Ogboru Rejects Olive Branch, Insists on Testing Tribunal’s Judgment at Appellate Courts

Amidst flurry of appeals not to pursue his governorship election petition any further after losing at the tribunal last Friday, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Great Ovedje Ogboru appears not swayed by the pleas from different quarters, including the state government and the traditional institution. Though the counsel to the aggrieved APC candidate, Nichols Ichekor had dropped the hint of an appeal while responding to the judgment after it was delivered by the tribunal chairman, Sulaiman Belgore, stating that some aspects they were not satisfied with would be tested upstairs, Turner Ogboru, a lawyer and younger brother of the APC candidate, unequivocally expressed to the magazine their resolve to appeal the judgment. They seemed buoyed up by the 2007 case in which the appeal court annulled the victory of the then governor, Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan and ordered a rerun which he (Ogboru) however lost and still challenged up to the Supreme Court. That was the closest Ogboru had come to realizing his governorship ambition since 1999 when he started contesting for the office.

Apparently already determined to pursue the current case up to the apex court, the younger Ogboru told the magazine that “the process stops at the Supreme Court. It is when you finish at the Supreme Court by the Nigerian legal process that is the end of it. Before we canceled Uduaghan’s election, we lost in the tribunal. But we tested it upstairs and a rerun was ordered”. In spite of the appeals, however, for the Ogborus and their co-travelers, it is not over until it is over.

The three-man tribunal had dismissed, for gross incompetence, all the grounds of the petition presented to it by the APC and its candidate against the declared winner and incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In its unanimous judgment, the tribunal was unsparing in tongue-lashing the petitioners and their legal team, describing the petition as “badly drafted, devoid of particulars and details and insufficient data” to sustain allegation of multiple voting thereby concluding that “the case of the petitioner remains unproven”. They also described the petitioners as gold-diggers and opportunists. Ogboru and the APC had complained of voting without accreditation, illegal allocation of unlawful votes, over-voting and multiple voting in 896 polling units in 23 out of 25 local government areas of the state. In dismissing the petition as “gold-digging and opportunistic”, the tribunal lambasted the petitioners for “document dumping”, failure to prove their case polling unit by polling unit, and heavily building their allegations around smart card readers.

Agreeing with counsel to the respondents on the weight of the documents presented by the petitioners in support of their case, namely voters’ register, Forms EC 8 A and Bs and others, the tribunal held that there was no demonstration as to their relevance in evidence, submitting that it was a “classical case of dumping”. It, therefore, dismissed them as “of no probative value’. Belgore held that “it cannot be over-emphasised by us that it is not the duty of the tribunal to tie documents to the case of the petitioner” as “a judge is not permitted to embark on an inquisitorial examination of documents outside the courtroom”. He said having failed in this regard, “the documents have become worthless, of no probative value, and therefore disregarded”. On the issue of voting without accreditation and multiple voting alleged by the petitioners, the tribunal held that they did not mention a single individual who voted without accreditation, and none was brought forward as a witness, neither did they mention the name of anyone who voted multiple times. It insisted that they ought to have provided both oral and documentary evidence in support of the allegations.

Resolving the issue of non-accreditation with card reader, the tribunal agreed with the arguments of D. D. Dodo, counsel to the governor, which they said were “well-marshaled and agreeable to us”. Citing a decided case by Mohammed Uwais, former chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, and retired Justice of the Supreme Court which held that card reader is to complement the voters’ register and not to “dethrone, supplant, or depose” it, the tribunal shared this view, stressing that the card reader is an aid or adjutant to the voters’ register which is meant to authenticate the permanent voter card, PVC, and kick-start the process of accreditation. Holding that the petitioners failed woefully on the allegation, the tribunal said the petitioners never considered that their claim of over-voting must be proved on the basis of registered voters and votes returned based on the voters’ register. It also asserted that the petitioners, having made allegations of over-voting and allocation of votes in 896 polling units, “the law imposes a burden on them to, in addition to tendering the voter register, Form EC8 As, Form EC 8 Bs, EC 8 Cs, EC 8 Ds, from the bar, they must go further to link or relate their documents to specific areas of their allegations”, especially the particular polling units they were disputing.

According to the tribunal, out of over 3,000 polling units in the state, the petitioners’ complaints were in only 896 polling units, whereas only five polling unit agents were called as witnesses leaving out 891 polling units with no eye-witness to attest to, or confirm, or give credence to all the allegations. Dismissing the allegations, the tribunal posited that “even if they are 20, in our view, it is too scanty, grossly few, inadequate to make any significant impression”, emphasizing that “we say this because the polling units are the epicenter of activities” on any election day with all candidates expected to have polling unit agents.  The tribunal consequently ruled that presenting only five polling unit agents out of 896, was fatal to the case of the petitioners.

Literally tearing the petition into shreds, the tribunal averred that “there is gross insufficiency of pleadings in this case. This petition was badly drafted. The paragraphs are too generic and not specific in most cases. They are devoid of particulars and details as far as the two alleged complaints are concerned. One would have seriously considered a pleading that gives sufficient data polling unit by polling unit… What the petitioners did was to lump all the polling units affected by the allegations in all the local government areas together and then try to prove by smart card reader returns.  So, all the allegations as claimed to have occurred in the various polling units were diluted and mixed together. This is what we call dumping; this is wrong and it has suffered the problem of proof because of lack of specificity”.

