The Anambra South senatorial district election in Anambra State remains one of the most contested National Assembly polls in the last February 23, 2019 general elections. A significant factor that made the exercise interesting was that it was a battle among brothers: Ifeanyi Ubah of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Andy Ubah of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Chris Ubah of the Peoples’
Another factor that made the election fascinating was that it saw the defeat of big political parties such as the APC and PDP by a relatively unknown YPP.
Ifeanyi, of course, had the backing of the electorate, who, despite the federal might of the ruling APC and the influence wielded by the major opposition PDP, voted for the candidate of their choice.
The election was not just a battle fought, won and lost at the polls, it took several months before the Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Awka could validate the victory of YPP and its candidate, Ubah.
The chairman of Capital Oil and Gas emerged the first elected senator for YPP in Nigeria as he defeated his brothers, Andy and Chris, with 87, 081 votes. Chris of the PDP and younger brother of the former senator, Andy, got 62,462 votes. Chief Nicholas Ukachukwu, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) polled 51,269 votes while Andy of APC got 13,245 votes.
However, Andy, the petitioner, asked the tribunal to nullify YPP’s victory on the grounds that there were alleged irregularities in the conduct of the election. He also alleged lack of accreditation with the card readers among other election malpractices, and therefore, prayed the tribunal to nullify the election.
He prayed the court to order another election within 21 days from the date of the judgment and further order that the first respondent should not participate in the subsequent election on grounds of non-compliance.
Aside Ifeanyi Ubah, other respondents were the Returning Officer, Anambra South Senatorial District Election, the Residential Electoral Commissioner (REC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the second to fourth respondents respectively.
But in the judgment, the three-man panel, Justice Okara Ebimie Thelma, Justice Sunday Olorundahunsi and Justice Ngele Gibert Alo, in their unanimous decision, dismissed the petition against the respondents and upheld the election.
The judges held that the petitioner failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt, saying, “The petitioner, instead of focusing his pleadings and evidence on consideration of excess votes in relation to registered votes, focused same excess votes in relation to the number of accredited votes with card reader. This is against the provision of section 53 (2) of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.
“All the ward collation /supervisory agents that testified in this petition did not give direct evidence of what transpired in the polling units, rather they relied on information/report submitted to them by their polling agents, which were not even tendered in evidence.”
Justice Alo, who read the judgment, posited that out of 19 witnesses who testified for the petitioner, only five witnesses were polling unit agents for APC who gave evidence on what transpired in their polling units but their testimonies were proved invalid under cross examination.
The tribunal had, therefore, attached very lightweight to their testimonies only to the fact that they were within the senatorial district on the day of election.
“The evidence of pw2, pw3, pw4, pw5, pw6, pw7, pw11, pw12, pw13, pw15 and pw18, who were ward collation/supervisory agents, cannot be reliable as the evidence of the polling unit agents who were eyewitnesses of all fact in their deposition. Having admitted under cross examination they were not at the unit at the same time as they were moving round from one polling unit to the other. We, therefore, attached probative value to their testimonies as roving agents,” he said.
The court further held that the petitioner’s witnesses (pw8 and pw9) could not substantiate the allegation made in their deposition, which were also badly discredited under cross-examination.
Their reference to voters’ reward voucher was vague, unsubstantiated and not linked to the first respondent (Ifeanyi Ubah).
On the issue of cancellations and mutilation of results as alleged by the petitioner, the tribunal found that there was no valid evidence that the second respondent declared the election inconclusive.
The gravamen of the petitioner’s case is that the final result of the election was announced before the result of seven local government areas that make up the senatorial district had been added up or collated, and that the Returning Officer and 2nd respondent was coerced to announce the result by the 1st respondent even when he had earlier declared the said election inconclusive.
But the tribunal stated in its judgment that: “We had gone through the records in this petition and there is no valid evidence that the election was declared inconclusive by the 2nd respondent who signed Exh1p- EC8E (1) 01. And Exh 1R- EC8E (1) 01 being declaration of the result sheet for the senatorial district, which showed that the election was concluded and 1st respondent was declared as the winner thereof.
“Therefore, section 27 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended was duly complied with by the 2nd to 4th respondent in the declaration of 1st respondent as the winner of the election. The petitioner laboured so much to link the 1st respondent or authorises by him with the electoral offences complained of in the petition.
“In an attempt to unravel the allegation of electoral misconduct by 1st respondent at Nnewi North Local Government headquarters, we had recourse to Exh 1p- EC8E (i) 01 which is the result collated at the said senatorial collation centre as the final result to find out whether there were mutilations, alterations or cancellation.
“We observed that the said exhibit was without blemish, no alteration, cancellation and no mutilation. The said exhibit was signed by one Prof. Meshack N. Umenweke, the second respondent and the senatorial returning officer.”
The court held that upon thorough examination of exhibits, there were no cancellation or alterations. “All documents were tendered by the petitioner.”
Also, on the issue of assault, the court held that: “In the like manner, the alleged victims of the assault are two police officer, CSP Nurudeen Yusuf and SP Pemi Ogokimi who are still alive. The returning officer is also alive. None of these people were called as a witness by the petitioner to corroborate the alleged assault and forced declaration respectively. We therefore hold that the petitioner did not call necessary witness to prove his case.”
The court further said that the CTC of letter written by the 2nd respondent to 3rd respondent tendered by 2nd to 4th respondents and marked as exhibit 2R 01, 2R 02 and 2R 03, which the petitioner misunderstood the content did not help his case.
“There is, in law, a rebuttable presumption that the result of any election declared by INEC is correct and authentic and the onus is on the person who denies its correctness and authenticity, like in the instant case, to rebut the presumption. Where such denial is based on allegation of crime against officials responsible for the declaration of the results, the rebuttal must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. See section 168 (1) of the Evidence Act and the case of antiquity with Udeagha v. Omegala (2010) 11 NWLR (pt .204 164 168 at 209- 210 and Nwobodo v. Onoh (1984) nscc Vol. 15) 1 at 20.
After the plethora of authorities, the court said, “It is trite that once election results have been declared by the returning officer, it is only subject to review by the election tribunal only where sufficient material/evidence are placed before the Tribunal. In the instant case, we have not seen the compelling evidence that will sway our inclination to the tacit position of the law and we so hold.
“On the whole, we hold that the petitioner has not by credible evidence proved his case and has failed to show that he is entitled to his reliefs. Consequently, the petition is hereby dismissed. The return of the first respondent, Ifeanyi Ubah, is hereby upheld.”