Supreme Court upholds Ortom’s, Fintiri poll victories

The Supreme Court on Tuesday validated the elections of governors Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State.

Both governors are of the Peoples Democratic Party.

The panel of seven justices of the apex court led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, in two separate unanimous judgments, dismissed the appeals filed by the All Progressives Congress and their governorship candidates challenging the governors’ victories at the governorship elections held in the two states on March 9, 2019.

The panel, which earlier conducted separate hearings on the appeals from the two states between 9am and noon and returned to deliver the judgments on the cases at about 2pm, comprised Justices Rhodes-Vivour, Sylvester Ngwuta, Dattijo Muhammad, Amir Sanusi, Amina Augie, Paul Galinje and Abba Aji.

Justice Ngwuta, who read the lead judgment in the Benue State case and Justice Muhammad who delivered that of Adamawa State, held that the appeals by the candidates of the APC in the two states lacked merit.

Dismissing the appeal by the APC and its governorship candidate in Benue State, Emmanuel Jime, Justice Ngwuta held that the appellants failed to show any perversity in the findings of both the election petitions tribunal and the Court of Appeal which had both affirmed the outcome of the election, to warrant setting the lower courts’ judgments aside.

Justice Muhammad, in the lead judgment on the Adamawa State governorship dispute, held that the immediate-past governor of the state, Jibrilla Bindow, who contested on the platform of the APC and lost, failed to prove the allegation of over-voting in the disputed 385 polling units.

He agreed with the respondents’ lawyers that Bindow failed to prove that the number of votes recorded in the polling units exceeded the number of registered voters or that the number of votes surpassed the number of accredited voters.

At the hearing of the Benue State appeal earlier on Tuesday, the appellants’ lawyer, Yusuf Ali (SAN), had urged the apex court to nullify Ortom’s election as the governor of the state.

Ali noted that the disparity between the number of accredited voters recorded by the smart card readers used for the conduct of the election and the number of votes recorded had rendered the election invalid.

Lawyers representing the respondents to the appeal — the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ortom and the PDP — urged the court to dismiss the appeal which they said was bereft of evidence.

INEC’s lawyer, Uyi Igunma, argued that the appellants’ arguments were diversionary, adding that they had no evidence, either oral or documentary, to rely on.

He added that the appellants relied heavily on the smart card reader report, “but the card reader report was not legally before the court.”

He added, “Even if the totality of their witnesses were to be believed, they are insufficient to prove the allegations in the petition.”

Ortom’s lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN), 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.

The 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 Ortom, 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.”

At the hearing of the Adamawa State case, Gordy Uche (SAN), who argued the appeal filed by the APC and its governorship candidate in the state, Bindow, maintained that contrary to the respondents’ claim, the documents tendered by the appellants at the tribunal were not merely dumped.

He said, “The tribunal found this as a fact. The tribunal also found that the appellants linked the documents to their case.”

He however regretted that the tribunal refused to act on the documents.

Uche, who challenged the outcome of the election in 385 polling units, also argued that his clients were not required to call eyewitnesses from all the polling units to prove the over-voting allegation.

He had urged the court to hold that “Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri was not lawfully returned or was returned on the basis of illegal votes.”

Opposing the appeal, the PDP’s lawyer, Leonard Nzadon, argued that the petition filed by the appellants at the tribunal was “fundamentally defective.”

Noting that the appellants’ case was built on over-voting, Nzadon said the allegation was not proved.

Fintiri’s lawyer, Mahmud Magaji (SAN), also urged the apex court to “dismiss the appeal and affirm the concurrent findings of both the trial tribunal and the Court of Appeal.”

INEC’s counsel, Mr B. O. Adesina, also urged the apex court to “dismiss the appeal in its entirety and affirm the concurrent findings of both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal.”

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