The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the verdict of the Court of Appeal which ruled in favour of the election of Dr Olusegun Mimiko as the validly elected Governor of Ondo State. The ruling was a unanimous decision of the justices, including Sylvester Ngwuta, Mary Peter-Odili, Tanko Mohammed, Fabiyi and Alagoa.
After the election on October 20, 2012, two of the Governor’s opponents, Chiefs Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and Olusola Oke of the Action Congress of Nigeria and Peoples Democratic Party respectively had challenged the election that produced Mimiko. After the Tribunal had ruled in Mimiko’s favour, both went on to the Court of Appeal and on to the Supreme Court after the Appellate Court had upheld the Tribunal’s verdict.
An idea of where the pendulum would swing came during the hearing on Tuesday as the court struck out the name of the Action Congress of Nigeria from the appeal filed by Chief Akeredolu. This was as a result of the argument posed by the respondents that the Action Congress of Nigeria was dead as the party has ceased to exist.
Among the thirteen grounds on which Akeredolu appealed against the verdict included that the appellate court justices erred in law when they held that the appellant failed to prove how non-compliance of voters register for the election with Electoral Act substantially affected the result of the election.
Akeredolu averred that the finding that the voters register used for the election did not comply with the statutory requirement render unnecessary any proof of how the non-compliance substantially affected the result of the election.
It was also contained in his application that the effect of the said ruling before the court of Appeal is that there is no valid voters register for election. The Appellants noted that there were sufficient proofs before the court to show that the non-compliance affected the result of the election.
Akeredolu had also challenged the ruling on the grounds that noted that the Appellate Court Justice erred in law when they ruled that the Appellants did not show how the judgment appealed and had occasioned substantial or miscarriage of justice when the Appellate Court found many miscarriage of justice and injustice suffered by the Appellants which made the Tribunal to dismiss their petition.
Akeredolu’s petition also had it that the lower court found that the voters register used for the election did not comply with the mandatory requirement of the Electoral Act.
He thus prayed the Supreme Court to nullify the governorship election and order a fresh election based on a valid register of voters
While reading the lead judgment on the appeal on Thursday, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta noted that one of the grounds in the application was whether the evidence provided by a Prosecution Witness PW 35 was credible. The judge observed that since the said PW 35 was hired for a fee, it would be unsafe to admit such evidence as credible.
He also noted that the appellant failed to establish non-compliance with the Electoral Act as alleged in his application.
Justice Ngwuta also noted that findings of facts showed that evidences provided by PW 34 and PW 35 are irreconcilable. He later pointed out that of the 13 issues brought before the court by Akeredolu, only 2 were valid. On the ground of the Tribunal’s declination on the evidence related to injection of names into the Voters’ Register, he noted that the Tribunal found that PW 34 and PW 35 were hired and not only were they hired, they were found to be full of errors. He said the evidence was unreliable and incapable of proof.
Ruling on the issue of injection of names, as concerning the allegation that the 1st and 3rd respondents connived secretly to make a voters register by the prosecution, Justice Ngwuta noted that “it cannot be determined who injected the names or who connived to inject.” He went further to state that “since the injection was based on Kaadi Igbe Ayo, the register could have been provided”.
The Judge noted that injection of names into the voters’ register is a criminal offence and as such, it should be proved.
The judge also observed that if it was proved that each of the 100, 000 voters that were injected voted and did so in favour of the appellant, adding that to his total of 143, 512 votes, he wouldn’t match the 260, 199 votes recorded by the 1st Respondent.
Justice Ngwuta was also of the opinion that “the appellant’s case rested largely on PW 34 nad PW 35 which the lower court say is bereft of expertise on the issue”. Speaking further, he said when such happens, “the court has a duty to treat the evidence with disdain”. He therefore ruled that “each of the 2 surviving issues lack merit” as he ruled in favour of the 1st Respondent. The cross-appeal filed by the 1st Respondent was also dismissed, with each party bearing its own cost. All the other 6 judges agreed with the judgment.
On the appeal filed by Olusola Oke of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Justice Mary Peter-Odili who read the lead judgment noted that Oke had approached the Court of Appeal that he should be declared winner or another election should be ordered. Justice Odili observed that Oke had 7 grounds of appeal including whether the Court of Appeal was not in error by ruling that the injection into the voters’ register and the non-display of the same was not enough non-compliance with the Electoral Act. Another ground was whether the Court of Appeal was correct in upholding the 1st Respondent’s election despite the non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
All the issues were resolved in favour of the 1st Respondent as the court ruled that “PW 5 could not have been everywhere and the witness’ evidence was based on hearsay.” The issue was therefore dismissed for lack of merit. While all the remaining 6 justices agreed, Justice Ngwuta pointed out that “the register was not produced and they (appellants) failed to show how the injection affected the election. They also failed to prove whether the people whose names were injected actually voted.”
I his reaction, the Ondo State Governor Dr Olusegun Mimiko who addressed supporters at the Democracy Park, Akure said “I told God this morning to reward me according to my service to the people of Ondo State and he gave me victory. I thank the Vhief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alooma Mukhtar for bringing the justices out of their vacation to come and deliver judgment.” Speaking further, the Governor said “it would have been another story from the opposition if the judgment had been delayed till September.”
Speaking after the verdict, the Ondo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede said everyone who has been involved in the contention and agitation knows this is the terminus. He thereafter commended the judges for breaking their vacation to hear the appeals as filed by the applicants. Her also said it is good they did, “so that from now on, every man should keep his peace’.