WHO is the authentic successor of late Senator Uche Chukwumerije in the Senate? Is it Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or Chief David Ogba Onuoha-Bourdex of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)?
By Clifford Ndujihe
These are some of the questions that the Abia State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Umuahia will answer today while ruling on the petition filed by Onuoha-Bourdex, the APGA senatorial candidate against the return of Senator Ohuabunwa of PDP, as the winner of the March 28, 2015 Abia North Senatorial election.
In the suit, No. AB/EPT/SN/4/2015, he filed on April 17, Onuoha-Bourdex alleged that there were monumental irregularities and breaches of electoral law in the March 28 election. According to him, as a result of the brazen irregularities and manipulations, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC (the second respondent) was unable to declare the results several days after the polls and had to set up a committee to inquire into the matter.
“Without waiting for the completion of work by the Committee in respect of all the local government areas in the Senatorial District, the 2nd respondent under pressure from certain quarters declared a result on 1st April 2015 and wrongly returned the 1st respondent (Ohuabunwa) as the winner of the said election, when he did not win the majority of lawful votes cast,” he averred.
I’m the rightful winner – Onuoha-Bourdex
In his statement of facts, Onuoha-Bourdex through his counsel, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), prayed the tribunal to rule that Ohuiabunwa did not score the majority of lawful votes cast at the election held on March 28, 2015 and that he ought to have been declared the winner having won majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
He also disclosed that the grounds upon which the Petition was brought include that the 1st respondent was not duly elected by the majority of lawful votes cast at the election and that the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
Ohuabunwa (the 1st respondent) filed a reply to the Petition on May 28 while the 2nd to 14th respondents filed their replies to the petition on May 13.
In their witness testimonies, Onuoha-Bourdex contended that the PDP candidate inflated results of the election by increasing prefixing numbers to the exact value generated from the polling units to jack up the total votes.
The petitioner called 18 witnesses including the Returning Officer for Abia North Senatorial zone in the election, Dr. Chukwugoziem Ihekwoaba and an expert witness, Adeola Olayiwola, who explained that the election was fraught with large scale inflation and mutilation of numbers which when deducted leaves the APGA candidate with the highest number of lawful votes cast in the election.
The Returning Officer, who was a subpoenaed witness, declared that he refused to announce the result given to him from the wards during collation based on the noticeable inconsistencies between facts and figures adding that it was based on that discovery that he alerted the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, who set up a review committee to examine the discrepancies. “But after going through the results from two local government councils, the respondents engineered violence and intimidation thereby stalling the review,” Dr. Ihekwoaba stated adding that he resisted pressures and inducement on him to declare the fabricated result.
The RO added that the claim that he abandoned his duty post was made up by the respondents to justify their action of contracting an unauthorized person to declare results of Abia North Senatorial election stressing that his conscience never permitted him to declare a result that was clearly out of sync with the votes cast by the people in the field.
There was no irregularity – Ohuabunwa
However, Senator Ohuabunwa denied any irregularities in his election when he was confronted with discrepancies in the election result sheets of Arochukwu ward claiming that the INEC appointed another returning officer who announced the result of the election and declared him winner. He identified Dr. Ihekweaba Chukwugoziem as the returning officer for the Abia North senatorial election but claimed that INEC subsequently appointed another returning officer in the person of Prof. Onuoh Etebat, who declared him winner.
On October 5, 2015 counsels to the parties were at the Tribunal where they adopted their final written addresses. The petitioner’s counsel Chief Chris Uche (SAN) enjoined the Tribunal to declare Onuoha-Bourdex, stressing that having proved sundry allegations of electoral and criminal offences beyond reasonable doubts, his client should be declared winner of the election.
He maintained that given the failure or refusal of the 2nd to 14th respondents to call evidence, “it is pertinent to properly situate the legal consequences of such strategy or gamble…INEC in the case at hand offered no evidence whatsoever to disprove the evidence of the petitioners that there was substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and that the votes credited to the 1st to 3rd respondents were not lawful votes even as they did not also substantiate their own allegation to the contrary as they were bound to do.
Where the outcome of an election is challenged on grounds that the winner did not have the majority of lawful votes, the burden or task of the election tribunal is to determine the actual unit results and add them up.
The tribunal has a duty, in determining who scored the majority of lawful votes cast, to compute or collate the results, once the results are available and there is proof of inflation and of wrong computation,” he advocated.
Counsels to Ohuabunwa and INEC, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) and Dr. Livy Uzoukwu (SAN) who declared that it is not correct to say the petitioner won the election by 37115 valid votes or that he won 28, 894; or that the petitioner led by 6, 609 votes stressing that they were relying on documents and evidence tendered by INEC .