The Court of Appeal in Abuja, on Friday, October 11, nullified the February 23, 2019, Kogi West Senatorial election, in which Senator Dino Melaye had been declared victorious by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and ordered a fresh election for the Zone’s Senatorial seat.
A three-member panel of the Appeal court, led by Justice Yahaya Dattijo, in a unanimous decision, upheld the judgment of the tribunal which had quashed Melaye’s victory over closest rival Senator Smart Adeyemi and ordered a fresh election.
Senator Dino Melaye had in a 23- ground of appeal raised through his team of lawyers led by Chief Ricky Tarfa, SAN, insisted that the majority decision of the tribunal occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice against him.
But the appellate court in its judgment, said it saw no reason to set aside the August 23 judgement of the Kogi State National/State Assembly Election Tribunal that nullified the outcome of the February 23 election that was declared in favour of Melaye and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
It therefore struck out the appeal Melaye lodged to challenge the majority decision of the tribunal that voided his re-election to the Senate.
Recall that a three-man panel tribunal led by Justice A.O Chijioke had, in a split decision of two-to-one, ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election for the Senatorial District.
The judgement followed a petition the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its candidate, Smart Adeyemi, filed to challenge the outcome of the senatorial poll which they said was marred by irregularities.
Adeyemi who was dethroned as Senator by Melaye in 2015, had alleged that the 2019 election, in which he was taking another shot to return to the Senate, was characterised by widespread over-voting and was conducted in contravention of the electoral guidelines and substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
The tribunal, in its majority verdict, had upheld his petition and ordered fresh poll for the district.
However, three appeals had been filed by the PDP and Mr Melaye, praying the appellate court to set aside the majority decision of the tribunal which voided the election of Mr Melaye.
The PDP, in the first appeal, represented by Jubrin Okutepa, SAN, had, in his final argument, prayed the Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya-led panel to set aside the majority decision of the tribunal against Mr Melaye on the ground of denial of fair hearing and refusal to evaluate the evidence adduced during the hearing.
The party had claimed that the tribunal failed to evaluate the testimonies of its witnesses while no reference was made to all the documentary evidence it supplied before the tribunal came to a wrong conclusion of over-voting, even when the petitioner did not tender voter register.
The PDP further claimed that the tribunal turned the head of natural justice upside down when it based over voting used in cancelling the senatorial election on the number of collected permanent voter cards rather than voter register as required by law.
Furthermore, Melaye had prayed the appellant court to nullify the tribunal’s verdict and declare that he was duly elected and asked the Court of Appeal to sustain an objection he raised for the petition challenging his victory to be quashed.
Cited as respondents in the matter were Senator Adeyemi, the APC, PDP, and INEC. Among issues, he raised for the court to determine included, whether the person that was sued at the Tribunal, being Senator Dino Melaye, is same as the person who contested the poll and declared winner of the election as contained on Form CF001 – Melaye Daniel Dino
The PDP then urged the three-man panel justices to invoke section 16 of the Court of Appeal Act and dismiss the petition for lacking in merit.
In the second appeal filed by INEC, through its lawyer, Kola Olowookere, the Appeal Court was urged to dismiss the allegation of mutilation of the election result and favouring a particular candidate as alleged by the petitioner, Smart Adeyemi and the All Progressives Congress APC.
The electoral body argued that the claim of over-voting by the tribunal was wrong and baseless because the voter register and result of the election in 2015 tallied with the result in the disputed area.
INEC alleged that the tribunal did not evaluate the exhibits it tendered to prove that there was no over-voting and pleaded that appeal be allowed.
The third appeal filed by Mr Melaye and argued by Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, urged the Appeal Court to set aside the over voting decision of the tribunal because it was based on hearsay instead of polling units’ agents’ results
The counsel called the attention of the Justices to the fact that only three witnesses were called, adding that the evidence of the three witnesses based on hearsay cannot justify the cancellation of the senatorial election.
However, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate had opposed the arguments of the appellants and pleaded with the appellate court to dismiss the three appeals because appellants were not denied fair hearing and that the tribunal based its findings on over voting on the report of INEC, which comprehensively contained the number of collected voter cards unit by unit.
Adeyemi and APC, represented by their counsel, Adekunle Otitoju, argued that INEC breached an order of the federal high court to the effect that the senatorial election result must be collated and announced in Kabba, the senatorial district headquarters and not in Lokoja as done by the electoral body.
They alleged that while their agents were in Kabba waiting for the collation, the INEC officials and agents of the appellants allegedly colluded and secretly moved the result collation to Lokoja where the result sheets were allegedly mutilated to favour Mr Melaye.
They also insisted that mutilation of results, dated February 25 instead of February 23, was so apparent and that over-voting was so established to the tune of over 48,000 votes.
They, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the appeals and uphold the majority decision of the tribunal.
The three-man panel of justices of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Abubakar Yahaya Dattijo, had reserved judgment after listening to the final arguments on September 24 to a later date which eventually turned out to be October 11, when it upheld the August 24 ruling of the Kogi state Election petitions Tribunal which had nullified the February 23, Kogi West Senatorial election and declared a fresh election that would once again pitch Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Smart Adeyemi in another monumental election battle for the Kogi West Senatorial seat.