By Amos Aar
THE GOVERNORSHIP Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, Benue State, on Saturday upheld the election victory of Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the March 18, 2023 governorship elections.
Hon Titus Uba, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who came second in the election, had approached the tribunal with a petition, Number EPT/BN/Gov/01/2023, praying that that Rev. Fr. Alia and Sam Ode, Benue State governor and deputy governor respectively, were at the time of the election unqualified to contest the election and that the votes scored by the two are wasted votes.
In its judgement, the tribunal dismissed Uba and PDP’s petition for lack of jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Chairman of the three-man panel of justices, Honourable Justice Ibrahim Karaye, who delivered the unanimous judgement held that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to entertain the petition as the matters raised before the tribunal are pre-election issues as captured in section 285 of the Electoral Act.
The tribunal premised its decision on the fact that the petitioner ought to have pursued it’s case of non-qualification and the nomination of Governor Alia by the APC and the allegation of forged certificate and false information on form EC9 against his deputy, Sam Ode, before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), beyond the Federal High Court which dismissed the earlier suit filed by the petitioner to the Court of Appeal and not the tribunal.
Justice Karaye further held that the petitioners’ case was also an abuse of court processes because the same case was filed by the petitioners before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court and its judgment was not challenged by the petitioners.
He also held that the petitioners lacked locus standi to challenge the nomination of the 2nd and 3rd respondents by the 4th respondent (APC) since they were not members of the 4th respondent.
According to Justice Karaye, the petitioners failed to prove their allegations of forgery against the 3rd respondent before the tribunal.
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He said the 2nd and 3rd respondents were qualified to contest the 18th March Governorship Election and therefore, dismissed the case.
The petitioners argued that the second and third respondents, Governor Alia and Deputy Governor Ode, were, at the time of contesting the election, not qualified to contest.
They averred that the APC did not follow the provisions of the law in the nomination of the governorship and deputy governorship candidates.
They also alleged that the 3rd respondent (Ode) had presented a forged certificate to the 1st respondent, INEC, therefore, should be disqualified.
They, therefore, prayed among other things, for the nullification of their election and declaration of the petitioners as winners of the election, having scored second highest lawful votes.
They also contended that having not qualified to contest the election, their votes should be declared invalid and certificates earlier issued to them by INEC be withdrawn.
However, the respondents in their counterarguments, urged the tribunal to dismiss the suit in its entirety as it was an abuse of court processes, adding that the Federal High Court Abuja Division, had, before the election, delivered judgment on the same matter which was filed by the petitioners but they did not appeal the judgment to date.
They also averred that the issues raised were all pre-election matters and only the Federal High Court had the exclusive jurisdiction to entertain same.
The 2nd and 3rd respondents clearly stated that since the prayers sought by the petitioners were all pre-election matters, the petitioners’ case was status bar and should be struck out. They said the petitioners lacked locus standi to challenge the nomination of candidates of other political parties as they were mere meddlesome interlopers.
Okon Efut, SAN, counsel to the petitioners declined interview with journalists after the judgment on the likely next line of action by his clients.
However, reacting to the judgement, Tersoo Kula, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS) said Governor Alia is committed to putting the welfare of the state ahead of himself; noting that the victory was fuelled by the support of the people to whom sovereignty and power truly belong.
He added that the victory is for democracy and the rule of law, as he applauded the court for its determination to be seen as the last hope of the common man by preserving the mandate that the people willingly gave to Governor Alia.
The CPS enjoined the people to be happy because there is no might as powerful enough to truncate their will.