From: Uche Nnorom, Makurdi
The governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital yesterday reserved judgment in the petition instituted by Emmanuel Jime of All Progressive Congress challenging Independent National Electoral Commission for returning Samuel Ortom as winner of the 2019 Benue governorship election.
When the petition came up for adoption of final written address, lead counsel to Ortom, Sabastine Hon (SAN), urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost, saying it ought not to have been fielded.
Hon submitted that the petition is “bedeviled and riddled with fundamental errors that no reasonable tribunal will grant any relief to it, adding that It is self contradictory in many respect in terms of the figures and scores of the candidates as well as to the evidence led.”
He contended that Jime, who contested the 2019 Benue Governorship election is different from the one that instituted the petition, observing that there are variations in the scores at the poll and those complained of in the petition.
Hon also, noted that in paragraph 5.06, page 37 of their final written address, the petitioners admitted that there were errors in the petition, stressing that there are over 50 errors in the summary of result forms tended by the petitioners. He insisted that the law is settled that a mistake that is not corrected is fatal.
Lead counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC Offiong Offiong submitted that contrary to argument by Jime’s counsel that only minimal prove rather than balance of probability is required, the petitioners must prove their case on the balance of probability and not on minimal prove. He cited the authority of Ucha Vs Elechi 2012 13 Nigeria Weekly Law Report.
Offiong SAN further submitted that the law remains that to prove non substantial compliance, a petitioner must do so polling unit by polling unit, ward by ward and concluded that the petitioners did not meet that standard.
The INEC counsel argued that even if the votes in the 31 polling units, to which the petitioners called polling unit agents as witnesses are cancelled, it will not come anywhere near to cancel the over 80, 000 margin of lead with which INEC declared Ortom as winner of the poll.
Offiong concluded that averred that the onus on the petitioners to prove non compliance is an uphill task with difficult legal requirements and procedure.
Chief Chris Uche SAN, lead counsel to Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP faulted the petition as been founded upon misconception of well established principles of electoral jurisprudence.
On the use of card reader, Chief Uche opined that smart card reader was introduced only for authentication of voters card (PVC), not as a method of proving over voting.
According to him, the card reader report tendered by the petitioners was only dumped on the Tribunal and no attempt was made to link it to any particular piece of evidence.
Finally, it was the submission of the learned silk that the petitioners have not demonstrated non substantial compliance and urged the Tribunal “to hold that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and dismiss the petition with substantial cost because it fails on all ramifications.”
However, counsel to Emmanuel Jime, Yusuf Ali SAN, prayed the tribunal to uphold the petition and nullify the election of Ortom and declare Jime and APC as the rightful persons to be given the Certificate of Return as winner of the 2019 Benue Governorship election.
He told the tribunal that Ortom’s lawyers misconstrued the tables and the figures in the petitioners’ final written address.
“He (Hon SAN) seems to have forgotten that the contention in the petition is the incorrect figures recorded by INEC in Forms EC8A and the petitioners cannot rely on same. Where the tribunal finds that unlawful votes are credited to any of the parties, it has the powers under the law to nullify such votes.
“INEC did not follow the steps for the conduct of 2019 election and failure to adduce evidence has made INEC’s case worse,” Ali SAN submitted, adding, that “they have admitted all the acts of infractions pleaded and testified in the petition.”
On the issue of calling evidence polling unit by polling unit, the petitioners’ lead counsel submitted that it is only when it has to do with violence, ballot snatching that a party is required to call witnesses who “see and not like in this (Jime’s) case,” where the main complaint is non compliance that can be shown by documents.
After hearing the respective counsel for the parties, Chairman of the Tribunal Honourable Justice Henry Olusiyi held that judgment in the petition is reserved to a date which shall be duly communicated to parties.
Governor Samuel Ortom and the APC candidate Emmanuel Jime represented by Sam Ode, Jime’s Deputy told reporters that they are confident of victory.