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The Election Petition tribunal sitting in Abuja, Abakaliki, has announced its verdict, siding with Governor Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru of Ebonyi State in Petition No. EPT/EB/GOV/01/2023 (BENARD ODO & APGA Vs INEC, FRANCIS OGBONNA NWIFURU & APC).
According to the Tribunal, the petition fell under the category of a pre-election matter, and as such, it was beyond their jurisdiction to adjudicate upon.
The Tribunal, against initial jurisdictional reservations, moved forward to consider the petition’s merit, ultimately concluding that it lacked validity and dismissing it.
In its ruling, the Tribunal clarified that the Constitution did not intend for the 2nd Respondent’s continued role as Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, despite switching from the PDP to the APC, to serve as a hindrance to his candidacy for the governorship of Ebonyi State on the APC platform.
The Tribunal’s ruling also underscored the petitioners’ inability to substantiate their claim that the 2nd Respondent was unqualified to run in the Governorship Election. It emphasised the substantial and convincing evidence that indicated the 2nd Respondent had indeed resigned from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The summary of the Court ruling indicated that ‘The petitioners failed to approach the proper court to entertain the issue of membership of a political party.’
‘Notwithstanding, the Tribunal has no power to entertain an issue which took place before the election. However, apart from an aspirant who participated in the primaries of the 3rd Respondent, no other person has the right to challenge the membership of the 2nd Respondent.’
‘No court has the power to dabble or poke into the internal domestic affairs of a political party. (No PDP membership Register of Enyanwuigwe ward was tendered before the Tribunal to substantiate that the 2nd Respondent is a member of PDP).’
‘Where a party forwarded name of a candidate to INEC it means that such a candidate is a fully-fledged member of such a political party. Exhibit R5 which is the votes and proceedings of Ebonyi State House of Assembly clearly disclosed the date the 2nd Respondent defected PDP to APC.’
‘It is not for the Tribunal to invoke section 109 of the 1999 constitution as amended against the 2nd Respondent, But that of the members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly.’
‘It will be unjust for the Tribunal to hold that the 2nd Respondent was not qualified to contest the Governorship election of Ebonyi State by the mere fact that he failed to vacate his seat in line with the order in Judgement delivered by Justice Ekwo.’
‘In the final analysis, qualification on the ground of membership of APC which is a pre-election matter is the only ground. The petitioners therefore woefully failed to prove all the grounds of their petition and the same is accordingly struck out. No order as to cost.’
It’s important to note that the verdict in Petition No. EPT/EB/GOV/01/2023 (IFEANYI CHUKWUMA ODII & PDP Vs INEC, FRANCIS OGBONNA NWIFURU & APC) was still pending at the time of this report.
Mrs. Chioma Nweze, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Community Development for the South East region, expressed her view that Governor Francis Nwifuru’s win at the Ebonyi State election petition Tribunal in Abuja is a testament to the strength of democracy.
According to her; ‘I commend the resounding victory of Governor Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru at the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja. The judgement of the tribunal has again put a judicial seal on the populist mandate freely given to him by the Ebonyi people in the March 18 governorship election.’
‘The victory validates the decision of the majority of Ebonyians as expressed in their overwhelming votes six months ago. Indeed, the confidence of Ebonyi people in the capacity of the Governor to lead the state towards its manifest destiny of greatness is not misplaced.’
Mrs. Chioma Nweze issued a plea to Governor Nwifuru’s competitors, Prof. Benard Odoh of APGA and Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii of the PDP, urging them to drop their litigation efforts and cooperate with the Governor in the interest of better governance in the state.
‘It is therefore no surprise that the frivolous petitions challenging the victory of the Governor at the polls were torn to shreds by the impartial sword of justice. I most passionately urge all contenders to his victory to swallow the humble pie and team up with him to enable the state enjoy many more years of progressive governance’.