The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, has ordered the Delta State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to reopen hearing on the case that was brought before it by the Labour Party (LP) and its gubernatorial candidate in the state, Ken Pela.
The LP and its candidate had filed a petition before the tribunal, seeking to nullify the election of Governor Sheriff Oborevwori of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The petitioners, in their case marked: EPT/DL/GOV/01/2023, maintained that governor Oborevwori was not the legitimate winner of the March 18 governorship.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), governor Oborevwori, his deputy and the PDP were cited as respondents in the case.
However, in an interlocutory ruling it delivered on July 7, the Justice C. H. Achuchaogu-led three-member panel tribunal, dismissed the case on the premise that it was abandoned by the petitioners.
The panel held that the petition was rendered incompetent owing to failure of the LP and its candidate to properly activate the pre-hearing procedure, as required by the law.
It held that the petitioners did not comply with provisions of paragraph 18 (1) of the 4th Schedule to the Electoral Act, 2022.
Besides, the tribunal held that the petitioners did not utilize the seven-day window provided by the rules, to apply for pre-hearing notice and afterwards, also failed to apply for another notice to be issued.
However, dissatisfied with the ruling, the petitioners took the matter before the appellate court.
They specifically urged the court to, among other things, determine whether the tribunal did not err in law and ocassioned a grave miscarriage of justice against them, when it relied on technicalities to strike out the petition.
They accused the tribunal of denying them fair hearing and the opportunity to present their case against the outcome of the Delta state governorship poll.
Delivering its ruling on Thursday, the appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel, agreed with the petitioners and voided the ruling of the tribunal.
The court ordered the tribunal to go ahead and hear the substantive petition by the LP and its candidate, on its merit.
INEC had declared that Oborevwori of the PDP won the governorship election with a total of 360,234 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Ovie Omo-Agege of the All Progressive Party, APC, who scored 240,229 votes.
Pela of the LP came third with 48,027 votes, while Chief Great Ogboru of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, came fourth with 11,021 votes.
Meanwhile, the Delta state government, on Thursday, debunked as fake news, reports that the appellate court sacked governor Oborevwori based on the petition by LP’s candidate, Pela.
Reacting to the report, Chief Press Secretary to governor Oborevwori, Sir. Festus Ahon, noted that the appellate court merely ordered the tribunal to reopen Hearing of Pela’s petition.
Ahon, in a statement he made available to newsmen, said: “We have been inundated by reports from a section of the media that the Appeal Court had declared Ken Pela of the Labour Party as winner of the 2023 Governorship election in Delta State.
“The report is nothing but fake news as the Appellate Court only ordered the tribunal to hear the case.
“From the results declared by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it was obvious that the Labour Party did not win the election therefore couldn’t have won in court.
“Our people came out in large numbers to elect Governor Sheriff Oborevwori and they are happy with him. We therefore urge Party faithfuls and Deltans to disregard the said reports as it was a concoction from the Labour Party and their followers.
“We also urge Deltans to remain calm. As at the time of the fake news, Governor Oborevwori was busy inspecting various ongoing projects within Asaba and its environs.
“He is focused on delivering dividends of democracy to the people of the state and would not be distracted by the rumour mills.
“Our lawyers are studying the Appeal Court judgment with a view to taking necessary action.”