In a ruling that lasted for more than four hours amid anxiety and tension, the three-man panel headed by Justice A.M Yakubu dismissed the petitions of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Obong Nsima Ekere and his party for lack of merit.
The petitioners, Ekere and the APC had, on the May 29, 2019 filed a petition challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s declaration of Emmanuel as winner of the March 9 governorship elections
The Petitioners approached the tribunal with the argument that the election was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2015.
They also alleged that the 1st Respondent, Mr. Udom Emmanuel was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
In their Petition, the petitioners prayed for the following reliefs;
1) That it may be determined and declared that the 1st Respondent, Mr Udom Emmanuel did not secure and could not have secured the majority of lawful votes cast at the elections;
2) That it may be determined and declared that the election was void and invalid due to non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2015 (sic);
3) That it may be determined and declared that the election being invalid by reason of non-compliance was null and void;
4) That it be determined and ordered a fresh election for the office of the Governor in Akwa Ibom state, except in Etim Ekpo and Essien Udim where Elections were held in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act, 2015 (sic).
Reading the over 590 paged judgement, the Tribunal first noted that the Petitioners failed to call witnesses in eight (8) local government areas out of the twenty one (21) local government areas where they claimed to have won.
Consequently, the court discountenanced every documentary evidence “dumped on the court” as regards the petitioners complaints from those Local Governments which included Abak, Eastern Obolo, Ika, Eket, Mbo Mkpat Enin et al. Citing the supreme Court case of Nweke v INEC, the court noted that documentary evidence however daring cannot be thrown on the Tribunal without oral evidence linking the documents to the issues in the case (petition).
The court in her ruling adopted the two issues formulated by the Petitioners for the Determination of the suit. The issues as adopted were:
i) Whether in the light of issues joined, the March 9 Elections were not held in non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2010;
ii) Whether the non-compliance as established in evidence are not substantial to affect the general outcome of the election and thus justify a cancellation of the entire elections
The court then proceeded to appraise the evidence of all parties at the Tribunal and in their considered ruling held, inter alia;
1) That the Petitioners having abandoned their prayers where they claimed ab initio that the first Petitoner, Obong Nsima Ekere was the winner of the elections, all the evidence given in effort to substantiate the said ground is expunged from the considerations of the court in the judgement;
2) That the Petitioners having abandoned their prayers hinged on the ground that there were corrupt practices in the conduct of the elections, all the evidence given in effort to substantiate the said ground was also expunged from the considerations of the court in the judgement;
3) The petitioners failed to follow the laid down rules in frontloading and listing all documents they sought to rely on in proof of their Petition “Consequently the efforts and attempt by the petitoners to sandwich-in documents not pleaded nor listed by the petitoners is condemnable.” The court equally noted that the documents were not linked to any parts of the petition and that most of them were mere photocopies of public documents and not the required Certified True Copies of the documents;
4) That the onus is on the Petitioner who alleges irregularities and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 to prove same. That the Petitioner failed woefully in the discharge of such burden;
5) That the Petitioners could neither prove non-compliance nor substantial non-compliance to lead to a cancellation of the elections. For the Petitioner to have complained of non-compliance and irregularities in elections in 799 polling units and only end up calling 43 was grossly inadequate to satisfy the burden of proving non-compliance and irregularities with the provisions of the Electoral Act which requires a unit by unit prove, by law.
6) The Petitioners made several allegations of a criminal nature in their petition. The law is that in such cases, the allegation must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, the Petitioners in this case could not prove anything, the doubts in their allegations still dangling, we resolve those cases in favour of the respondents.
In the end, the three man panel, unanimously upheld the elections of His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel at the March 9, 2019 elections and dismissed the petition of Obong Nsima Ekere and the All Progressives Congress, APC.