The Court of Appeal in Lagos has affirmed the tribunal’s judgment, validating Alex Chioma Otti of the Labour Party (LP) as the duly elected Governor of Abia State in the March 18th Governorship poll.
As reported by Vanguard, INEC declared Otti the winner on March 23, with 175,467 votes, surpassing his closest rival, PDP’s Okey Ahiwe, who secured 88,529 votes.
Following their dissatisfaction with the declared results, Ahiwe and PDP, along with Ikechi Emenike and APC, separately appealed to the tribunal, seeking various claims:
– Challenging Otti’s membership in the Labour Party, asserting that his name was not in the party register 30 days before the primaries, violating Section 77 of the Electoral Act 2022.
– Contesting Otti’s majority of lawful votes.
– Alleging over-voting and result manipulation in certain parts of the state.
– Accusing the suppression of votes, particularly in Obingwa, Umuahia North, and Umuahia South LGAs, leading to the suspension of collation and a subsequent review at the INEC Headquarters in Abuja.
– Claiming forgery regarding Otti’s NYSC Certificate.
On October 6, 2023, the tribunal, led by Justice Hajaratu Gwadah, dismissed the petition, stating that Otti’s membership in the Labour Party is a pre-election matter, and the courts lack jurisdiction to intervene.
The panel also held that the claim of alleged forgery of Otti’s NYSC was not proven beyond reasonable doubts. Justice Gwadah also held that the NYSC is not a qualifying or disqualifying factor for a Candidate who intends to contest the office of a Governor in Nigeria.
The panel averred that the witnesses of the Petitioners did not speak to the documents hence, held no circumstantial value. “The Petitioners separately and collectively did not show evidence that the results were doctored in Abuja before it returned to the State, hence the claim is hearsay and ought to be discountenanced.”
Not happy with the outcome, the PDP & APC together with their respective Candidates appealed the separate judgements of the tribunal.
The Appeal Court held that the Petitions brought forth by the appellants can be likened to a comedy skit brought into a democratic setting.
They held that the membership of Otti is a domestic affair of the Labour Party. They held that Otti joined the LP, contested the Party’s Primary, won and was further duly sponsored by the Party.
On the issues of Bimodial Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, brought by the PDP & Ahiwe, the Appeal Court said the appellants failed to demonstrate or link their documentary evidence to the specific parts of the case.
The three-man panel upheld in toto the tribunal verdict and further dismissed the separate appeals for having no scintilla of merit.