Deciding the case in favour of Okowa and the PDP, the tribunal held that “the petitioners failed to prove that the first respondent was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes at the election and we so rule. Finally, in view of all the foregoing, starting from page one of this judgment which is a narration of the entire circumstances of this case, it is incorrect to contend that the first respondent did not win the election by a majority of lawful votes. In contrary, manifest to us, and it is crystal clear that he scored a total of 925,274 votes as against 215, 938 scored by the first petitioner”. The panel said it found the declaration and return as shown in the exhibits tendered by the petitioners, the first and second respondents, “to be in order and duly made, satisfied the provisions of Sections 29 and Section 69 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). They therefore concluded that “we have no reason to disturb or upturn that declaration. This petition is unquestionable, gold-digging, opportunistic, lacking in any atom of merit. It fails, and it is hereby dismissed”.

But as far as the younger Ogboru is concerned, “the court below has just delivered their judgment. We will test their judgment in the upper courts because we are dissatisfied with aspects of the judgment that we believe that are in error of law”. He believed that the three-man panel got it all mixed up in on the issue of smart card reader, contending that “smart card reader is now valid in Nigeria”. According to him, “Nigeria is not spending billions of naira on smart card readers just for fun. The judiciary must rise up to their challenge to make sure we start conducting good and credible elections”. Ogboru believed that the judges based their conclusions on a law that had been deleted. In his words, “the original gazette of Electoral Act 2010 is very clear that electronic voting is what was in sub-section 2 of Section 52 and it had been deleted. He said by INEC handbook, “electronic accreditation is lawful. We will test it upstairs”.

The decision by Ogboru to seek redress at the Appeal Court has however not gone down well with a broad spectrum of Deltans who believed that the Abraka-born politician who has become a recurring decimal at every election cycle, should let go and join hands with the government of the day to develop the state. First to extend the olive branch to Ogboru was the state governor, who at a thanksgiving service at the government house chapel immediately after the verdict affirming his victory said “I appeal to my brother, Ogboru that the time has come to stop fighting. It is time to partner together to do the best that we can for our people. I appeal that enough is enough. It is time to build Delta State together for the good of our people”. Speaking in a similar vein, the state information commissioner, Charles Aniagwu told the magazine that “you also recall that when he (Okowa) was declared the winner in March this year, we called on our brothers and sisters on the other side to come and join hands with him towards building a stronger Delta. The tribunal has succinctly put it that opposition went on a voyage of document dumping and that does not in any way help their case and so we do hope and believe that having listened to the very sound judgment delivered by the tribunal, they would come on board and join in the desire of Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa to build a stronger Delta”. Describing the judgment as victory for all Deltans, the commissioner said “it has once again shown that Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa actually secured the mandate of a majority of Deltans for him to be declared the winner of that election”.

The state chapter of the PDP, in a statement by its publicity secretary, Ifeanyi Osuoza, described the victory as ”a reaffirmation of Okowa’s capacity by Deltans”, and advised Ogboru to channel the resources he spends in pursuing electoral victory through the courts to better the lives of his people. Funkekeme Solomon, senior political adviser to the governor, agreed with Osuoza, advising Ogboru against appealing the judgment. Solomon opined that “if he has a good team, they will advise him against it because there is nowhere to appeal to really. You cannot say you are questioning over 800 polling units and called only 20 witnesses, and out of that, 15 are not relevant witnesses. So, I will advise him to key into the governor’s appeal. In my place, they say it’s only a small thing that makes a king lose title. He would lose title if he continues like this”.

So, while appealing to Ogboru to drop all those distractions and join hands with the governor “because Deltans already know he will not be able to rule this state if this is the way he wants to go about it”, Solomon said “I will urge him to come up with developmental ideas that would help so that he will not just be on the side of always contesting elections perpetually and failing perpetually both at the election and at the tribunal. It is a shame!” While asserting that the governor’s advice does not mean that he is weak, Solomon said “no, the governor is a statesman and he knows the futility of what he (Ogboru) is doing and that is why he is asking him to come on board and let’s work together”. The political adviser said as the director-general who saw the party through the campaigns and elections, he was gratified by the judgment as it showed the party actually won the election.

Great Ovedje Ogboru photo
Great Ovedje Ogboru

Traditional rulers in the state have also lent their royal voices to the call on Ogboru to sheath his sword and jettison the idea of appealing the judgment of the state’s election tribunal which did not favour him. They urged Ogboru to bury the hatchet in the interest of unity, peace, and progress in Delta State. The royal fathers observed that the financial and other resources used for litigation could be channeled to impacting lives. While congratulating the governor on his victory which they described as an ‘’affirmation of the collective mandate of the people across the state’’ they urged him to continue to run an inclusive government that would further promote unity, peace and development across the three senatorial districts in the state. The Chairman of the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers, Emmanuel Efeizomor II, had also encouraged Ogboru to accept the hand of fellowship offered to him by the governor. Ogboru had on five occasions contested governorship elections in the state on the platform of different political parties: the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003 against James Ibori; the Democratic Peoples’ Party (DPP) in 2007 and 2011 against Emmanuel Uduaghan; and, on the platform of the Labour Party (LP) in 2015 against the incumbent governor, Okowa. The 2019 contestation made it the fifth time he would be contesting and losing. And like in previous experiences, he is resolute in pursuing his petition to the apex court.

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