APC vs APM: Not yet Uhuru in Ogun State
By Olufemi Adediran
The epic electoral battle between Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, and the Governorship candidate of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Hon. Adekunle Akinlade, has been on for almost a year now. And the battle is not likely to end anytime soon.
While Abiodun and members of his political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), are still celebrating their victory at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on Saturday, September 14, Akinlade and the APM have filed a 20-ground appeal before the Court of Appeal in Ibadan to challenge the judgement of Tribunal. Akinlade’s election was sponsored by the immediate past Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, although Abiodun’s predecessor contested on the platform of the APC to win the Ogun Central Senatorial District election.
Akinlade in the appeal, alleged that the Tribunal made a “volte face” in several grounds upon which the case was decided and thereby occasioning a miscarriage of justice. The three-member Tribunal, led by Justice Yusuf Halilu, dismissed all the prayers of Akinlade and dashed his hope of becoming the Governor of the State.
Akinlade, through his lead Counsel, Mamman Osuman (SAN), had gone to the Tribunal to challenge Abiodun’s victory at the Saturday, March 16 Governorship election, alleging among other things, that Abiodun told lies about the certificates he posses. He also alleged there was over voting in some polling units and that the APC did not substantially complied with the electoral law. Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), led 15 other lawyers to defend Abiodun, with the APM calling 39 witnesses as opposed to APC’s 35.
The APM candidate and his party, in a petition marked, EPT/OG/GOV/01/19, to challenge Abiodun’s victory alleged over-voting and the APC candidate’s ‘lack of qualification’. But the Tribunal in its judgement ruled that the petitioner failed woefully to prove all the allegations. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Abiodun’s APC were joined in the suit, which started in April.
Hundreds of APC and APM supporters started trooping to the venue of the Tribunal in Isabo, Abeokuta, the State capital as early as 6.30am to declare support for their respective political parties. The convoy of the Justice Yusuf Halilu – led panel drove into the court premises at exactly 9.35am but the court did not sit until 10am.
Contrary to reports that party faithful might engage themselves in a violent attack, nothing of such happened. The combined security forces, comprising men of the Nigeria Police Force, led by the State Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, the Department of State Security Service (DSS) and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) took charge of security.
The APM candidate in his 332-page petition insisted that, he won more votes in the election, thus the tribunal should declare him the winner. The five-month old Tribunal had a rough start in the State. Halilu’s Tribunal was the third set up by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) to handle Akinlade’s case. The first Tribunal was headed by Justice Chinwe Onyeabo. But the State Labour Party (LP) wrote a petition against her, alleging that she is related to Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, who is alleged to be supporting Abiodun. Based on the allegation, they were excused. The second Tribunal, led by Justice Josephine Coker that replaced Onyeabo’s own was also dissolved based on another petition.
The mood on the day of the judgement was that of sobriety, anxiety and uncertainty as party faithful hanged around the court premises hoping that their political party will be victorious at the end of the day. The mood after several hours of waiting, soon changed to that of partying and carnival as wild jubilation by APC supporters took over. By the time, Justice Halilu had finished reading his judgment, all APM supporters were no where to be found, as they had hurriedly left the court premises probably to avoid being attacked by the supporters of the APC.
Security men had a hectic time in controlling the over joyous crowd who were drumming and dancing. Justice Halilu in the four-hour-36-minute long judgment, stated, “This petition does not only fail, it is destined to fail, it fails and hereby dismissed. The petitioner (Akinlade) did not only failed but also irredeemably failed to prove the over-voting and malpractices allegations.”
On the allegation that the Governor told lies about the certificate he presented to INEC, the tribunal agreed that the issue was a pre-election matter, arguing that it ought to have been filed 14 days after Abiodun submitted Form CF001 to INEC, which was not done. Besides, the tribunal agreed that there was nowhere Abiodun told INEC that he graduated from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU), adding that what Abiodun said was that he attended the university but he did not say he graduated.
Justice Halilu explained that what the Governor stated in his INEC form was that he possessed a WAEC certificate had already been determined by the Appeal court and that ends the matter. But Halilu ruled on it all the same. His words, “The petitioners have failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the information submitted by Dapo Abiodun in form CF001 amount to false information. We hold, therefore, that the petitioner did not tender any evidence to dispute that the information tendered in such exhibit was false.
“There was no proof in respect to the allegation that the information the second respondent (Abiodun) submitted in form CF001 contain false information. Failure of the second respondent to disclose the universities he attended or graduated from in exhibit PP1 cannot by any stretch of any flightier imagination of the petitioner amount to false information.
