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Imo: As Gladiators Await Tribunal’s Verdict

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After presenting their arguments at the Imo State governorship election petitions tribunal, the gladiators challenging the victory of Governor Emeka Ihedioha are now eagerly waiting for the tribunal’s verdict, writes MUYIWA OYINLOLA.

Imo State governorship election petitions tribunal is no doubt one of the busiest of such composition this season, and the reason is not far fetched.

Losers at the poll are prominent politicians. But that is not all, they are aggrieved and angered that Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) , who was sworn in on May 29, this year, stole his way into the office.

His major rivals at the March 9, 2019 election, Senator Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ifeanyi

Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Action Alliance (AA), all approached the tribunal in protest.

They held to this even in the adoption of their final written addresses before the tribunal in Owerri, Imo State capital about a week ago. They all have a unanimous prayer. They are of the belief that Ihedioha did not win the election, hence, he should be sacked.

While the case lasted at the tribunal, Uzodimma held that he won the majority of lawful votes and secured the mandatory one quarter of the votes cast in at least two thirds of the local government areas in the state.

According to him, his votes were unlawfully excluded to ensure his placement at the 4th position. Uzodimma called 54 witnesses and founded his complaint and evidence on the exclusion of the result of 388 polling units at the collation center.

But Ararume did not claim to have won the election. His complaint was that the election was marred by numerous forms of malpractices, corrupt practices and therefore void in 19 local government areas.

He also argued that other forms of irregularities  substantially which he claimed took place during the exercise affected his fortune at the poll, even as he claimed that the results of the election in 13 local government areas were affected. He, thus, demanded the cancellation of the election and the conduct of a fresh election.

Moreover, he also alleged that the results were inflated in the three local government areas of Aboh-Mbaise, Ezinihitte-Mbaise and Ahiazu-Mbaise.

Hence, he expressed concern that the scores credited to Ihedioha in the three local government areas were higher than what he (Ihedioha) scored in the remaining 24 local government areas. According to him, this was evidence of over – voting.

What was clear from the pleadings of all the parties was that there was election at the polling unit which was free and fair. What arose for determination by the tribunal was what happened at the collation centre, whether any result was omitted or not.

While the petition was going on and witnesses being called in, the Uzodimma team did not only tender the result of the 388 polling units, but also called the witness testimony of 54 party agents who were unit and collation agents.

Deputy commissioner of police in charge of operations during the election also gave evidence and tendered the copies of the results of the 388 units given to his men at the field at the end of the election. These police copies of the results of the election collaborated the result tendered by Uzodimma in all material particulars. This exposure by the police consequently placed a heavy burden on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Ihedioha and PDP to prove as they alleged falsity of the results submitted by APC, which they claimed in their statement of Reply to be “results manufactured and produced through the use of INEC snatched documents.”

From the defence of INEC, however, the result produced by Uzodimma was fake and a product of forgery. But neither INEC nor Ihedioha produced any iota of evidence to contradict the quantum of evidence called by Uzodimma.

Notably too, Ihedioha called only four unit witnesses, while PDP called only one INEC witness. There was no witness from the INEC angle. Imo politicians were therefore, shocked that despite the monumental evidence produced by the petitioner, the PDP failed to counter the case of the petition in any particular material. They did not produce their own unit copies of the result and did not call even one collation officer to disprove the allegation of unlawful exclusion that was proved by the petitioner through the Form EC8B tendered at the trial.

The collation form EC8B did not contain the results of the 388 units thus evidencing the exclusion. The distribution chart for sensitive materials used by INEC in the election and which was tendered by the petitioners and confirmed by the INEC witness called by PDP, showed that the serial numbers of the result tendered by the police and Uzodimma fall within the serial number distributed by INEC thus proving the authenticity of the results.

Observers at the tribunal were surprised that in the face of these clear evidence and facts, INEC could not provide the original copies of the Form EC8A in their custody to prove the foggery allegation against the result provided by Uzodimma, thus leaving his case unchallenged and uncontroverted. It was also clear from the inability of the PDP and its candidate to present to the tribunal their agents copies of the Form EC8A that they had no defense to the petitioners’ allegation of omission/exclusion of votes.

Uche Nwosu’s case was built on the complaint that Ihedioha did not secure the mandatory 2/3 requirement and therefore ought to go for a run off with him.

