By Vivian Okejeme
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, reserved judgment in three separate appeals filed by Senator Dino Melaye, challenging the decision of the National Assembly Petition Tribunal again him.
The three separate appeals were brought by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) and Dino Melaye.
The trio, in the appeal, are praying the appellate court to set aside the majority decision of the tribunal which voided the election and restored the victory of Melaye.
A three-man panel of justices, headed by Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya, after hearing the three appeals, announced that the date for judgement delivery would be communicated to parties.
PDP, represented by Jubrin Okutepa (SAN) in his final argument prayed the appeal court to et aside the majority decision of the tribunal against Melaye on the ground of denial of fear hearing and refusal to evaluate evidence adduced during the hearing.
The party claimed that the tribunal failed to evaluate the testimonies of its witnesses while no reference was made to all the documentary evidence it supplied before the tribunal came to a wrong conclusion of over voting, even when the petitioner did not tender voter register.
PDP further claimed that the tribunal turned the head of natural justice upside down when it based over voting used in cancelling the senatorial election on the number of collected permanent voter cards rather than voter register as required by law.
PDP therefore urged the three-man panel justices to invoke section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act and dismissed the petition for lacking in merit.
In the second appeal filed by INEC, through its lawyer, Kola Olowookere, the Appeal Court was urged to dismiss the allegation of mutilation of election result and favouring a particular candidate as alleged by the petitioner, Senator Smart Adeyemi.
The electoral body argued that finding of over voting by the tribunal was wrong and baseless because the voter register and result of election in 2015 tallied with the result in the disputed area.
The electoral body alleged that the tribunal dir evaluate the exhibits it tendered to prove that there was no over voting and pleaded that appeal be allowed.
In the third appeal filed by Dino Melaye and argued by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), the petitioner urged the Appeal Court to set aside the over voting decision of the tribunal because it was based on hearsay instead of polling units agents’ result.
He drew the attention of the Justices to the fact that only three witnesses were called, adding that the evidence of the three witnesses based on hearsay cannot justify the cancellation of the senatorial election.
Melaye’s counsel further submitted that mutilation of result sheet was untenable because the final result of senatorial election was endorsed by agents of the candidates and the parties, and that the petitioners failed to establish that the alleged mutilated result substantially affected the final result collation.
However, Senator Adeyemi and the All Progressives Congress (APC) pleaded with the appellate court to dismiss the tree petitions because the petitioners were not denied fair hearing and that the tribunal based its findings on over voting on the report of INEC which comprehensively contained the number of collected voter cards unit by unit.
Adeyemi and APC through their counsel, Adekunle Otitoju, argued that INEC bridged an order of the federal high court to the effect that the senatorial election result must collated and announced in Kabba, the senatorial district headquarters and not in Lokoja as done by the electoral body.
The alleged that while their agents were in Kabba waiting for the collation, the INEC officials and agents of the appellants allegedly colluded and secretly moved the result collation to Lokoja where the result sheets were allegedly mutilated to favour Melaye.
They insisted that mutilation of results, dated February 25 instead of February 23, was so apparent and that over voting was so established that the petitioners won with over 48,000 votes.
They therefore urged the Appeal court to dismiss the petition and uphold the majority decision of the tribunal.