By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
The legal battle for the Governorship seat of Kogi State came to an end on Monday with the Supreme Court upholding Mr Yahaya Bello as winner of the November 16. 2019 gubernatorial election conducted in the State.
The apex court upheld Bello’s election after dismissing two separate appeals filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate Mr Musa Wada and that of the Social Democratic Party SDP and Mrs Natasha Akpoti challenging the return of Bello as Governor for lacking in merit.
In unanimous judgments read by Justice Musa Uwani Abba-Aji, the Supreme Court held that the cases of the appellants were devoid of merit as they failed to prove allegations made in their separate petitions.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had returned Bello winner of the election having scored majority of votes cast in the election.
However citing alleged non-substantial compliance with the constitution and other electoral laws and malpractices, PDP and SDP had approached the Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to nullify the emergence of Bello as winner of the governorship poll but lost at the tribunal and Appeal Court.
On the PDP, the court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the party and its governorship candidate did not discharge the burden of proof placed on them by the nature of their allegations.
The apex court in the judgment prepared by Justice John Inyang Okoro but read by Justice Musa Uwani Abba-Aji held that, “there was no reason to interfere with the judgments of the Court of Appeal and tribunal”.
Specifically, the court said that PDP and Wada failed to substantiate their allegations of rigging by the failure to call polling agents from polling units as required by law adding that iout of 729 polling agents in seven local governments where results were disputed, the appellants called only 24.
“Let me make it abundantly clear that the election jurisprudence in Nigeria has not changed. He who asserts has a binding duty to prove beyond reasonable doubt”
“In a situation like this petition, polling agents who witnessed the alleged rigging and other malpractices are the appropriate people as witnesses. The failure of the appellants to call the polling agents as witnesses in this matter, is fatal to their case’
The court also held that the allegations of harassment, brutality and intimidation by security personnel could not hold water because non of the security agencies was joined in the petition for defence as demanded by law.
Supreme Court also faulted the statistical analysis of ballot papers by the forensic expert called by PDP and Wada adding that the witness lacked the expertise to do what he did for the appellants.
In all, all the five issues raised by the appellants were resolved against them and the court subsequently dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its governorship candidate, Natasha Akpoti, in addition to claims of electoral irregularities that allegedly marred the election, sought for the disqualification of Bello and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) on grounds of alleged forgery and falsehood by the Deputy Governor, Mr Edward Onoja.
Onoja was accused of giving false information of a fundamental nature as well as forging documents attached to his form CF 001 submitted to INEC in aid of his qualification for the position of deputy governor.
However both election tribunal and the Court of Appeal had in their concurrent decisions dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit, prompting the appellants to approach the Supreme Court to set aside the concurrent judgments that returned Bello as Governor.
However Justice Abba-Aji held that, “there was no reason to interfere with the judgments of the Court of Appeal and tribunal”.
According to the apex court justices the appellants did not provide particulars of forgery to support claim of forgery against the deputy governor.
The apex court further held that there was no evidence of rigging nor evidence that the respondents connived among themselves to rig the election.
On the issue of exclusion, Justice Abba-Aji, noted that the appellants blew hot and cold at the same time when in one breath they alleged that their party logo was not on the ballot papers and in another breath claimed that it was written in long hand.
In dismissing the SDP appeal, the apex court further held that the appellants failed to establish unlawful exclusion from the November 16 poll because it did not tender a single ballot paper used in the election.