Supreme Court affirms Ganduje, Tambuwal, Lalong, Mohammed’s elections

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Supreme Court on Monday affirmed the elections of governors Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Simon Lalong of Plateau State and Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State.

The governors and their parties – Ganduje (All Progressives Congress), Tambuwal (Peoples Democratic Party), Lalong (APC) and Mohammed (PDP) – were in March 2019 declared the winners of the governorship elections after two rounds of polls held in the four states on March 9 and March 23, 2019.

The apex court, in its separate unanimous judgments delivered by two panels, dismissed the various appeals challenging the governors’ elections.

The two panels, comprising seven Justices, had five members in common.

The panel, which delivered the judgments on the Kano and Sokoto states’ elections, was headed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, while the other seven-man bench which handled the Bauchi and Plateau states cases was headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.

The CJN-led bench, comprising Justices Ngwuta, Kayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amir Sanusi, Amina Augie and Uwani Abba-Aji, had on January 14 heard the Kano and Sokoto states’ appeals and fixed Monday for judgments.

It was the panel that sacked Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP as Imo State Governor and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of the APC on January 14.

However, the Justice Ngwuta-led bench, with Justices Ariwoola, Dattijo Muhammad, Augie, Sanusi, Paul Galinje and Abba-Aji, as members, delivered the judgments on the Bauchi and Plateau states’ appeals roughly four hours after hearing the cases on Monday.

Both governors Mohammed of Bauchi State and Lalong of Plateau State attended the Monday’s proceedings.

Concerning the Kano State election, the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by the PDP’s governorship candidate, Abba Yusuf, seeking to overturn the concurrent judgments of both the Kano State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which had both affirmed Ganduje and his party, the APC, as the winner of the poll.

Ganduje polled 1,033,695 votes to defeat the PDP and Yusuf, who polled 1,024,713 votes, in the cumulative results of the inconclusive election held on March 9, 2019 and the rerun held on March 23, 2019.

Delivering the apex court’s lead judgment on Monday, Justice Ngwuta held that the appeal filed by the PDP and its candidate lacked merit.

He said the appellants failed to provide evidence to warrant the setting aside of the concurrent judgments of the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, validating Ganduje’s election.

He noted that the petition filed before the tribunal was built solely on the provision of Section 138(1)(c) of the Electoral Act, with the petitioners failing to realise that the provision could not cover all the grounds of infractions in an electoral process.

Justice Ngwuta said, “The petition relied solely on Section 138(1)(c) of the Electoral Act. The provision is not a blanket or blank cheque that can accommodate all forms of infractions of an electoral process.

“The petition was not amended to accommodate the facts already adduced by the appellants.

“The appellants have not demonstrated the perversity in the concurrent judgments or provide any evidence or pleading of error in procedure or substantive law which if not corrected would result in a miscarriage of justice.”

In Sokoto State, Independent National Electoral Commission had declared Tambuwal the winner of the election held inconclusively on March 9, 2019 and the March 23, 2019 rerun.

Tambuwal polled 512, 002 votes to defeat his closest rival, Aliyu Sokoto, of the  APC, who polled 511, 660 votes.

Both the Sokoto State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal had dismissed the case filed by APC and its candidate against Tambuwal’s victory.

Delivering the lead judgment of the apex court on Monday, Justice Abba-Aji dismissed the appeal by the APC and its candidate, Sokoto.

Validating Tambuwal’s election, Justice Abba-Aji held that the appellants failed to provide any credible evidence to back their case.

She noted that vital exhibits and witness depositions relied on by the appellants at the tribunal were incompetent and inadmissible.

She said their exhibits marked P1 to P14 bore various dates while the foundational exhibits, P17 and P18, were without certification.

She added that they failed to link their exhibits to their case.

“The duty to connect Exhibits P1 to P14 to P17 and P18 is the work of the appellants but they failed to do so,” she ruled

Justice Abba-Aji held that the Supreme Court had “loudly” held on various occasions that “documents cannot be dumped on the court.”

She added, “It is not the duty of the court to sift through documents tendered by parties which have not been demonstrated in the open court. It is also not the duty of the court to sort out the various documents, the figures and do the calculations in chambers to arrive at a figure given in a final judgment, especially in an election petition challenging the number of various votes polled by the candidate declared and returned as the winner of the election.

“A party challenging an election has the duty to ensure that all documents and exhibits are linked to the various arguments.”

She also said the evidence by 10 vital witnesses of the appellants at the tribunal was inadmissible due to the failure of the appellants to file the original Hausa depositions of the witnesses, which were translated to English language and tendered.

She held that the failure of the affected witnesses to adopt their original Hausa depositions implied that they gave no evidence before the tribunal.

“You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand,” she ruled.

Justice Dattijo Muhammad, who delivered the lead judgment on the appeal filed in respect of Bauchi State, also faulted the case instituted by the APC’s Muhammed Abubakar, on the same grounds of failure of the appellants to have their vital witnesses adopt their original Hausa depositions.

He therefore held that the appellants failed to prove the alleged irregularities in 336 polling units as they alleged in their petition before the tribunal.

In affirming the election of Governor Bala Mohammed, the judge held that the appellants also failed to provide cogent reasons for the apex court to set aside the concurrent verdicts of both the Bauchi State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which had affirmed the governor’s victory.

Dismissing the appeal filed by the PDP and its governorship candidate in Plateau State, Jeremiah Useni, Justice Paul Galinje, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the case lacked merit.

Justice Galinje held that the appellants failed to prove that Governor Lalong gave information of substantial nature in his Form CF.001 submitted to INEC in aid of his nomination as the APC’s governorship candidate in Plateau State.

The appellants had contended that Lalong gave false information by claiming in his Form CF.001 that he had never changed his name when he had actually in the past made a newspaper publication of his change of name.

The appellants also identified the various certificates of educational qualifications submitted to INEC with names of various alterations.

But Justice Galinje, in rejecting this point, held that the appellants failed to show how the alleged change of name added to “the credit and stature” of the governor to aid his nomination as a candidate for the election.

He also noted that the Section 138(1)(e) of the Electoral Act, which was relied on by the appellants, had been struck down by the Supreme Court in its judgment delivered last year on the Mr Atiku Abubakar’s case challenging the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.

He added that a candidate in a governorship election could only be disqualified if he or she failed to meet the requirements in Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution.

He explained that the Supreme Court struck down Section 138(1)(e) of the Electoral Act due to its inconsistency with the provision of Section 177 of the constitution.

The Justice of the Supreme Court also held that the appellants failed to prove that the election won by Lalong did not comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act.

He noted that the appellants admitted against their interest, while being cross-examined at the tribunal, that the election was conducted in compliance with the law.