From Esther Akaa, Lafia
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has overturned the sack of Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by the State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which sacked the incumbent governor.
The state tribunal’s judgment that earlier removed Governor Sule was overturned by the appellate court in a unanimous decision by a panel of three justices on Thursday in Abuja.
The judgement delivered by Justice Uchechukwu Onuemenam, said that evidence before the court established that the tribunal relied on legally inadmissible evidence to declare the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Dr. David Ombugadu, as the valid winner of the governorship election that held in the state on March 18.
The appellate court claimed that the panel improperly relied on the evidence supplied by eight witnesses of the PDP whose sworn whose sworn statements were not front-loaded with the petition.
The court explained that Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, section 132(7) of the Electoral Act 2022 and Paragraphs 4(5) (6) and 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, every written statement on oath must be filed alongside the petition, within the statutorily allocated time.
“Where a trial court admitted and acted on an illegally inadmissible evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to ensure that such illegally inadmissible evidence are expunged.
“A court of law is only allowed to act on legally admissible evidence. If documents are unlawfully allowed by a trial court, the appellate court is duty bound to exclude the documents and discountenance the evidence.” he said.
The appellate court therefore threw out all the evidence and exhibits that were tendered before the tribunal by the eight witnesses.
According to the ruling, the tribunal’s decision could not be upheld by the testimony of the remaining twelve witnesses who supported the PDP candidate.
The appellate court further held that the tribunal was in error, when it deducted a total of 1, 868 votes that were credited to governor Sule, on the premise that over-voting occured in four polling units.
It ruled that because the petitioners failed to submit the required documents to support their allegations of excessive voting, the panel erred in its ruling.
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, machines, and other election records, the court noted, were just thrown on the tribunal without any explanation of how the over-voting happened.
It criticised the tribunal for abruptly rejecting the testimony of APC candidate witnesses, calling the conduct “perverse” and pointing out that none of the witnesses the PDP and its candidate called provided the tribunal with admissible evidence upon which to base its decision.
“On the whole, I hold that this appeal has merit and succeeds, the majority judgement of the tribunal delivered on October 2 is hereby dismissed,” the court held.
The appellate court therefore overturned the tribunal’s ruling ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, to revoke the Certificate of Return that declared Governor Sule the winner of the gubernatorial election.