The Kogi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Tuesday dismissed the petition by the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate in the last year’s governorship election in the state, Idris Wada, challenging the election of the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello.
The Justice Halima Mohammed-led three-man panel held in its judgment that the petition jointly filed by Wada, his running mate, Sunday Awoniyi, and their party, the PDP, lacked merit.
The tribunal had earlier in the judgment struck out the petition while upholding the notice of preliminary objection raised by Bello, his party, the All Progressives Congress, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, against the petition, but still went ahead to determine it on its merit.
It held in its pronouncement on the respondents’ preliminary objection that the petitioners lacked locus standi to challenge the nomination of Bello as the APC candidate in the election.
The tribunal held that even if it was wrong to strike out the petition at the preliminary stage, there was no merit in the entire petition supporting its grounds and the prayers sought.
Wada and others had in their petition asked the tribunal to hold that he polled the highest lawful votes in the November 21 election and the December 5, 2015 supplementary election and should be returned as the elected Governor of the state.
The original candidate of the APC in the November 21 election, Abubakar Audu, was already coasting to victory with 240,857 votes as against Wada’s 199,514 votes, when he suddenly died after the poll was declared by INEC as inconclusive.
Wada contended that Bello only polled 6,885 votes in the December 5 supplementary election and could not possibly inherit the 240,857 votes polled by Audu in the November 21 poll.
The petitioners also contended that Bello was not qualified to contest the election on the ground that he went into the election without a running mate, the deputy-governorship candidate who ran with Audu, James Faleke, having allegedly withdrawn his candidacy before the supplementary poll.
They also contended that the election was marred by irregularities in some parts of the states.
They therefore asked the tribunal to hold that having polled a total of 204,867 votes in theNovember 21 and December 5 supplementary poll as against the 6,885 votes polled by Bello in just the supplementary poll, Wada was the validly elected governor of the state.
But the tribunal ruled on the respondents’ preliminary objection and also affirmed in the judgment on the merit of the petition that the nomination and sponsorship of Bello as the governorship candidate of the APC was a domestic affair of the party.
It ruled that neither the petitioners, the tribunal nor any other person who did not participate in the primary of the party had the legal capacity to question the nomination of the party’s candidate.
It ruled that Bello having participated in the August 29, 2015 primary and came out as the first runner-up, with Audu emerging as the APC’s flag bearer, the substitution of Bello with Audu, by the reason of Audu’s death, was valid.
Justice Mohammed also ruled that the votes recorded in the November 21 election belonged to the various political parties “in view of the various authorities of the Supreme Court on who owns votes”.
It added that INEC was right to have collated the 240,857 votes polled by the APC “through the instrumentality of its candidate”, the late Audu, and merged them with the 6,885 votes recorded by the party in the supplementary poll.
The merger of the results brought the total votes recorded by the APC to 247,752.
“It is therefore a fact that the 240,857 votes recorded by Prince Abubakar Audu belonged to the APC,” adding that “the first respondent (Bello) is entitled to benefit from the votes acquired by his party”.
On the issue of Bello’s non-qualification to contest because he had no running mate, the tribunal held that the issue was not part of conditions of qualification to contest as governor under section 177 of the Constitution.
It held that the issue was also not part of conditions of disqualifying a candidate to contest such election under section 182 of the Constitution.
It, in fact, held that Faleke remained the deputy governorship candidate of the APC in the supplementary election as he failed to withdraw his candidacy as spelt out under section 35 of the Electoral Act which required him to give 45 days notice to his party before the election and his party would in turn notify INEC.
It held that the letter he wrote to INEC withdrawing his candidacy as Bello’s running mate was of no effect.
“Therefore the first respondent (Bello) was qualified to contest the election and returned as duly elected,” the tribunal ruled.
On the petitioners’ allegation that the election was conducted in some parts of the state in substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, the tribunal ruled that they failed to adduce evidence to prove it.
It added that the so-called expert witness who testified for the petitioners did not satisfy the conditions of being referred to as an expert witness under the Evidence Act and the exhibits he tendered therefore had no evidential value.
It held that the petitioners failed to prove how the alleged irregularities affected the results declared by INEC.