The Ebonyi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Friday, urged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and others to avoid technicalities as the panel commenced sitting.
The three-member panel headed by Justice A. L. Ogunmoye gave the charge during the inaugural session of the panel in Abuja.
“It is common knowledge that the tribunal have 180 days from the filing of a petition, to dispose off same.
“It is therefore incumbent on all the parties before this tribunal to cooperate with us in order to ensure that we deliver on our mandate within the available time.
“We enjoin all counsel to eschew technicalities and ensure that substantial justice is not sacrificed at the altar of technicalities.
“This is the only way we can effectively and efficiently deliver on our mandate,” he said.
Ogunmoye said though the panel would be sitting in public, it would however frown at undue analysis of the proceedings that might prejudice its decisions.
The judge pledged to adjudicate the petitions without fear or favour and in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2022.
“In all, I solicit for the cooperation of all the stakeholders for the smooth running of the tribunal proceedings,” he said.
Other members of the panel include Hon. Kadi H.S. Tahir and Justice J. S. Suleiman.
Speaking, lead counsel for petitioners, Chief Chris Uche, thanked members of the panel and pledged their utmost cooperation for the tribunal to deliver on its mandate.
Uche, while speaking to newsmen shortly after the matter was adjourned until June 2 for continuation of pre-hearing session, said they were challenging the governorship election conducted on March 18 by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Ebonyi.
He said their clients; PDP and its candidate, Chief Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii, were challenging the election.
According to him, this petition has so many aspect, we are questioning the qualification, the membership because we are saying that the person INEC returned as a candidate for APC, is a member of PDP.
He said there were other grounds in which the election was being challenged, which include unlawful majority of votes, among others.
He said they were ready to bring all evidence within their disposal to prove their case.
INEC’s lawyer, Mr Oladipo Tolani, declined to talk journalists.
But Mr Roy Mwaeze, counsel for Ogbonna Francis Nwifuru (2nd respondent), the Governor-elect on APC’s platform, said it had become the culture in the country to go to court after every election, even when such suit lacked merit.
“Sometimes, this things are mere grandstanding or playing to the gallery,” he said.
Mwaeze recalled that the outgoing Governor, David Umahi, was challenged in 2015 and 2019 elections up to the Supreme Court.
He said the present petition was not a surprise.
He described the charge by the tribunal as a perfect advice to all the parties.
He said they had no choice but to cooperate with the panel.
Lawyer to the APC (3rd respondent), Mr Abdul Ibrahim, SAN, said the party had no cause to fear.
“They filed their petition and we have responded and everybody knows that the election was won by APC.
“They have the right to come to court and we also have the right to reply which is why the proceeding has kicked off today,” he said.
Ibrahim said they did not believe in technicalities and would play by the rules of the game.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the day’s proceeding was for adoption of the pre-hearing information sheets regarding questions and answers raised by the petitioners and the respondents.
Odii and PDP (1st and 2nd petitioners), in the petition marked: EPT/EB/02/2023 dated April 6 and filed April 7, by their team of lawyers, had sued INEC, Nwifuru and APC as 1st to 3rd defendants respectively.
Giving grounds while the election should be nullified, the petitioners argued that Nwifuru whose election was questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the poll.
They said that his election was invalid by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, and that he was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast at the poll among others.