The National Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Umuahia, Monday, reserved judgment in the petition seeking to nullify the election of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and member representing Bende federal constituency, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Kalu.
Chairman of the three-man panel, Justice Samson Paul -Gang, after all parties had adopted their final written addresses, said the tribunal would later communicate the parties on a date for judgment.
Kalu’s election is being challenged by both the Labour Party candidate, Chief Frank Chinasa; and his Action Alliance, AA, counterpart, Mr Ifeanyi Chukwuka Igbokwe.
The LP candidate had alleged discrepancies in Kalu’s credentials including his birth certificate, 1st degree certificate, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate, among others.
His Lead Counsel, Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN, while adopting his written addresses, urged the tribunal to grant all the reliefs sought by the Petitioners.
He insisted that “the 1st Respondent does not have the requisite qualifications” to participate in the election, arguing that “the burden of proof now lies on him to prove that he has the needed qualifications”.
The lead Counsel further argued that the 1st Respondent never tendered any certificate before the court to prove that he has them , saying that “everything he presented is affidavit, affidavit”.
He urged the panel to throw away the preliminary objection by the Respondents which, according to him, “is incurably defective”, arguing that it ought to have been moved by way of motion and not as a preliminary objection.
The LP candidate’s lawyer faulted the claims by the 1st Respondent that he had harmonized his certificates with a Deed Pool published in a federal gazette, citing a judgment by the Supreme Court that it is only the issuing authority that can effect a correction in the certificate it issued, and not by a mere affidavit or Deed Pool by another party.
Kalu through his Lead Counsel, Kelvin Nwufo, SAN, adopted his written addresses, explaining that the said discrepancies in his certificates have been harmonised by a Deed Pool published in a federal gazette.
He further argued that the Petitioners were unable to prove their case beyond any reasonable doubt, nor were they able to tender any evidence of forgery against the 1st Respondent.
The Counsel, therefore, urged the tribunal to dismiss the suit for lack of evidence.
Similarly, APC lawyer, Vigilus Nwankwo, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition which he described as “baseless and frivolous”.
He argued that the Petitioners had asserted that the 1st Respondent was not qualified as at the time of the election to stand for election, hence, the onus was on them to prove the assertion which he claimed, was a positive assertion.
The APC lawyer further argued that a Petitioner was bound “to give credible, oral and documentary evidence to prove the grounds of his petition”.
Meanwhile, Counsel to the AA candidate, O. E Enwere, while adopting his written addresses, urged the tribunal to nullify the election, claiming that his client was “criminally excluded” from the ballot by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
He argued that the non inclusion of his client and the AA party’s logo on the ballot papers amounted to non compliance with the Electoral Act.
The Counsel argued that INEC could not justify its refusal or failure to include the name of the AA candidate who was validly nominated and his name duly submitted to the electoral umpire.
He said that INEC had in its reply admitted omitting the AA candidate and logo on the ballot, arguing that ” facts admitted need no further proof”.
But in a swift response, the 1st Petitioner’s lawyer, urged the court to dismiss the petition, arguing that the documents tendered by the Petitioners were dated after the closure of submission of names of candidates by INEC.
He further argued that the Petitioners did not tender any party logo before the tribunal, and urged for the dismissal of the petition claiming that the Petitioners failed to prove their case.
Similarly, Counsel to APC, Mr Nwankwo, urged the tribunal to throw away the petition on the grounds that the Petitioners based their petition on unlawful exclusion which he said purportedly occured before the election, hence, it amounted to pre-election matters.
According to him, the tribunal is not vested with powers to hear pre-election matters.
He also said that the Petitioner according to a recent Supreme Court judgment, must prove that he was duly nominated, arguing that the Petitioner could not prove that he was duly nominated within the time table given by INEC.
According to him, the AA primary that produced the Petitioner was held about a week after INEC allegedly closed submission of candidates.
” It means that AA did not validly nominate any candidate; and it means that there was no nomination or candidate”, he said.
But the AA candidate’s lawyer in a counter argument, submitted that the relief by his candidate was that there was ‘”non compliance with Electoral Act,” and not “unlawful exclusion” as being presented by the APC lawyer.