The Ebonyi State Election Petitions Tribunal has affirmed the election of Governor Francis Nwifuru.
Recall that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on March 18, 2023, had announced Francis Nwifuru of the All Progressive Congress (APC) winner of the poll with 199,131 votes while Chukwuma Ifeanyi Odii of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came second with 80,191 votes.
But Odii and PDP rejected the outcome and vowed to challenge it.
They subsequently approached the Tribunal seeking the nullification of Nwifuru’s election on the grounds of non-compliance with the Electoral Act 2022 and alleged failure to score the majority of lawful votes cast at the guber poll.
Odii and the PDP legal team argued that the governor was at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election on the platform of the APC because he was still a member of the PDP.
However, Nwifuru’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) submitted a letter before the Tribunal showing that the governor resigned from the PDP while serving as speaker of the state House of Assembly, and defected to the APC before its primary election.
In its judgment on Wednesday, September 27, the three-man panel of the Tribunal chaired by Justice O. Lekan held that the issue of nomination and sponsorship by a political party, being a pre-election matter, should have been challenged before the Federal High Court before the election.
The Tribunal then declined jurisdiction to entertain the grounds of Nwifuru’s sponsorship of APC, saying it was an internal political party matter.
It held: “Membership of a political party is a non justiciable issue.”
The Tribunal also said it could not overturn a Federal High Court judgment which observed that Nwifuru defected to the APC while serving as a lawmaker, faulting the PDP for not appealing the trial court judgment before now.
The panel observed that “the petitioners were consistently inconsistent” when they initially contended that Nwifuru was still their member at the time but eventually admitted he had defected to the APC.
On the PDP’s assertion regarding alleged overvoting, mutilation and inflation of results, the Tribunal observed that the petitioners called 20 witnesses who failed to prove that the disputed polling units results sheets were defective or not stamped in line with relevant laws.
The Tribunal observed that the petitioners failed to produce the polling unit results given to their polling unit agents as evidence of alleged electoral malpractice.
“The allegations of the petitioners remains unproven,” Lekan maintained, citing a Supreme Court judgment which states that overvoting can only be proved using the Voters Register, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System report and Form EC8As.
Subsequently, the panel dismissed the petition, affirming Nwifuru as the duly elected governor of the state.
The Tribunal had earlier dismissed the petition brought by the All Progressive Grand Alliance(APGA) and its candidate, Bernard Odoh on similar grounds.