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OPINION

Araraume Vs Ihedioha: Judgement Day Is Here

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The Imo State Election Tribunal is now set to deliver judgement over an election petition instituted by the Imo State All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in the last general election, Senator Ifeanyi Gowdin Araraume and his party against Emeka Ihedioha and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Recently, Araraume, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Hope Uzodinma and Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) closed their submissions and adopted their written addresses before the tribunal sitting in Owerri.

All the candidates, especially Senator Araraume, who are strongly challenging the outcome of the governorship election, stated that the declaration of Ihedioha by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was made in error because he didn’t meet the constitutional requirements.

According to them, Section 179 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria says a winner must have the highest number of votes and also obtain in clear terms the constitutional one quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, a condition Ihedioha failed to meet.

Specifically, Araraume has asked for an order of the tribunal to void the Certificate of Return issued to Ihedioha — on the grounds that there were massive irregularities in the election. He further averred, through his counsels, Awa Kalu (SAN), Ahmed Raji (SAN), K.C Nwufo (SAN) and I. K Bawa (SAN) that all the score and votes from some local government areas, including Ehime Mbano and 17 others were unlawful.

He also stated that there was unexplained change of electoral officers at the last minute by INEC, and massive hijacking and diversion of electoral materials.

Araraume and APGA asked the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal to nullify and set aside, the Imo State governorship election held on March 9, 2019 — for being invalid and non-compliant with the provision of the Electoral Act 2010 and the 1999 Nigeria Constitution.

The petitioners adopted that all the scores and purported votes from Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ehime Mbano and other 17 local government council areas of the states, were void and unlawful votes. Giving “facts’’ in support of the voiding of the election in the stated LGAs, Araraume and his party argued strongly that INEC, in preparation for the election, had sourced electoral officers from suspected institutions like University of Agriculture, Umudike.

They also alleged that the said electoral officers were “inexplicably’’ changed hours to the election, and replaced with a different set of untrained electoral officers and ad-hoc staff. And further averred that the new, untrained electoral officers and ad-hoc staff, most of who hail from Mbaise LGA – Ihedioha’s LGA, were then appointed and deployed within hours to the commencement of the governorship election, stating that these untrained electoral staff did not subscribe to the oath of neutrality.

The petitioners also declared in their petitions that there was massive hijacking and diversion of ballot papers and other electoral material to places other than polling units, where several booklets of ballot papers were “massively thumb printed’’ by agents of PDP in favour of Ihedohia — in the aforementioned LGAs, coupled with ballot box snatching and stuffing with ballot papers.

They added that the multiple thumb-printed ballot papers for Ihedioha were subsequently stuffed into the ballot boxes and recorded in favour of the PDP’s candidate in the stated LGAs.

The petitioners further maintained that the agents of PDP/Ihedioha, acting on their instructions and authorisation, procured massive numbers of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and wrongfully used them on the Smart Card Readers – resulting in false record of accreditation on the Smart Card Readers, as shown by the serial and sustained fingerprint verification failure in the polling units.

Araraume/APGA further stated that the consequences of the alleged corrupt practices, allegedly perpetrated by PDP and its candidate, acting through their agents and surrogates, led to the purported victory of PDP’s candidate in the election.

They also said that the respondents did not win one-quarter of the votes cast at the said election in each of at least two-third of all the local government areas in the state, as required by Section 179(2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution.

The petitioners added they submitted the said result sheets as in Forms EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E to specialists for his professional analysis, adding that upon the said computation, the specialists discovered that the PDP’s candidate did not secure one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-third of all the 27 LGAs in the state, as required by the constitution.

They further averred that out of the 27 LGAs in the state, the purported winner of the election scored 25 per cent of total votes cast in 12 local government areas, thereby rendering his purported return invalid.

Proving his case against Ihedioha and PDP, Senator Araraume had testified before the tribunal, and his petition received a boost — as the court accepted all his evidence, including the INEC’s certified ‘’back end report’’ tendered by his lead counsel, Kalu (SAN).

Araraume said that all documents required to prove his case ‘’beyond reasonable doubt’’ had been tendered before the tribunal, including but not limited to voter register, declaration sheets and ‘’card reader back end report.’’

The APGA candidate said he was elated about what transpired in the court, stating that the back end report was very critical, because in the guidelines issued by INEC, the only means of accreditation was by electronic, with no room for manual accreditation.

Buttressing his argument, Senator Araraume cited the case of Aboh Mbaise, Ihedioha’s local government area, where INEC returned 64,000 votes to him, while presenting INEC’s certified documents, which indicated that only 22,328 total votes were accredited to vote, including void-votes.

He maintained that the governorship election in lmo, particularly in Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Oguta and many other local government areas was a big fraud.

Attempts by Ihedioha to defend his purported victory at the election at the tribunal, opened up many holes, as he abandoned his case – failing to appear at the tribunal. And his witness whom he fielded in his defence, who was supposed to be led in evidence to identify relevant materials and documents, in order to corroborate if the computation is a reflection that he truly won the March 9th Governorship election, failed to turn up.

Rather the only witness he fielded was one Nze Ray Emeana, who was discovered to be ‘’an impostor’’, because he was neither the original witness whose name was front-loaded nor was he, ab-initio, the state agent who witnessed the computation of the results.

Under cross examination, the petitioner’s counsel led by Awa Kalu SAN, requested for the witness to be given his written testimony and asked him to read out the number of the petition he was defending, and he read EPT/IM/GOV/1/2019. Whereas the petition is Number 3 not Number 1, as he claimed. This means that the respondent didn’t reply to the petition.

Again, he was asked to tell the tribunal his name; and he identified himself as Hon Ray Emeana. The counsel then asked him to read out what he wrote as his name on his written deposition, he read out PCA. The issue is that according to Practice Direction to election petition, it is only the petitioner that is allowed to hide the identity of his witnesses and not the respondent.

Presenting only one so-called witness, Ihedioha closed his case, without challenging all the documents and results tendered by the petitioners: Araraume and APGA. The PDP’s candidate couldn’t also defend his own documents and results; and no other witness was called upon to do so. The implication of this, is that Ihedioha merely dumped those documents at the tribunal, and closed his case.

The constitutional matter the tribunal is expected to decide in the next few days, is whether the respondents: Ihedioha and PDP win one-quarter of the votes cast at the said election, in at least two-third of all the local government areas in the state, as required by Section 179(2) and (3) of the 1999 constitution or not. And whether the said result sheets as in Forms EC8B, EC8C, EC8D and EC8E certify that the PDP’s candidate secures one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-third of all the 27 LGAs in the state, as required by the constitution. And lastly, whether the election was conducted in line with the Electoral Act or not.

 

– Dr Uzor, writes from Owerri, Imo State

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