- Cancelled Votes Not Valid For Senator Udende,
- Evidence For Nullification Grossly Insufficient – Minority Opinion
- Udende Heads To Appeal Court
By Amos Aar
THERE were conflicting judgements on Friday at the National/State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi as the justices delivered majority and minority judgements in the case involving Sen. Gabriel Suswam and Sen. Emmanuel Udende.
Former Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam, who had served at the 9th Senate, is challenging the victory of Emmanuel Udende as senator for Benue North-East on the ground that he (Udende) did not score majority of lawful votes during the 25th February election.
In the majority judgement of the three-man panel of justices, Chairman of the panel, the Honourable Justice Ory Zik-Ikeorha, and one other, held that Senator Suswam and PDP fulfilled the requirements of the law in proving their case of irregularities such as mutilation, non-signing of documents, non-inclusion of lawful votes among others.
In the senatorial election, Udende polled 141,405 votes at the 2023 polls to unseat Suswam, a former Governor, who garnered 103,303 votes.
But in the majority opinion read by Justice Ory Zik-Ikeorha, the court held that votes that were cancelled were not valid for Senator Udende, but were wrongly collated in his favour. According to the justices, the votes should be returned by the third respondent, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the first petitioner, Gabriel Suswam, as the person that was validly elected.
Relying on section 137 of the 1999 constitution, and paragraph 464 of the Electoral Act 2022 and held that since the documents that were tendered were before the court, it was their duty to scrutinise and investigate the documents hence the court declared Suswam winner.
The court therefore ordered that the certificate of return issued to Udende be cancelled and awarded to the rightful winner, Suswam.
However, in the minority judgement, the Honourable Justice Umar Mohammed held that the evidence by Suswam is grossly insufficient to sustain his petition. He therefore, dismissed the petition, awarding the cost of 100,000 naira in favour of each of the respondents against the petitioners.
According to him, ‘irregularities can’t be assumed. The law is that the proper person to give account of the irregularities are polling unit agents as ward agents are not allowed to “give global account” of what happened at polling units.
“By the way, it is the decision of the court that Suswam’s PW9’s statement on oath was not front-loaded alongside the petition and cannot form part of the petition.
“Besides, it is held that the fact that documents are admitted in evidence from the bar does not mean that value be attached to them without putting life in them.
“Having failed to do the needful, I cannot be moved by the petitioners to interrogate their address page by page after failing to breathe life into their documents tendered.
“Evidence of 19 witness who were not party to the malpractices said to have occurred in over 400 polling units cannot substantiate the petition. No magic can be done. Evidence grossly insufficient to sustain the petition. I see no merit in the petition,” Justice Mohammed held.
Reacting to the judgement, Counsel to Emmanuel Udende, Innocent Daagba, said he was not satisfied with the judgement and said he would advise his client to appeal against the judgment.
On his part, lead counsel to Suswam and the PDP, Donald Kertyo, Esq., boasted that they were fully prepared to meet Senator Udende and the APC at the appeal court.
“We are fully prepared. With what has happened today, we are going to stand on this statutory, judicial and other authorities to buttress our points at the appeal. We are going to succeed over there based on the documents that we to presented before the tribunal”, Kertyo said.
In his reaction, Senator Udende said his election would be consolidated at the Court of Appeal.
In a statement, Jerry Iorngaem, Senator Udende’s Special Adviser, media and publicity, drew the attention of constituents to the minority judgement which upheld his election, noting that the court of appeal will validate the judicial pronouncement of the judge.
He said his legal team has concluded preparations to file an appeal and urged for calm as the legal process which he said was part of the democratic process runs its course.
Senator Udende stressed that he won the election with majority of lawful votes cast and fulfilled all other requirements, hence he was declared winner and subsequently inaugurated as member of the red Chambers of the National Assembly to represent the good people of the Benue North East Senatorial District.
He enjoined his constituents not to be shaken by the judgement of the tribunal yesterday as it remains the court of first instance whose judgement was subject to appeal, which he was sure would nullify it and consolidate his victory.
The statement added that Senator Udende also assured that by law, he would remain in the Senate until the conclusion of the legal Process.
Reacting to the judgment in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary Bemgba Iortyom, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP hailed the tribunal for delivering substantial justice in the petition based on the facts and evidence rendered before in line with extant electoral laws, guidelines and regulations, thereby boosting public confidence in the judiciary.
The party said the victory of Senator Suswam serves to heighten the hopes that PDP will likewise reclaim the governorship of the state at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal through the judgement being awaited.
“The party rejoices over the victory won particularly as it re-establishes its dominance in the upper chamber membership composition of the National Assembly in the state with two Senators out of three.
“Furthermore, the party is confident that the former Benue State Governor will deploy his wealth of experience and proven pedigree in the 9th Senate, to get back seamlessly into the business of lawmaking in the 10th Senate for the good of his constituents, the party and Nigeria at large”, the statement read.