“From the evidence before us, both documentary and oral, the petitioner has failed woefully to adduce evidence to prove that the information supplied by the second respondent is was one, false, two, that the information by the second respondent disqualified him from contesting the election. The second respondent was qualified, having satisfied the requirements of the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria. We therefore hold that the petitioner’s documents and oral evidence in support of his ground are lazy, deficient and shallow and proof nothing and are so watery in substantiality that no reasonable court can act on,” Justice Halilu said.
In his reaction to the electoral victory, Abiodun said he had gone through the most turbulent electoral process than any other Governor in the country. The Governor who spoke to journalists a day after the judgment, said, apart from the tribunal, he had survived nine pre-election cases before his victory at the poll. His words, “My first reaction is to give glory to Almighty God. And to say that this is further affirmation that indeed with God nothing shall be impossible. This victory is for Ogun State people who have entrusted me with this mandate. It has been contested in so many courts. I have gone through, probably, one of the most turbulent periods any Governor could have gone through. I went through several pre – election cases, about eight or nine and also this tribunal. God has continued to remain God, this mandate is a divine mandate and I believe that is obvious to all. This is a decision of the people of Ogun state and that was further ratified by the people.”
He described the judgement as, “the triumph of rule of law; victory for democracy and further validation of the mandate bestowed on him at the polls.” The Governor said he remained magnanimous in victory and extended, once again, a hand of fellowship to all opposition parties in the State and called on the APM to forget about 2019 gubernatorial elections and join hand with his government on its “Building Our Future Together Agenda.”
Abiodun counselled that, rather than dissipating energy and resources on litigation, they should either negotiate their return to APC where they were or start preparing for 2023 elections. He said, “Opposition strengthens democracy and I appreciate the fact that he went to the Tribunal in exercise of his constitutional rights. The Tribunal has validated the mandate freely given to us by the masses at the polls. The candidate and all members of APM and indeed members of other parties are free to join APC. Those who are still aggrieved should learn that democracy is about majority rule. The people have spoken and the Tribunal has validated their choice of me. Anybody who feels otherwise should start preparing for 2023”. He assured the people of his administration’s commitment to providing a focused and qualitative governance anchored on fairness, equity and inclusiveness.
But an unperturbed Akinlade in his reaction to the verdict, described the judgement as a mixture of the good and the bad, insisting that there is no going back on the battle to reclaim his mandate. Specifically, the APM candidate told the ruling APC and Abiodun that, “you might buy the votes and the judgement, but you can’t buy the will of the peoples and determination.” According to him, the petition he filed before the Tribunal was not based on the academic qualification of the Governor but rather on alleged false information contained in his Form CF001 submitted to INEC.
He said, “The constitution is very clear that where you disagree with any position, you seek redress in the court of law. There are still grounds open to us. The crafters of our constitution know that the Tribunal is still the first step. We thank our forebears who crafted the constitution to enable one seek redress where one disagrees with one judgment. And that’s what we have done. We know very clearly that in our petition, no where in the petition did we talk about the academic qualification of the second respondent. It was purely on the fact that he lied to provide false information. If the judgement is based on the academic qualification, then we believe something needs to be done when our lawyers review it.”
Akinlade and the APM, through the appeal are seeking reliefs from the court to allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the Tribunal, saying they were contesting the whole ruling and judgement of the Tribunal except the ‘findings and holdings of the lower Tribunal which are in favour of the Appellants.’ The body of the notice of appeal, they said, was based on the “allegation bothering affidavit containing false information of a fundamental nature in aid of qualification of Abiodun, over-voting and want of evidence.”
But the Ogun State chapter of the APC in its reaction to the judgment, said it never doubted the victory of the Governor both at the election in March and at the tribunal, describing the APM petition as a bad case. The Publicity Secretary of the party’s Caretaker Committee, Tunde Oladunjoye, in a chat with Uhuru Times, said, “We never doubted the Governor’s Victory. It (APM’s) was a bad case from the beginning. The election was tough but the APC won convincingly. It has never happened in the annals of Gubernatorial elections in Ogun State that leading Governorship candidates would, not only concede defeat, but would also congratulate and visit the winner.
“Personally, I knew APM cannot win that election. No party formed within a year has ever won Governorship election in Ogun State. APM was less than six months old. The APC wishes to commend the judges for a thorough job done. The detailed nature of the judgement clears all doubts and reconfirms our belief that the petition by Abdulkabir Akinlade, APM and their sponsors as mere distractions by sore losers. Our advice is for these people (APM supporters) to desist from their distractions and join Prince Dapo Abiodun in building the future of Ogun State together. The Governor has been running the promised all inclusive government.”