Story by Yomi Ayeleso | Ado-Ekiti
The election petition tribunal sitting in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti has dismissed the petition filed by the Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate, Chief Segun Oni against the election victory of the incumbent governor, Biodun Oyebanji during the last June 18 poll in the State.
Oni, a former governor of the state had approached the court challenging winner of the election, Oyebanji of the All Progressives Congress (APC), alleging that APC didn’t have a validly nominated governorship candidate.
He argued through his counsel that the Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala-Buni who signed the nomination form of Oyebanji and who also superintended over the APC governorship primaries contravened section 183 of the 1999 Constitution by accepting to be the APC National Caretaker Chairman.
The SDP candidate also urged the tribunal to declare him the winner, alleging that the deputy governor, Chief Monisade Afuye presented a fake Senior School certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He also told the tribunal that the June 18 election was conducted in contravention of the constitution and the electoral act 2022 with allegations of vote-buying and other electoral infractions.
But delivering the judgement which lasted for about two and half hours on Thursday, the chairman of the three-man tribunal panel, Justice Wilfred Kpochi while striking out the petition and resolving all issues against the petitioner, maintained that the SDP candidate failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt that the victory of Oyebanji was against the nation’s constitution and the electoral act.
The tribunal in a unanimous ruling held that the petitioner failed to call enough witnesses to prove allegations of malpractices across the polling units, wards and local government areas on the day of the election, adding that the SDP only relied on hearsay evidence which the court held was not tenable in law.
On the legality or otherwise of the governor of Yobe, Mai Mala Buni to sign the nomination forms of Oyebanji and his running mate as the national caretaker chairman of the APC, the tribunal revealed that the actions of Buni in forwarding the names of the candidates to INEC did not invalidate the nomination of Oyebanji and his deputy.
Justice Kpochi while referencing the decision of the Supreme court on the Eyitayo Jegede’s suit versus Rotimi Akeredolu in Ondo state, noted that the nominations were valid in view of the outcome of the APC primaries which were decided mainly by party members and not by Buni.
The Judge held that the issue raised by the petitioners was a constitutional and a pre-election matter outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal, saying the Yobe state governor enjoyed immunity and could not be sued.
Faulting the petitioner’s failure to prove certificate forgery against the deputy governor, Chief Monisade Afuye by not calling the management of the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) to testify against the alleged forged document, Justice Kpochi said it was wrong for the SDP candidate to introduce the allegation in his reply to the respondents and not in his initial petition filled within the stipulated twenty-one days period.
He said, “It is puerile to challenge the nominations of the candidates by the petitioners by not providing the needed evidence and it will amount to us swimming against the tide as the supreme court had decided on the legality of Buni signing the nomination of the candidates for the election.
“It is vague, nebulous, generic and lacks specifics, the allegations of malpractices in the June 18 poll without giving satisfactory evidence. The candidates are qualified to contest the election and INEC conducted the poll in a free and fair manner.
“Therefore, we have come to an inescapable end that the petitioner failed to prove the cases against the respondents, and we hereby dismissed the petition against the election of Oyebanji as governor of Ekiti state.”
Responding to the judgement, counsel to Oyebanji and former Attorney General, Olawale Fapohunda, SAN hailed the tribunal for upholding the victory of the governor, calling on the SDP candidate to place the interest of the state above his personal interest by supporting the government towards improving the lives of the people.