The Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Friday nullified Dino Melaye’s election as the senator representing Kogi West.
Melaye had, in the February 23 election, polled 85, 395 votes to defeat Senator Smart Adeyemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who scored 66, 901 votes. But in a judgement on the petition filed by Adeyemi and his party, the three -man panel, led by Justice A .O. Chijioke, quashed the election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh one within 90 days.
Adeyemi, who represented Kogi West in the Senate in the past, and the APC, claimed in the petition that the election won by Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was marred by over-voting and non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
While the chairman of the panel, Justice A. O. Chijioke, refused the petitioner’s prayers, the other two members of the panel accepted Adeyemi’s ground and ordered for a fresh election into the senatorial zone.
Adeyemi’s counsel, Chief Tony Adeniyi, had, during the trial, asked the court to nullify the election, basing his prayers on three grounds: “That INEC’s decision to collate and announce results in Lokoja against the Federal High Court judgement, which stipulated Kabba (headquarters of the senatorial district), is enough to show that the election negates the constitution and Electoral Act; hence a substantial ground to nullify the election.’’He averred that INEC’s disobedience to the Federal High Court ruling when they did not appeal the judgement showed ulterior motives.
Secondly, “Whether the presentation of the certified true copy of PVC distribution in Kogi West, which revealed 48,200 excess votes in the result declared for the senatorial district, is not enough ground to nullify the election.’’ Also, the court should look into the extreme mutilation of votes, which was visible in the result sheet, which he averred was occasioned by the change of venue of collation centres by the electoral umpire.
But counsel to Melaye, Prof. Joash Amupitan, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), asked the court to dismiss the petitioner’s prayer, saying the documents presented by the petitioners were on “mere hearsay.”
The judgement may have thrown up a fresh political battle between Senator Melaye and Senator Adeyemi on one hand, and the PDP and the APC on the other.
While the APC has hailed the judgement, the PDP said it was not losing any sleep, adding that Melaye would remain the representative of Kogi West at the Senate.
The national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, in an interview with Punch in Abuja, said they would get victory at the Appeal Court.
He said, “We are not worried about the nullification because we still have the opportunity of going to the Court of Appeal. However, Kogi West, where Dino comes from, is the home of the PDP in Kogi State. So if elections are held there over and over, the PDP will always win. So we do not have any issue.
“We are also confident of victory at the Appeal Court because Adeyemi lost that election roundly. His party is the ruling party in the state, but the people of Kogi West voted against him. He knows that he lost that election, including in his ward and local government area. So if the election is held 100 times, the PDP will win.”
The APC chairman in the state, Abdullahi Bello, said Melaye’s sack was a welcome development. In an interview, Bello said the ruling had confirmed that there was hope for the common man in the country. He commended the judiciary for standing on the part of truth in delivering the judgement.
There was jubilation across major parts of Lokoja on Friday after the tribunal sacked Melaye. Some supporters and well wishers of Senator Adeyemi gathered at JB Hotel to celebrate, amidst drumming and dancing. Some supporters were also seen at different strategic locations in Lokoja, celebrating the victory.
In his reaction, Senator Adeyemi’s anchor man, Hon. Julius Arojojoye, dedicated his principal’s victory to God and Kogi West people. He also commended the judiciary for its courage in adjudicating with fear of God, saying it was clear that the judiciary was functioning as it should.
“We are very happy for the judgement. We appreciate the people of Kogi, especially Lokoja, for their love, support and steadfastness. Today’s judgement is an indication that the judiciary can save the nation from imminent trouble.”
But Melaye, in his reaction, described the ruling as a “total miscarriage of justice.’’ In a press statement he signed, Melaye said the judgement was “full of importation of information that were alien to the case.’’
“I, however, commend the courage and moral strength of the chairman of the tribunal for resisting evil and standing on the part of justice. I have confidence in the Appeal Court to right the wrongs as contained in the pronouncements of the judgement.
“I also want to tell those jubilating that their jubilation will be short-lived, while appealing to my teaming supporters to remain calm as their mandate is safe and secured and cannot be taken through any mischievous means,” he said.
Melaye noted that his legal team was already working on appealing the judgement.
Also speaking on Channels TV, Melaye said the judgement was a plot to distract him from his gubernatorial ambition in the forthcoming election in Kogi.
“I cannot be distracted. My name is Daniel, I will not fall. There’s a deliberate plan since I have been identified as the man that has the capacity to unseat Governor Yahaya Bello. I will not only unseat him, I will liberate the wonderful people of Kogi State from perfidy, maladministration, poverty and hunger. Honestly, everything is fine, everything is okay. I believe the Court of Appeal will give us justice,’’ he said.
On his part, Adeyemi said, “We are looking forward to meeting him in the Court of Appeal. We are probably going into cross appeal to say that over 40,000 of the votes were in excess and we should be declared winner.’’
Governor Yahaya Bello described the judgement as victory for democracy and a demonstration of the readiness of the judiciary.
In a statement by the director-general, media and publicity to Governor Bello, Kingsley Fanwo, said, “The people of Kogi West and the entire APC structure will be prepared for the election to right the wrongs of the past.
“We believe that our candidate, Sen. Smart Adeyemi, won the election. We are happy that the tribunal has finally granted us the justice we deserve.’’
As it stands, it is not yet Uhuru for both Melaye and Adeyemi as more legal and political battles still lie ahead.