BY EDMOND ODOK – The legal fireworks at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, came to a close on Wednesday with the court reserving ruling in the petition by the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, Emmanuel Jime, challenging the return of Samuel Ortom as winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the North Central state.
Jime is insisting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was wrong in declaring Governor Ortom the winner of an election fraught with huge irregularities and that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s candidate did not score majority of the lawful votes cast
After listening to submissions made by counsels to both the petitioners and respondents, Chairman of the Tribunal, Honourable Justice Henry Olusiyi, held that judgment in the petition has been reserved for a date that shall be communicated to all the parties involved.
With the Tribunal requesting all parties in the petition to adopt final written addresses for consideration last Wednesday, lead counsel to Governor Ortom, Sabastine Hon (SAN), urged the Tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial cost, insisting that it ought not to have been filed in the first instance.
According to Hon; the petition is “bedevilled and riddled with fundamental errors and that no reasonable Tribunal will grant any relief to it”, adding; “It is self-contradictory in many respects in terms of the figures and scores of the candidates; it is also contradictory to the evidence led.”
The Governor’s counsel told the Tribunal that the Jime, who contested the 2019 Benue governorship election, is different from the one that instituted the petition “because of variation in the scores at the poll and those complained of in the petition.”
He said; “As a matter of fact, in paragraph 5.06, page 37 of their final written address, the petitioners admit that there were errors in the petition. And in reproducing exhibit P2 (summary of result form), there are over 50 errors.”
He maintained that it is a settled point in law that a mistake that is not corrected is fatal to the case.
Also urging the Tribunal to dismiss the petition, counsel representing INEC, Offiong Offiong (SAN), said contrary to argument by Jime’s counsel that only minimal proof rather than balance of probability is required, the petitioners must prove their case on the balance of probability and not on minimal prove.
Offiong, who is leading a team of lawyers for the electoral umpire at the Tribunal, cited the authority of Ucha Vs Elechi 2012 13NWLR Part 330 at Page 359 to support the position canvassed by INEC.
In his submission, the PDP’s counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), urged the Tribunal to dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.
The Senior lawyer maintained that the petition was founded upon misconception of well-established principles of electoral jurisprudence.
On his part, counsel representing Jime and APC, Yusuf Ali (SAN), urged the Tribunal to discountenance submissions by the respondents; uphold the petition; nullify the election of Ortom; and declare Jime and APC as the rightful persons to be given the Certificate of Return as winner of the 2019 Benue governorship election.
Ali, who informed the Tribunal that Governor Ortom’s counsels misconstrued the tables and figures in the petitioners’ final written address, said; “He (Hon) seems to have forgotten that the contention in the petition is the incorrect figures recorded by INEC in Forms EC8A and the petitioners cannot rely on same.
“Where the tribunal finds that unlawful votes are credited to any of the parties, the tribunal has the powers under the law to nullify such votes”
Forefront recalls that INEC initially declared the Benue State governorship election inconclusive before conducting a supplementary poll that finally confirmed Ortom’s return to office for a second term.