A three-member panel of the Court of Appeal has affirmed the election of Ahmed Aliyu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as Governor of Sokoto State.
Aliyu’s election was affirmed shortly after the panel dismissed the appeal by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sai’du Umar, seeking to upturn the judgment of the Sokoto State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which had affirmed the declaration of Aliyu as winner of the March 18 governorship election in Sokoto State.
The panel, in a unanimous judgment, held that the appellants failed to substantiate allegations of irregularities, noncompliance, as well as non qualification contained in their appeal.
Presiding Justice, Mbaba Bassi, who delivered the lead judgment, held that having resolved all four issues raised against the appellants, the appeal lacks merit and is accordingly dismissed.
He subsequently affirmed the judgment of the tribunal, which had in September dismissed the PDP’s petition for lacking in merit.
Umar and the PDP had approached the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower tribunal which had dismissed their joint petition for erring in law.
But in their judgment in the appeal on Monday, the appellate court held that the tribunal was right in expunging evidence of non-compliance and other alleged irregularities and malpractices because the evidences were presented by incompetent witnesses.
According to the judgment, the failure of the appellants to list and front-load the statement of the witnesses was fatal to their case.
Besides, the court held that even though the appellants provided documents from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC ) to prove cancellation of election in 138 polling units across the state, their failure to call witnesses from the affected polling units to speak on the documents was fatal to their case.
Justice Bassi pointed out that reliance on Section 137 of the Electoral Act, 2022 was insufficient to prove cancellation without oral evidence.
Aliyu had won the election with about 49,000 votes, while the total number of registered voters in the affected polling units where election was cancelled was put at over 85,000, total number of collected Permanent Voters Card (PVC) was put at over 82,000.
Based on the above, the appellants had urged the appellate court to void the election of Aliyu, declare the March 18 election inconclusive and the electoral umpire be ordered to conduct a supplementary election in the 138 polling units where election was cancelled.
They had presented INEC’s form EC40G (incident form) showing elections were cancelled due to over-voting or disruption.
According to the appellate court, the form EC40G, “shows electorate were given opportunity to vote but something went wrong culminating in the cancellation of the election”.
While stating that he doesn’t think it was necessary to call any person to speak again on such documents in line with Section 137 of the Electoral Act, Justice Bassi however observed that precedence already set by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in related matters demand that the appellants lead oral evidence to support the allegation of manipulation of votes through the cancellation of election in 138 polling units.
On the issue of alleged certificate forgery, the appellate court similarly agreed with the tribunal that the appellants were unable to prove that the certificate submitted by the governor and his deputy were forged.
While observing that allegations of forgery are criminal in nature and as such must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, the panel stated that failure of the appellants to provide both the forged and original certificates before the court was fatal to their case.
A three-member panel of Justices of the Election Petition Tribunal, led by Justice Haruna Msheila, had, in a unanimous judgment delivered on September 30, dismissed the petition of the PDP and its governorship candidate in the last governorship election in Sokoto State.
The tribunal held that the petitioners failed to prove the six grounds formulated in their joint petition.
According to the tribunal, the grounds stated in the petition bordered on alleged ineligibility of Aliyu and his deputy to contest, falsification of certificates, variation of names, election frauds and non-compliance with electoral guidelines.
The lower court held in its judgment that the petitioners were unable to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt as required by law, as 70 per cent of exhibits they tendered were out of context because they relate to state Assembly elections conducted on the same day.