Senator Dino Melaye and his political kinsman, Senator Smart Adeyemi, are to going to slug it out, again, for the Kogi West Senatorial District seat following the nullification of Melaye’s election by the Appeal Court on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it will explore the possibility of using the Nov.16 governorship election to conduct a fresh election for the Kogi West Senatorial district.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara States, Alhaji Mohammed Haruna, disclosed this in Lokoja on Friday.
Embattled Melaye had earlier lost at the Kogi State National Assembly Election Tribunal, but proceeded to the Court of Appeal, which ordered a fresh election.
A three man panel of the appellate court in its judgment on Friday upheld the decision of the Kogi State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal which nullified the election of Melaye on account of manifest electoral malpractices.
Melaye had approached the Court of Appeal praying it to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal which nullified his victory in the February 23 senatorial election and ordered for a fresh election within 90 days.
He therefore asked the appellate court to set aside the tribunal’s judgment and uphold his election as Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District.
In the unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, the appellate court held that the election was invalid due to fundamental error by INEC which in the result sheets fixed February 25 as date the senatorial election was conducted rather than February 23 the actual date the election held.
Melaye through his lawyer Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), had 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 and voters register.
The senior counsel, 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.
Ikpeazu further submitted that mutilation of result sheet was untenable because the final result of the 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.
Similarly, the other appellants PDP and INEC had urged the court to set aside the majority judgment on the grounds that they were denied fair hearing and were not allowed to evaluate evidence adduced during the hearing.
According to the PDP, the tribunal erred in law when it based its claim of over-voting on the number of collected permanent voter cards rather than voter register as required by law.
On its part, the electoral body argued that The 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 did not evaluate the exhibits it tendered to prove that there was no over-voting and pleaded that appeal be allowed.
However, Senator Adeyemi and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in their response pleaded with the appellate court to dismiss the three appeals because the appellants 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 breached an order of the Federal High Court which ordered that the senatorial election result must be collated and announced in Kabba, the senatorial district headquarters and not in Lokoja as done by the electoral body.
They 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 Court of Appeal to dismiss the appeal and uphold the majority decision of the tribunal.
The tribunal had on August 23 nullified the election of Melaye on grounds of electoral malpractices and ordered a fresh election within 90 days.
Reacting on Twitter, Melaye said: “I just lost my election at the Appeal Court and fresh election ordered. In all things,I give God the praise. He who started the good thing will definitely complete it. I ask my supporters to be law-abiding as we shall always overcome. To God be the Glory.”
Fielding questions from newsmen on the Court Appeal judgment nullifying the election of Sen. Dino Melaye, INEC chief, Mohammed Haruna said that since the governorship election was still 34 days away, there was possibility for the election to hold same day.
The INEC national commissioner was in Lokoja for a workshop on fake news organised for media executives, journalists and bloggers by the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) in collaboration with INEC.