The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Friday, nullified the election of Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West.
The Kogi National Assembly Assembly Election Tribunal had on August 23 sacked Melaye, who contested the February 23 National Assembly election on the platform of the Peoples Demicratic Party (PDP), while declaring his challenger, Smart Adeyemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), winner.
Melaye was declared winner of the February 23 election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Dissatisfied by the declaration, Adeyemi, approached the tribunal to challenge Melaye’s victory, citing irregularities over-voting and non compliance with the electoral acts.
The three man tribunal led by Justice A. O. Chijioke in a unanimous judgment accepted Adeyemi’s ground and ordered for another election into the senatorial axis.
But Melaye lodged appeal at the appellate court, citing miscarriage of justice in the tribunal’s verdict.
After submissions by the parties, the Appeal Court had on September 24 reserved judgment in the three separate appeals filed by Melaye, PDP and INEC.
The three appeals prayed the appellate court to set aside the majority decision of the tribunal which voided the election of Melaye.
The PDP, represented by Jubrin Okutepa (SAN), in his final argument had prayed the Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya-led panel to set aside the majority decision of the tribunal against Melaye on the ground of denial of fair hearing and refusal to evaluate the evidence adduced during the hearing.
The party claimed that the tribunal failed to evaluate the testimonies of its witnesses while no reference was made to all the documentary evidence it supplied before the tribunal came to a wrong conclusion of over-voting, even when the petitioner did not tender voter register.
In the second appeal filed by INEC, through its lawyer, Kola Olowookere, the Appeal Court was urged to dismiss the allegation of mutilation of the election result and favouring a particular candidate as alleged by the petitioner, Smart Adeyemi and the APC.
The electoral body argued that the claim of over-voting by the tribunal was wrong and baseless because the voter register and result of the election in 2015 tallied with the result in the disputed area.
INEC 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.
The third appeal filed by Melaye and argued by Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), 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’ results
The counsel called 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.
Melaye’s counsel 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.
However, in a judgment delivered Friday the appelate court agreed with the lower tribunal which ordered INEC to conduct fresh election in the senatorial district, adding the lower court was right to have nullufied the election of Melaye on the ground of over voting, mutilation of election result, among other irregularities.