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Tribunal turns down petitions seeking disqualification of Taraba lawmakers

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Taraba State National and State House of Assembly Elections Petition Tribunal, sitting in Abuja on Saturday turned down four petitions seeking to disqualify elections into four National Assembly seats from the state.

The three-member tribunal, was led by Justice Eyewumi Oritsejafor.

The tribunal in separate judgments, said that the petitioners failed in attempts to establish their cases against the respondents.

The tribunal also observed some deficient errors committed by lawyers in some of the petitions, among which were failure to pay the mandatory filing fees at the point of submitting the petition and non-inclusion of necessary parties.

Among the four petitions, one was against the senatorial election in Taraba South Senatorial district and three against the House of Representatives elections in Ibi/Wukari; Jalingo/Yorro/Zing and Bali/Gassol Federal Constituencies.

The affected petitions include the one filed by Bauka Ishaya Gamgum of the All Progressives Congress (APC) against the election of Senator Emmanuel Bwacha representing Taraba South Senatorial district on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), marked: EPT/TR/SEN/03/2019, and that filed by Prof Haruna Yakubu of the Action Alliance (AA) against the election of Usman Danjuma Siddi (aka Danji SS) of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for the Ibi/Wukari Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, marked: EPT/TR/HR/01/2019.

The third, marked: EPT/TR/HR/02/2019, was filed by Hassan Bappa of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), against the victory recorded by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Jalingo/ Yorro /Zing Federal Constituency.

The forth petition, marked: EPT/TR/HR/06/2019, was filed by Adamu Maikarfi Tanko of the PDP, against the candidate of the APC in the election in Bali/Gassol Federal Constituency.

The first of the judgements was on the petition by Gamgum, the lead of which was delivered by Justice Oritsejafor, in which he held, among others, that the petitioners failed to prove their claim of over-voting and substantial non-compliance.

Justice Oritsejafor, who noted that the petitioners’ main contention was over-voting, was hinged on their wrong understanding of what over-voting entails.

According to the judge, the provision of Section 53(2) of the Electoral Act, over-voting could only arise where votes cast exceeding the number of registered voters in a particular polling unit.

He faulted the petitioners’ argument that a petitioner can establish over-voting once he/she shows that the total number of votes cast exceed the total number of registered voters, through card reader results.

Justice Orisejafor also faulted the type of witnesses called by the petitioners and held that they failed to call relevant witnesses.

He said “the polling units agents are in vantage position to give direct evidence about what occurred in the polling units in question.

“It is always better to calling officers, who were on ground at the polling units to testify as to what occurred at the polling units where the claim of over voting is concerned.”

Justice Oritsejafor added that the petitioners’ failure to call polling units agents, who were present when the entries in the result sheets were made, as witnesses in their effort to establish their claim of over-voting, was a fatal error.

The judge held that the petitioners failed to prove any of the grounds raised in the petition, and refused to grant the reliefs sought and proceeded to dismiss the petition.

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Earlier, the tribunal upheld the preliminary objection of the 2nd and 3rd. respondents – PDP and Bwacha – on the grounds that the petitioners did not pay the required filing fees as at the point of presenting the petition before the tribunal’s secretary on March 14, 2019.

Other members of the tribunal, Justices Khadi Bello Raha and Fati Takuma agreed with the lead judgment.

Justice Raha read the lead judgments in the other three petitions, in which held that the petitioners failed to prove their cases.

In dismissing the petition by Prof Yakubu and his party, Justice Raha noted that the petitioners were in error in their approach to proving non-accreditation.

Justice Raha said the petitioners’ reliance solely on the results of card reader to challenge accreditation was wrong, and held that card reader was not recognised as a means for accreditation either under Section 49 or elsewhere in the Electoral Act.

The petitioners failed to prove to our satisfaction that the 1st respondent (Shiddi) did not win with the majority of lawful valid votes.

“The 1st respondent is returned as winner, the reliefs sought in the petition are refused and the petition is hereby dismissed,” Justice Raha said.

In the petitions by Bappa and Tanko and their party (PDP) Justice Raha dismissed them for two reasons.

First was that the petitioners failed to lead credible evidence to establish their allegations that the elections were marred by irregularities and substantial non-compliance.

The second reason, Justice Raha noted, was that the petitioners failed to include the necessary parties in their petitions.

In the case of Bappa, he had included Aminu Malle (who contested the election held on February 23, 2019 as the APC’s candidate and was declared winner) as the first respondent in the petition.

But, before Malle could assume office, the Supreme Court voided his candidacy in a judgment given on June 13, 2019 and ordered that he be replaced by Kasimu Bello Maigari, who was later issued with the certificate of return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

By virtue of the Supreme Court judgment, Malle’s name was deleted from the case as a party, without the petitioners replacing him with the Maigari (who was now the winner of the election).

In its judgment on Saturday, Justice Raha held that it was a fatal error on the part of the petitioners not to have included Maigari as a party in the case after the name of Malle was deleted.

He said since the petitioners were not a party in the case before the Supreme Court and Maigari, not being a party before the tribunal, it was wrong for the court to enter judgment against him and grant the reliefs sought against him by the petitioners without affording him the right to be heard.

A similar scenario played out in the petition by Tanko, who the judge noted, failed to include Gambo Mubarak as a party in the petition after the Supreme Court, in an earlier judgment voided the candidacy of Garba Hamman Julde, who had contested and won election as APC candidate.

Julde had contested as APC candidate and won, following which Tanko challenged his election, listing him (Julde) as a respondent in his petition.

While the petition was being heard, the Supreme Court gave a judgment in a pre-election case filed against him by Mubarak.

The Supreme Court voided Julde’s candidacy and ordered INEC to issue Mubarak with a certificate of return, following which Julde’s name was deleted as a candidate in the petition, before the tribunal, but with the petitioners failing to replace him with Mubarak who became the beneficiary of the election.

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