In a few days from now the Rivers State Governor, Hon. Siminalayi Fubara would know if he can continue to be the number one citizen of the oil-rich South-south state.
This is following the reservation of a date for the delivery of judgment in a petition challenging his declaration as winner of the March 18 governorship election in Rivers State.
After several hours of deliberation, the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal yesterday announced that judgment is reserved in the petition by governorship candidate of the Accord Party (AP), Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
A three-member panel of the tribunal led by Justice Cletus Emifonye, made the announcement at the end of adoption of final written addresses by the parties in the petition.
While Lulu-Briggs and Accord Party are the petitioners, Fubara, and nine others are respondents.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had in March shortly after the governorship election declared Fubara, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the March 18 poll, on grounds that he scored the highest votes of 302,614, cast in the election.
However, Lulu-Briggs and his party are faulting the action of the electoral umpire on the grounds that the election was not concluded in most areas before Fubara was declared winner.
They are therefore, asking the tribunal to hold that the return of Fubara as unlawful and accordingly be nullified.
In addition, they urged the court to order for a fresh election or a rerun in most of the areas where election did not hold due to various reasons.
According to the petitioners, the declaration of Fubara as winner of the governorship poll when the election was inconclusive was done in substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws.
Specifically, the petitioners claimed that their case is challenging the alleged invalid return of Fubara as governor by INEC when election was not concluded and not about corrupt practices amongst others.
It is their position that the areas where election did not take place is so large that the votes there can upset the total votes which accrued to Fubara.
In the submission of his final written addresses, counsel to the petitioners, A. J. Owonikoko (SAN) told the court that the return of Fubara violated Section 130 of the Electoral Act, 2022.
While pointing out that there are 17 steps to be taken in declaring a candidate winner of an election, Owonikoko, claimed that steps 4-7 were missing, adding that the non availability of form EC 40 (G) 2; a condition precedent for the return of winner in the governorship election, marred the entire governorship poll.
According to him, the form EC40(G)2 which stipulates the total number of units where votes were not cast or voided as a result of over voting or other malpractices is a necessary legal document that INEC must produce before the court, and if produced the burden of proof requested by the respondents becomes unnecessary.
The petitioners’ counsel further posited that the INEC deliberately concealed Form EC40(G)2 to hide their unlawful act of undue crediting of unlawful votes to the 1st respondent.
He therefore, urged the court to nullify the INEC declaration of the 1st respondent for unlawful crediting of votes and substantial non-compliance with electoral laws.
However, the respondents in their various submissions urged the court to discountenance the arguments of the petitioners for inability to substantially prove claims of irregularities.
They stated that most of the infractions complaints against by the petitioners were on manuals of the elections process but not infractions on the electoral acts, stressing further that the petitioners failed to link the documents in court with any of their specific complaints of non-compliance.
However, after listening to arguments of counsel for and against the petition, the panel announced that date for judgment would be communicated to parties.
Meanwhile, Lulu-Briggs, who was present in court during yesterday’s proceedings, expressed confidence in the nation’s judiciary, adding that his position was aimed at deepening democracy in the country.
Speaking with journalists after the proceedings, he noted that democracy can only grow when people are allowed to vote candidate of their choice and not disenfranchised.
He expressed confidence of upstaging the incumbent if the tribunal grants its reliefs by ordering a fresh election or rerun in the areas where election did not take place.