Kogi guber: Appeal Court reserves judgment in Ajaka’s suit against Ododo

The Court of Appeal sitting on Abuja has reserved judgment in the appeal filed by the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), in the November 11, 2023 Kogi State governorship election, Murtala Ajaka, challenging the judgement of the State Election Petition Tribunal which affirmed Ahmed Ododo of the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the elected governor of the state.

A three-member of Justices of the appellate court reserved judgment on Thursday to a date that would be communicated to parties after the adoption of all their briefs they filed in the matter.

While adopting the processes filed on behalf of the appellants, Pius Akubo, SAN, urged the court to set aside the judgement of the Kogi State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and declare Ajaka as the governor of Kogi State.

According to Akubo, the judgement of the Tribunal which affirmed Ododo’s election was a serious miscarriage of justice.

He said the expunge of the evidence of the first petitioners’ witness (PW1) by the Tribunal was a miscarriage of justice.

According to him, the appellants have demonstrated that election in three local government areas of Kogi state was contaminated by over voting.

He argued that Ajaka would have won if the election was properly conducted in accordance with the Electoral Act.

“Having regards to Section 134(1)(3) of the Electoral Act, the 2nd respondent was not qualified to contest in the election, having submitted forged documents to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),” he stated.

Akubo urged the court to hold that the the issue of qualification of the 2nd respondent is not a pre-election matter and pleaded with the court to set aside the decision of the Tribunal and declare Ajaka winner of the November 11, 2023 Kogi state governorship election.

In his own submission, Kanu Agabi, SAN, while adopting the briefs filed on behalf of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), prayed the court to dismiss the appeal filed by Ajaka and his party for lacking in merit.

He said there were inconsistencies in the case of the appellants and further argued that the Appeal Court had decided that if the grounds of a petition are inconsistent with one another, and are not consistent with the reliefs, it should be struck out.

Agabi also argued that the evidence of the petitioners were grossly insufficient and submitted that, once the evidence called is grossly insufficient, there is no evidence.

He said the petitioners only called 25 witnesses out of the scores listed and further argued that, out of the 25 witnesses called by the petitioners, there was no single polling unit agent among them.

Agabi also argued that the PW1 did not file any witness deposition before hand as required by law and as such cannot give evidence in an election petition.

Joseph Daudu, SAN, in his own submission on Ododo’s behalf, said no single evidence of PW1 was admitted as evidence by the Tribunal on the ground that he failed to front load his witness statement before hand.

Daudu said the Tribunal was right to have expunged the evidence of PW1, having declared it inadmissible and added that the appellants failed to prove the allegation of over voting in their petition.

He also urged the court to dismiss the allegations of forgery against his client, saying it bordered on pre-election matter, which the apex court had decided in Gbagi’s case against INEC.

Daudu, who said the appellants failed to prove allegation of over-voting, also argued that Section 137 of the Electoral Act cited by the petitioners on allegations of over-voting did not apply in the petition.

He urged the court to dismiss the appeal and affirm the judgement of the Tribunal which upheld the election of Ododo.

Corroborating Daudu’s argument, Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, who appeared for APC, prayed the Appeal Court to dismiss the petition for being incompetent.

Ajaka and his party, in the appeal, hinged on 31 grounds, insist that they are the winners of the November 11, 2023 governorship election and should be declared the rightful winner.

The appellants who are dissatisfied with the decision of the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal headed by Justice Ado Yusuf Birnin Kudu, are praying the court for an order setting aside the judgement of the Tribunal, an order restoring the testimony of their first witness (PW1) as well as all the documents they tendered that were expunged from the records of the Tribunal.

The appellants also want that Appeal Court to hold that Ododo was not even qualified to have contested the election into the office of Governor of Kogi State and that all votes ascribed and or allocated to him and the APC are wasted votes.

It would be recalled that the tribunal had, on May 27, affirmed the victory of Ododo of the APC in the November 11, 2023 Kogi governorship poll.

The three-member panel of justices, held that the petition was bereft of substance and accordingly dismissed it.

The tribunal held that SDP and Ajaka failed to prove the allegations of over-voting and non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022 in the petition.

The panel, in a unanimous, decision held that all the witness evidence filed before it were incompetent and full of inconsistencies.

It also agreed with the submissions of the respondents that the allegations of forgery raised in the petition were pre-election matter, which ought to have been raised 14 days after the documents were submitted to INEC.

Kogi had, on November 11, 2023, held its off-cycle election in which Ododo of the APC was declared winner by INEC.