He also claimed to have won the election with a majority of votes cast, even as he also claimed that the election was marred by non compliance with the provisions of the electoral act.

Accordingly, he prayed that he be declared the winner of the election having claimed to have scored the majority of lawful votes at the election. In the further alternative, he prayed for cancellation of the election and the conduct of fresh elections.

However, the petition filed by Nwosu rests on the foundation that he, Uche Nwosu, secured the majority of lawful votes cast at the election. He predicated this on the assumption that if the votes of the 1st respondent (Emeka Ihedioha) from the three local government areas were nullified on account of over voting, it would be clear that he scored the majority of lawful votes. The legal huddle that he faced is his inability to call witnesses in all the polling units in the three local governments of Mbaise to prove the allegation of over-voting and other allegations of electoral malpractice alleged in the petition. It is also not clear how he intends to establish that he scored the majority of lawful votes in the face of the APC challenge and overwhelming evidence. His assertions when considered along with the APC case of exclusion, according to analysts, would definitely establish that he did not score the majority of lawful votes but that Uzodimma did.

The other leg of his case is that the 1st respondent did not secure the mandatory 2/3 requirements and therefore there should be a run off between him and  Emeka Ihedioha. This position can only stand where the tribunal finds that Uzodimma did not score the majority of lawful votes and did not secure the mandatory 2/3 threshold.

Any finding in favour of Uzodimma, would surely negate the Nwosu assertion. Evidently, it is in doubt whether Uche Nwosu, had enough evidence to show not only that he won the election, but his total votes were in excess of the votes scored by Uzodimma inclusive of the excluded/omitted votes, a herculean task indeed.

Meanwhile, Ararume in his petition sought for a declaration that the governorship election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission on March 9, 2019, was infested by a lot of electoral irregularities, malpractices and other acts contrary to the electoral act and should be voided. He also asserted that the Ihedioha did not secure a majority of lawful votes and that the votes ascribed to him in the three local government areas of Mbaise were unlawful votes as a result of over – voting. The major legal challenge faced by the Ararume case is how he would establish the volume of irregularities and malpractices pleaded. Just as stated in the judgment of the court of appeal in the presidential election tribunal between Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari, a petitioner who raises or predicates his case on irregularities, corrupt practices and other forms of electoral malpractices must call unit by unit evidence of those that witnessed the said malpractices at the units.

The broad allegations of irregularities and malpractices pleaded by Ararume in his position, needs proof beyond reasonable doubt since they are mainly of a criminal nature. It is therefore doubtful whether the tribunal would be satisfied with the evidence called at the tribunal by Senator Ararume, in proof of his case. His failure to prove these irregularities, corrupt practices and malpractices pleaded in the petition beyond reasonable doubt would definitely not affect the case presented by Uzodimma at the trial.

If however, he is able to establish that the election was marred by irregularities and electoral malpractices, It would be difficult for Uzodimma to convince the tribunal to award him victory in the face of those irregularities and malpractices proved.

In summary, however, it is clear that Uzodimma appears to have technically and tactfully presented a case that is devoid of the heavy burden of electoral proof of irregularities and malpractices. By not alleging irregularities and malpractices , he technically ran away from the burden of proving his case beyond reasonable doubt.

His allegation of exclusion of the result of 388 units, only requires proof on a balance of probabilities. He does not have the heavy burden of proving occurrences or electoral malpractices that would require proof beyond reasonable doubt and calling of unit witnesses. His main complain just like the case of Jim Nwobodo vs Onoh and the case of Ajasin vs Omohoriowo, is that the lawful votes secured by him were excluded during collation by the INEC collation officers and improperly procured by Ihedioha and INEC.

Unfortunately, neither INEC nor Ihedioha called any evidence of collation officers of INEC or PDP collation agents’ witnesses in rebuttal of this grave allegation. The only four witnesses called by Ihedioha were unit witnesses from one local government area, Isu, in proof of the holding of election and collection of copies of result by agents present at the end of election, a fact agreed to by both parties.

On the whole, it is the tribunal that would determine the matter on the evidential weight of the case presented by the parties at the tribunal. But going by the evidence called and documents tendered during the trial, it is clear to the ordinary observer at the trial that Uzodimma, appears to have done a better job in proof of his allegations. This is however subject to the superior opinion of the judges who have the final say on the matter.

 

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