunal delivered its judgment, INEC's lead counsel, Offiong, told the court that his team was thankful that there was no incidence of chaos, in spite of the initial fears that the tribunal might likely not hold sitting in Makurdi.

Also, a political analyst in the state, Tony Ulever, expressed the opinion that it was not necessary to change the venue of the hearing, since there was no threat to peace in the state.

'But I think the president of Court of Appeal, who has the responsibility of changing venue for hearing of cases and which judge should handle cases, should know better than us the reason for the change of venue.

'Nevertheless, to me, there may be no need for change of venue, since there is no threat to justice in the state. But as I said earlier, the president of Court of Appeal knows better and I know the change of venue will not change the substance of the case. Benue people are watching,' Ulever said.

Now that the matter has been laid to rest, the people of the state are expectant of continued peace and are eager to enjoy more dividends of democracy, as the Ortom-led government settles down for its second term in office.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Geographic Code:6NIGR
Date:Dec 8, 2019
Words:1619
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