The Governorship Elections Tribunal sitting in Makurdi today reserved judgement for the legal battle between Prince Terhemen Tarzoor and Samuel Ortom, APC and INEC even as no date is fixed though the chairman of the panel handling the petition says it would be soon.
The petition, which was slated for addresses and hearing of preliminary objections by counsels to Ortom, APC and INEC, after a long wait was set in motion with respondents counsels opening the floor.
Chief Niyi Akintola SAN, Sabastine Hon SAN, Prof Tony Ijohor SAN led a team of lawyers for Ortom, APC, INEC while Adebayo Adenipekun led for Tarzoor.
Apart from the APC, which was represented by the Benue State chairman of the party, Comrade Abba Yaro, other parties were absent in court.
In addition to adopting their written addresses in urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition, respondents also moved their preliminary objections questioning the locu standi of Tarzoor to question the qualification of Ortom to contest the April 11 Governorship election.
Akintola in his submission urged the court to dismiss the petition on account that it is incompetent arguing that no person known to law is signatory to it. He also submitted that Tarzoor was not an aspirant on the platform of the APC and only relied on hearsay to say that Ortom is not a member of the party and had no sponsorship.
In another instance, Akintola submitted that the petitioner has failed to prove his case adding that there are no countable reliefs before the Tribunal that are grantable and urged the court to dismiss same because the petition lacks merit, is frivolous and abandoned.
Hon on his part submitted that the petitioner was crippled on the ground of Res Judicata. According to him, it is settled in law that candidates and their political parties are the same and cannot be separated and since the PDP’s suit at the Federal High Court Makurdi Judicial Division which sought to stop Ortom from contesting the election was struck out, Tarzoor, a candidate of the PDP cannot come back with the same reliefs.
He cited the case of Okorocha v PDP decided by the Supreme Court, 2014 7NWLR Part 1406 P. 213 particularly at P. 262 wherein the apex court held that candidates and political parties are inseparable.
Addressing the Honourable Tribunal on the substantive petition, Hon submitted that PW1 called by the petitioner irreparably destroyed the petitioner’s case when he admitted that INEC, the only eyewitness to APC congress left a day before the final day of the rescheduled APC Governorship congress which was held in December of last year.
He further submitted that evidence before the court has shown that the APC conducted her congress on December 11 insisting that since Tarzoor was not and is not a member of the APC, did not contest governorship election on the platform of the APC, has no locu standi to maintain his petition.
Counsel to INEC, Ijohor in arguing his preliminary objection argued that since the petitioner is not praying for fresh election and has not contested the result of the poll, his petition is incompetent, and so the Tribunal lacks the jurisdiction to grant the reliefs he is seeking.
Again, he said there are no facts in support of grounds two and three of the petition therefore, there is no escape route for him and accordingly urged the court to invoke the presumption of regularity with respect to nomination of Ortom by virtue of S. 167 and S. 168 of the Evidence Act while urging the Honourable Tribunal to dismiss the petition and hold that Ortom is a member of the APC, was sponsored by the party and accordingly returned winner having scored majority of lawful votes at the April 11 poll.
But Tarzoor’s counsel, Adenipekun in his submission said his client has never before taken action against the first respondent and is saved the embarrassment of Res Judicata and that it is settled law that the appropriate place to ventilate the issue of qualification is the election petition tribunal. He also said a party, which participates in election is competent to challenge the qualification of another candidate and at the tribunal as provided by S. 148(1)(A) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
In his submission on the issue of the merit of the case, it was the view of Adenipekun that Ortom was not sponsored by the APC as he was not a member of the party at the time of the election. He also said witnesses called by Ortom simply amounted to abuse of court process and so tribunal cannot rely on evidence they gave. Furthermore, he said, APC’s witness had admitted under cross examination that APC delegates were in Lagos for the party’s national convention on 11th December and on the date of the rescheduled exercise in Makurdi, INEC left the venue of the primaries in Makurdi with their ballot boxes.
On the issue of who signed the petition, it was the submission of Adenipkun that Para 4 (3) of the first schedule to the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) allows that either of the petitioner or counsel can sign the process. Besides, he said, APC’s witness identified the process to be signed by a person known to law.
According to the senior advocate, Tarzoor has not abandoned his pleadings and refers to S. 143(3) of the Electoral Act on whose premise the tribunal can return a candidate with majority of valid votes winner as against a candidate that was wrongly returned.
In his final submission, Adenipekun said the APC violated relevant provisions of INEC guidelines for the conduct of primaries and urged the court to allow the petition and grant his reliefs.
Judgment according to the Tribunal chairman, Justice Elizabeth Karatu is reserved and would be communicated to parties and soon