By Endurance Onun:
The case with suit number EPT/CAL/HR/11/2019 between Hon. John Gaul Lebo of the PDP as petitioner versus APC, Dr. Alex Egbonna and INEC as first, second and third defendants respectively was served judgement, yesterday, by Justice Vincent Agbata, chairman of the Cross River State National/State Assembly Panel of Judges.
In this report, CrossRiverDaily highlights the three(3) major arguments of the petitioner, the objections of the defendants, vis-a-vis the ingredients upon which the judgement was delivered to the favor of the petitioner and the Tribunal’s five(5) count pronouncements.
The three main allegations of the petitioner were that;
Even though the All Progressive Congress (APC) participated in the election for Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency held on 23rd February, 2019, they did so without a candidate; howthat, an High Court ruling of 11th February 2019 in the case of Etim John and others vs. Mathew Achigbe and others ordered INEC to remove all candidates submitted by the APC for the National and State Elections of 23rd February and 9th March, 2019 respectively.
The petitioner maintained that INEC adhered lawfully to the High Court order when on 22nd February it announced that APC had no candidate in the National Assembly election which was in few hours away [23rd February].
2. The petitioner also alleged that not withstanding the fact that APC were without a candidate in the election, the total number of votes [29,432] allocated to them by INEC where fraudulently manufactured through incidents of over voting, particularly in Ekureku Wards I&II of Abi LGA. In the argument of the petitioner, the total of 11,841 votes coming from the two above wards far exceeded the total number of accredited voters for both wards.
3. On the third grounds, the petitioner alleged that card readers were not used in the electionery processess of the controversial Ekureku Wards I&II. The petitioner went further to allege that the 10,734 votes the First and Second Defendants got, as well as the 1,107 votes accrued to him from these controversial wards were illegal as no card readers were used for the process, thereby calling on the tribunal to void the said 11,841 votes from Ekureku Wards I&II.
On their part, the First & Second Defendants, while objecting to the first allegation of the Petitioner said, whereas it was true that an High Court order of 11th February 2019 mandated INEC to remove the name of the Second Defendant from the list of candidates for for 23rd February election, however, the High Court order was challenged in an Appellate Court of prominent jurisdiction. The First and Second Defendants further asserted that the Appeal Court on 20th February, 2019 ruled to their favour when they they said “both parties [Etim John & Matthew Achigbe factions of APC] should “maintain status quo ante bellum”.
According to the First and Second Defendants, the announcement by INEC on the 22nd February that the First Defendant had no candidate in the election of 23rd February had nothing to do with the Second Defendant as the Appeal Court had already ruled in their favour.
Attending to the second allegation of the Petitioner, the First and Second Defendants averred that there were no incidents of over voting in Ekureku Wards I&II. Stating that the results genuinely reflected the true position of things in the two(2) wards in dispute.
On the third allegation of the Petitioner, the First and Second Defendants agreed that results emanating from non-usage of card readers were illegal, however, they argued that against the claim of the Petitioner, card readers were used in those two(2) wards. They First and Second Defendants, during trial brought several witnesses who testified to this effect.
The Third Defendant, INEC admitted that they removed the name of the Second Defendant in strict compliance to the High Court judgement. They also admitted only results from card readers or legal voters registered were considered lawful. Also, that identified card reader report of accreditation showed incidents of over voting in Ekureku I&II.
The judgement delivered yesterday, was based on three apparatuses; that is, the Second Defendant’s participation in the election, inflation of votes for the First Defendant and the authenticity of votes from Ekureku Wards I&II.
The Tribunal held that whereas an High Court had ordered the removal of the Second Defendant’s name on the election materials and whereas the Second Defendant’s faction of APC went to Appeal Court to challenge the order, however, the judgement of the Appeal Court, in no way favored the Second Defendant.
According to the Tribunal, there are differences between the two words; “status quo” and “status quo ante bellum”. The tribunal went further to define status quo as “the current state of affairs” and status quo ante bellum as “a previous or last contested state before the current state”. By this definition, the Tribunal held that the what was used in the Appeal Court verdict was status quo ante bellum and not status quo. Stating that the both words can not be used interchangeably, the Tribunal pointedly noted that the last previous or last contested state in the case of Etim John vs Mathew Achigbe was the contest at the High Court and that the status which the Appeal Court advised the both parties to maintain was the ruling of the High Court which ordered the removal of the Second Defendant’s name from the election process. On this premise, the Tribunal upheld the Third Defendant’s removal of the Second Defendant’s name from the electionery process as legal and as such averred that the Second Defendant can not lay claims to the votes allotted to the First Defendant by the Third Defendant because he did not take part in the election.
The Tribunal went ahead to state that “no party can be elected to represent a constituency but a candidate; howthat, the party is nothing but a mere vehicle upon which a candidate (the passenger) is elected”. It argued that “on no account can a vehicle become the vehicle and at the same time become the passenger”. Hence, “when a party goes into an election without a candidate, whatever votes it scored would be inconsequential,” the Tribunal said.
The Tribunal said that after comparing all the evidences and testimonies before it, it was left with no other option than to believe that the total number of votes cast far exceeded both the total number of registered voters and accredited voters in Ekureku I&II.
The tribunal once again held that the over voting in Ekureku Wards I&II was largely assisted by the non-usage of card readers as the First and Second Defendants who were of the argument that card readers were used were unable to name the numbers of card readers used and the serial number tags. Hence, the Tribunal voided the 10,734 votes of the Second Defendant and the 1,107 votes of the Petitioner, both gotten from the controversial wards.
Following the voiding of the said votes, the First Defendant was said to now have only but 18,698 total votes against his previous 29,432 total votes. On the same vein, the Petitioner was said to now have only but 25,864 total votes against his initial 26,971 total votes.
In the light of all the above, the Tribunal held that the Petitioner, Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo of the PDP scored the highest lawful votes to beat the APC party which scored 18,698 inconsequential total votes.
Following this, the Tribunal made the following pronouncements:
- Alex Egbona did not take part in the election.
- All APC votes were void votes.
- APC did not score the highest votes.
- John Gaul Lebo scored the highest votes in the election.
- INEC should issue a certificate of return to John Gaul Lebo, the candidate of the PDP.