By Godwin Edeh and Brenda Agba
The Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Makurdi has upheld the election of the Governor of Benue State, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, stating that the governor was duly elected.
The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Titus Uba, who is also the immediate past Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, and his party had challenged Alia’s election on grounds that he was not properly nominated by the APC.
Alia was declared winner of the March 18th governorship election by the Independent National Electoral Commission on March 22, 2023.
However, the three-man election petitions tribunal led by Justice Ibrahim Karaye, Friday unanimously dismissed the petition of Titus Uba of the PDP and affirmed the victory of Alia.
The tribunal in its ruling held that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter, describing the petition as a pre -election matter which it said can only be entertained by a Federal High Court.
Petitions earlier submitted by Uba prayed that Governor Alia and his Deputy, Sam Ode were not qualified to contest the election and urged the tribunal to declare the votes cast during the governorship election wasted votes.
Also, Uba and PDP wanted the election to be nullified and that INEC should withdraw the certificate of return and declare him (Uba) who, came second and scored 223, 913 votes as the winner.
However, Justice Ibrahim Karaye held that, the first and second respondents,
Alia and his deputy raised preliminary objections and questioned the jurisdiction of the tribunal to entertain a pre- election matter and argued that it was purely an internal affair of the party.
On the issues of credentials and falsification of Form EC9, the tribunal cited section 115 of the evidence Act as amended in the 1999 constitution, that the onus of proof rest with the petitioner and the evidence before the tribunal shows that, the respondent Sam Ode had submitted evidence of due processes by submitting before the tribunal receipts of payments. He described the argument of the petitioner as lame and lacking substance.
While on the qualification of both the 2nd and 3rd respondents of Alia/Ode joint ticket, the tribunal cited the position of the 1999 constitution which clearly states that, “for one to be qualified to contest for governorship position in a state election, he must be a Nigerian, must have a minimum of secondary school certificate and must be a member of a registered political party”.
According to him, “another requirement outside the above is purely outside the jurisdiction of this honourable tribunal”, and therefore struck out the application for want of jurisdiction.
Justice Karaye further stated that, “the tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to entertain any pre-election matter as such matters are best directed to the Federal High Court.”
However, no penalty was awarded to Uba and PDP by the tribunal.
Reacting to the judgement, lead counsel to Alia, Mike Osuman (SAN) commended the chairman of the tribunal and the panel for affirming the wishes of the people of Benue State which he said were massively expressed during the governorship election.
He further appealed to the opposition party, the PDP, to join forces with the administration of Governor Alia to move the state forward.
Also reacting, lead counsel to Sam Ode, S.I Ameh (SAN) described the petition of Uba and PDP as “dead on arrival” as he said they failed to prove their allegations of forgery and falsification of documents before the honourable tribunal. He urged PDP in the state to join Alia to enhance development and welfare of the people.
Meanwhile, lead counsel to the petitioner, Titus Uba, Okon Efut (SAN) refused to speak on the judgement.
Although, sources close to Uba told newsmen in Makurdi that the PDP governorship candidate, Uba has vowed to appeal the judgement.
Meanwhile, Governor Hyacinth Alia has described his victory in the judgement delivered by the tribunal as an act of God and purely will of the people of the agrarian Benue State.
This was contained in a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Tersoo Kula.
Alia said “it is victory for democracy and the rule of law.”
It stated that, “the court has indicated once again that it is the last hope of the common man and that no might is powerful enough to thwart the supreme will of the people, and claim power through the back door.”
“His Excellency assures the good people of the state that he is committed to putting the welfare of the state ahead of self. He appreciates and recognizes the fact that his victory is that of the people to whom sovereignty and power truly belongs.
“Governor Alia re-dedicates himself to the service of the people and the strengthening of democratic values across the state.
“He urged all and sundry, including members of the opposition to put their hands on deck and ensure that the state is moved to heights of greatness away from the current mess of misery, poverty and maladministration,” the statement stated.