The Governorship Election Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, Abia State, has dismissed the petition filled by Okey Ahiwe, governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against Alex Otti of the Labour Party for lack of merit.
The tribunal also upheld the election of Alex Otti, LP candidate, in the March 11, 2023 governorship election.
PDP and Ahiwe had approached the court, demanding the withdrawal of the certificate of return issued to Otti by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), stressing that Otti was never qualified in the first instance, to contest the election, and that he did not get the highest vote cast and that the election was marred by irregularities.
The PDP, while explaining why Otti was not qualified to participate in the election, stressed that he did not participate in any known party primary election and did not submit any evidence of membership of LP to INEC, which completely means that he was not a member of LP before and during the election and therefore, was not supposed to be sponsored by LP.
The PDP equally on the qualification point petitioned the court seeking the withdrawal of Otti’s certificate of return, alleging that he did not submit a piece of legally acceptable evidence that he duly participated in the one-year compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
Another top ground of the petition by the PDP is that Otti was not duly elected, by the majority of votes cast at the end of the governorship election.
The PDP equally stressed that there were corrupt, sharp practices, overvoting and noncompliance with the Electoral Act by INEC during the election.
In its ruling, the tribunal, led by Hahutatu Gwadah, said that such issues about primary and nomination of candidates are internal affairs of the party and that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction to entertain such.
On participation in the compulsory one-year NYSC, the tribunal said that no evidence was provided, as “pleading isn’t evidence.” The court said that the lack of evidence on that makes the petition not to hold any substance. It also re-emphasized that only evidence brought on pleaded fact stands. NYSC is not a qualifying or a disqualifying factor, it said.
On the issue of over-voting, the court made it clear that he who alleges must prove, stressing that no evidence was shown by the PDP for non-compliance by INEC as all exhibits never proved the allegation as claimed by the PDP.
It further said that the PDP did not prove the case of overvoting as required by the law in all the polling units they alleged that such a case took place.
The allegation by the PDP that results of Obingwa Local Government were taken to Abuja and doctored, the tribunal said that no evidence of such was shown as the petitioners were unable to prove their allegation.
All three major issues contained in the petition brought by Ahiwe and the PDP were ruled in the favour of Otti and the LP and were dismissed for lack of merit.
Reacting to the judgement, Chukwuemeka Nwaogu, one of the lead Councils to the PDP and its candidate, said that the tribunal has discharged its duties in accordance with the law, stressing that they need to be availed copies of the judgement so that they can take a look at several rulings delivered to enable them study them properly and know the next constitutional steps to take.
He said that naturally, they may have reasons to disagree with some views of the tribunal, but reiterated that they cannot comment on any ground of dissatisfaction now because they were yet to get a copy of the judgement that would arm them with such information.
In his reaction, the Abia State PDP governorship candidate in the 2023 governorship elections, Okey Ahiwe expressed profound appreciation to his numerous supporters, his legal team, family, friends and associates, emphasising that “there is no cause for alarm regarding the tribunal verdict as truth and justice will ultimately triumph.”
Ahiwe, who spoke through Victor Nwokocha, his media adviser, said that he had confidence in the judiciary, stressing that his legal team would thoroughly examine the judgement of the tribunal and advise accordingly on the next line of action.
He called on his supporters to remain calm and law-abiding, assuring that following due consultations with his legal team and leadership of PDP, he would keep them informed on the direction to take.