The battle for Akwa Ibom governorship seat between Governor Udom Emmanuel and Umana Umana, the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the April 11, 2015 gubernatorial election in the state has now shifted to the Court of Appeal, as Umana and APC have challenged the recent judgment of the State Governorship Election Petition tribunal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
The Street Journal recalls that the tribunal had in its judgment delivered on October 21 nullified the elections held in 18 out of the 31 local government areas of the state and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a re-run in the affected areas.
The appellants, in their notices of appeal, faulted the tribunal judgment on the grounds of “miscarriage of justice and alleged turning upside down of the head of the natural justice.”
They, therefore prayed the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the tribunal, which validated the results of elections held in 13 local government areas of the state.
Umana and APC urged the Court of Appeal court to nullify the entire Governorship Election conducted in the state on April 11, 2015, arguing that there was widespread non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 and voter guidelines of INEC, in the conduct of the election.
Specifically, they prayed the appellate court to remove the governor from office and a fresh Governorship election be conducted throughout the state.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, the appellants’ counsel, who filed the appeal on his clients’ behalf, submitted 26 grounds of appeal.
Olanipekun joined the governor Udom, PDP, INEC, and its Resident Electoral Commissioner, Akwa Ibom State, as well as the Nigeria Police Force, as Respondents.
The appellants claimed that the tribunal misdirected itself in law by holding that non-compliance resulting in the nullification of the election in the said 18 Local Government Areas was not substantial to invalidate the entire election, thus leading to its ordering a re-run election in the said 18 Local Government.
They also claimed that by nullifying elections in 18 out of 31 local government areas, section 179(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which deems a candidate to the office of the governor to be duly elected if he has not less than one quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of the local government areas has been breached.
According to them, two-thirds of the 31 local government areas in Akwa Ibom was 21 and that the tribunal failed to apply the mandatory provision of the constitution by its failure to nullify the election of Governor Udom.
They contended that in the circumstances of their petition, the tribunal has no discretion to exercise other than nullification of the entire election in Akwa Ibom State.
Appellants also faulted the decision of the tribunal that they did not contradict evidence on the use of incident forms when the card readers failed adding that it was their case from the onset, that the incidents forms were not used at the elections.
They also contended that the tribunal erred in law when it admitted non-ticking of voters register during the election but held that such failure was not heavy enough to invalidate election of the entire state.
Citing section 49(2) of the Electoral Act 2010, the appellants insisted that the Electoral Act makes the ticking of voters register during election mandatory while paragraph 11(c) of the INEC guidelines also mandated that the name of any voter who has voted shall be ticked on the voter register.
On the rejection of the forensic analysis of ballot papers and other election materials by the tribunal on the ground that the witnesses were not experts, the appellants faulted the rejection in its entirely on the grounds that the tribunal misdirected itself on points of laws.
The appellants further argued that the witnesses who analyzed the ballot papers and election materials did not say that they were not experts and that a witness does not need to call himself an expert in the witness box before his analysis could be relied upon. especially when the professional qualification and experience of the witnesses are not in dispute.
Umana and APC further contended that Sections 67 and 68 of the Evidence Act did not prescribe any standard or the type of standard anticipated by the tribunal.