The Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Thursday, affirmed the electoral victories of the governors of Nasarawa and Gombe states, Abdullahi Sule and Inuwa Yahaya, respectively.
Both governors were elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had declared both governors winners of the March 18 governorship elections in their respective states.
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party challenged their election at the tribunal.
In the case of Sule, the tribunal, led by Justice Ezekiel Ajayi, in a two-one split judgment, nullified his election and instead declared David Ombugadu of the PDP as the winner of the poll.
But in Gombe, the tribunal upheld Yahaya’s election, dismissing the petition filed by Jibrin Barde of the PDP.
Displeased with his sacking by the tribunal, Sule of Nasarawa had approached the Court of Appeal, which, in its judgment on Thursday, restored his victory.
Justice Uchechukwu Onuemenam, who read the appellate court’s lead judgment in the Nasarawa case, nullified the evidence of eight witnesses presented by Ombugadu, which the tribunal relied on to sack Sule.
Justice Onuemenam said the evidence could not be admitted because the statements of the witnesses were not frontloaded or filed out of time.
Quoting Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 132(7) of the Electoral Act 2022, the judge said written statements on oath must be filed alongside the petition, within the simulated time.
“Where a trial court admitted and acted on illegally inadmissible evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to ensure that such illegally inadmissible evidence is expunged,” she held.
According to her, the remaining statements and evidence from PW1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 22 cannot sustain the judgment of the tribunal.
Also, the court ruled that the tribunal was wrong to have deducted a total of 1,868 votes from Sule’s score based on the allegation of over-voting in four polling units.
“A party alleging over-voting must present voter registers in the affected polling units, BVAS machine, and Form EC8. The petitioners merely dumped their evidence on the tribunal without showing how over-voting occurred,” she said.
The appellate court also faulted the decision of the tribunal in summarily dismissing evidence and testimonies of RW 1 to 22 called by Sule.
She said, “It is perverse, and as the tribunal did not give reasons for its findings. A court must give reasons of fact for arriving at its findings. I resolve the issue in favour of the appellant.”
Furthermore, Justice Onuemenam held that the tribunal acted wrongly when it recomputed votes and made the declaration that returned the PDP candidate as the winner of the election.
“The appeal has merit and succeeds. It is hereby allowed; the tribunal judgment is dismissed. I set aside the majority order of the tribunal, “ Justice Onuemenam held.
In the case of case of Gombe, a three-man panel headed by Justice S.B. Belgore, upheld the verdict of the tribunal, which earlier affirmed Yahaya’s election.
Justice T. N. Orji-Abadua, who read the lead judgment declared that the appeal filed by Barde of the PDP lacked merit.
“All the issues are resolved in favour of the respondent and against the appellant. No order as to cost. The judgment of the lower tribunal is hereby affirmed,” Justice Orji-Abadua held.
Meanwhile, the PDP has vowed to challenge Sule’s victory at the Supreme Court.
The Chairman of PDP in Nasarawa State, Francis Orogu, in an interview with The PUNCH on Thursday in Lafia, said, “We are left with no choice than to do the needful. As far as I am concerned, we are taking the matter forward to the Supreme Court because we have seen some signs of injustice.
“The only option we have now is to appeal the case at the Supreme Court, and we hope and believe that with the overwhelming evidence we have, anybody that wants democracy to prosper in Nigeria will take our case more seriously than what the Appeal Court judges did.
“It is really unfortunate that we had to witness what we never imagined. Everybody knows that Nasarawa State’s case is unique. We had all the documents we needed, so for anybody to come and hide under any form of technicalities makes it a sad situation.”