By Francis Igata
The March 28 Enugu-East senatorial election exposed the colour of the water that passed under the bridge during the poll.
The water, stinking with unaccounted ballot papers, result mutilations, accreditation flaws, ballot box stuffing, among others, culminated in non-compliance with the 2010 Electoral Act.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had, on March 29, declared Senator Gil Nnaji of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the winner of the election, having polled 69,544 against that of the Peoples Democratic Change, PDC, candidate, former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani who scored 57,528.
Nnamani had, in the days leading to the election,embarked on an issue-based campaign, citing his monumental achievements as governor of Enugu State.
The declaration of the PDP candidate the winner of the election elicited wild protests in Enugu metropolis. Nnamani calmed frayed nerves, assuring he will challenge the result at the tribunal.
In a petition brought before the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, headed by Justice Matthew Adewara of Kwara High Court, Nnamani prayed the court to declare him the winner or order a fresh election following irregularities that marred the poll.
The suit, which had Nnaji as first respondent, PDP, second respondent, and INEC, third respondent, unravelled INEC’s collusion with the PDP when, during trial, the electoral body’s counsel, Mr. Benson Ibezim, rejected a certified true copy of a document issued by the Commission, saying it could not be admitted in evidence for doubtful authenticity and competence of the Commission’s Legal Services Department to endorse the document.
Last Monday, the tribunal, delivering verdict on the petition, held that accreditation of voters in the election was flawed as confirmed during cross examination of the respondents.
“The first respondent, while trying to deny that irregularities marred the election, exposed more mutilation of result in polling stations where he claimed to have won. Ballot papers were not accounted for, which affected the outcome of the result. Irregularities occurred in the six local government areas that constitute the senatorial district”, the tribunal Chairman Justice Adewara, said.
“Sufficient evidence was laid before this tribunal showing that the first respondent inflated results while deflating the petitioner’s result. These irregularities and non-compliance were substantial to mar the outcome of the election. The petitioner has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the election did not comply with the provisions of Electoral Act 2010.
“Based on the foregoing, we thereby void the election and order a fresh election.”
Thousands of Nnamani’s supporters, who thronged the court room, immediately erupted in jubilation. The crowd sang victory songs through major streets of Enugu metropolis.
Enugu lawyer, Ray Nnaji,noted that Nnamani won the election clearly even as he added that the tribunal looked at the merit of the petition in cancelling the election
Another respondent, Chidi Ugwu, said: “The judgment is a welcomed development. I monitored the election to the extent that Chimaroke defeated Nnaji even in the polling station in front of his residence. With the pronouncement of the tribunal, I now know that the judiciary is worth its salt. All over the state, people believe Chimaroke won the election.”