Supreme Court delivers judgment on Benue gov appeal today
The Supreme Court says it will on Tuesday deliver judgment on the dispute over the outcome of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Benue State.
Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, who led a seven-man bench of the apex court, said this at the end of the hearing of the appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress and its governorship candidate, Emmanuel Jime, challenging Governor Samuel Ortom’s victory at the poll.
“The judgment will be delivered later today,” Justice Rhodes-Vivour said as panel rose and receded to chambers at the end of the Tuesday’s hearing.
Arguing his clients’ appeal on Tuesday, Yusuf Ali, SAN, urged the apex court to nullify Ortom’s election.
Ali noted that the disparity between the number of accredited voters recorded by the smart card reader machines used for the conduct of the election and the number of votes recorded had rendered the election invalid.
“There must be an agreement between the number of accredited voters and the total votes,” he said.
He added that dismissing his clients’ appeal would imply that funds spent on putting the card reader system in place were in vain.
He also argued that contrary to the belief of the respondents to the appeal, his clients were not required to call witnesses from each of the disputed polling units because their case was not built on allegations of violence which would require eyewitnesses to testify about.
He said, “When the allegation is that election results are either not properly accounted for or not properly collated, it is not required that witnesses would be called from each polling unit.”
Lawyers representing the respondents to the appeal; the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ortom and his party and the Peoples Democratic Party, urged the court to dismiss the appeal which they said was bereft of any evidence.
INEC’s lawyer, Uyi Igunma, argued that the appellants’ arguments were diversionary.
He added, “The peculiar fact of this appeal is that the appellants have no evidence either oral or documentary that they can rely on.
“It is admitted by them in their appellants’ brief that the tribunal had ruled that 59 of their witnesses were unreliable and that their documents were dumped.
“The appellants relied heavily on the smart card reader report. But that reader report was not legally before the court.
“The issue of card reader has been settled by the tribunal when they did not even raise it at the court of appeal. From whichever angle we look at it, there is no evidence to support this appeal.”
He said the appellants only called 59 witnesses when they complained about the results from 626 polling units.
He added, “Even if the totality of their witnesses were to be believed they are insufficient to prove the allegations in the petition.
“It still will not substantially affect the results of the election. It is merely academic.”
Furthermore, Ortom’s lawyer, Sebastine Hon, also argued that the appellants’ case was lacking in evidence, as the card reader report which they relied on was struck out by the tribunal.
Hon said, “The appeal is overwhelmingly dependent on the card reader. The appellants’ case swims and sinks with the card reader.
“However, the tribunal struck out the evidence of P59 through whom they tendered the card reader report.
“Appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal against that ruling but they willingly withdrew it and it was dismissed.
“Despite that, appellants have argued issues 1, 2 and 4 on the card reader. This is a gross abuse of the court process. We urge your lordship to terminate that abuse.
“Since issues 1, 2 and 4 are struck out their remaining issue 3 is so lean that it cannot sustain the appeal.
“There are material contradictions between their pleadings and results declared. Once you fail to reproduce the results raw, the petition is gone.
“Figures in the petition are self-contradictory in all respects from tribunal to the Supreme Court.
“Fundamentally, they are seeking to overturn concurrent findings of fact, but they made no reference to evidence.
“The concurrent findings of the court are as Rock of Gibraltar. ”
Also, PDP’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, also urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal “and uphold the concurrent decisions of the Court of Appeal and the tribunal in holding that the second respondent, Samuel Orton was duly elected and validly returned as the winner of the governorship election”.
He added that “the appellants’ case suffered from acute evidential deficiency both in quality and quantity”.
Uche also said, “the appellants failed to show any perversity whatsoever in the findings of the Court of Appeal and the tribunal”.
He also said the INEC’s introduction of card reader “has not changed section 49 of Electoral Act which deals with accreditation or section 53 which deals with over-voting”.
He added, “The barometer for adjudging over voting still remains the card reader. Even the amendment of section 52 of the Electoral Act did not have anything to do with accreditation.”