The Court of Appeal has declared Mr. Alex Otti, the Governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) winner of the Abia State Governorship election, while nullifying the declaration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner.
In a ruling in Owerri, the Imo State capital, the court upheld the appeal of Otti, a former managing director of Diamond Bank Plc, and ordered his swearing-in as governor.
Otti had previously lost at the state election petitions tribunal in November.
Okezie is expected to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court.
Delivering judgment in an appeal filed by Otti, the five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, said the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu who scored 114, 444 votes.
The court declared that Otti was the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in Abia.
Justice Omoleye said the cancellation of the elections held in three LGAs of Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa by the returning officers after the results were uploaded to INEC was wrong.
“In the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer has the right to only declare results of elections and not to cancel elections.
“This panel discovered that the earlier results uploaded to INEC headquarters correspond with the correct valid registered voters in the three LGAs, while that awarded to the respondent shows over voting and therefore null and void.’’
Justice Omoleye had while reviewing preliminary objections and issues raised by both parties, struck out the preliminary objections by Ikpeazu’s counsel to the effect that the appeal lacked merit.
The court also turned down the objection raised by the PDP that the members of the panel were wrongfully constituted and affirmed the arguments of Otti’s counsel.
The appellate court maintained that the lower tribunal erred by not handling all the issues raised before it on their merit.
“It was wrong for the court below to insist that because the appellant failed to appear in person, his matter will not be given due attention.
“For not appearing in person, the first appellant did not abandon his case,” she said.
The court insisted that there was no need to call for re-run because the results of the April 11 and 25 polls clearly present Mr. Otti as the genuine winner of the exercise.
The court therefore directed INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Mr. Otti and swear him in as winner of the Abia Governorship election.
In his reaction to the judgment, Oracle Nwali, a lawyer in Mr. Otti’s legal team, described the victory as “an end of the year gift to APGA”, saying Mr. Otti would not disappoint Abia people.
On his part, Charles Esonu, the PDP secretary in Abia, said the party and its candidate would study the judgment and decide on the next line of action.
Otti had proceeded to the Court of Appeal after the Abia tribunal gave its judgment on November 3, saying the PDP validly won the election.
In that 85-minute judgment, delivered by its Chairman, Usman Bwala, the tribunal said the petitioners – Mr. Otti and APGA – failed to prove their claim to have won the election ‘’beyond doubt”.
Bwala said the petitioners had, on one hand urged the court to nullify the election on grounds that it was marred by irregularities and massive fraud and on the other hand, sought that they should be declared winners of the same election.
He said the petitioners reckoned with the card reader as a means of accreditation during the election of April 11 but failed to agree with use of voter’s register.
The tribunal further refused to grant the petitioners’ request to uphold the cancellation of the results of the election in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Areas of the state.
Bwala said the State Returning Officer, Benjamin Ozumba, was not allowed under the law, to cancel the said results in the first place, hence the subsequent reversal by him had no effect.
He said the onus lay heavily on the petitioners to prove beyond doubt that they won the election as they claimed in their petition.
The tribunal chairman, therefore, dismissed the petition because of the failure of the petitioners to convince the tribunal beyond doubt that they won the election.
Mr. Otti had urged the tribunal to annul the declaration of Mr. Ikpeazu as governor, saying the election was marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
He, however, urged the tribunal to declare him (Otti) the winner on account of the lawful votes cast during the election.
He also asked the tribunal to uphold Ozumba’s cancellation of the results for Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala-Ngwa North LGAs.
He said that Ozumba, having cancelled the results, did not have the power to cancel the result and reverse himself, adding that only the tribunal had the power to reverse the cancellation.