Odimma Ebonyi Group, a coalition of civil society organisations in Ebonyi State, including Oganihu Ebonyi Movement, Ebonyi Peoples’ Vanguard, Eastern Renaissance Movement and Worried Nigerian Citizens, has urged the various tribunals handling the Governorship, National and State Assembly election petitions in Ebonyi State to uphold the rule of law.
The group noted that unless the election petition tribunals keep to the facts and law without easy recourse to technicalities, they would be setting wrong precedents that justice is up for the highest bidders in the eyes of the people.
While stressing the legal maxim that justice should not only be done but seen to be done by the people, Odimma Ebonyi Group regretted that recent happenings in the tribunal do not inspire confidence and hope.
Spokespersons of the group, Engineer Osita Kalu Ugoji and Maazi Moses Idika, in a statement made available to newsmen yesterday, urged Nigerians to pay closer attention to the issues being pleaded in the Ebonyi State governorship and National Assembly election petitions.
They remarked that when the election tribunals were moved to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, the general impression was that the justices wanted a neutral ground to ensure easy access for petitioners and respondents.
“However, we are worried by recent decisions taken by the tribunal, which leaves the impression that the movement to Abuja was to dispose the tribunals sitting for under-hand transactions and easy reach by those who are determined to perpetuate state capture.
“We are therefore calling on Nigerians to pay close attention to issues being canvassed by petitioners at the various election petition tribunals, especially the Ebonyi State Gubernatorial Election and National Assembly Election Petitions.
“It is on record that the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election who has been sworn into office, Rt. Hon. Francis Ogbonnia Nwifuru, swore to an affidavit averring his membership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Federal High Court.
“The APGA and PDP governorship candidates in the March 18 election, Prof. Benard Ifeanyi Odoh and Chief Ifeanyi Chuks Odii respectively, are challenging the election of Nwifuru on the grounds that the APC candidate was not properly validly nominated by APC being a member of PDP during the nomination process.
“Also, the petitioner claims that the BVAS was not used to accredit voters in three local councils of Izzi, Abakaliki an Ebonyi. We do not know how the learned Justices would handle the matter, but our concern is that the rule of law should be upheld to avoid a miscarriage of justice. As the saying goes, parties to every suit in court know the facts and the truth, it is the judge that is on trial,” the group stated.
The group said it was compelled to cry out following the inexplicable dismissal of the petition filed by Dr. Eze Emmanuel Eze, the Labour Party (LP) candidate for Abakaliki/Izzi federal constituency by the tribunal last Friday.
It also decried reports that the tribunal’s secretary was programmed to backdate the APC Senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South, Engineer David Umahi’s response to Senator Michael Amah Nnachi’s petition, which was allegedly filed outside of time.
Odimma Ebonyi said the hasty dismissal of the LP candidate’s petition suggests a pre-arranged verdict to rubbish a credible petition against the electoral heist in Ebonyi as well as a tactical move to demoralize the petitioners.
Citing a legal opinion by a legal luminary, Agbo Obinnaya Godson, Odimma Ebonyi agreed that the Justices A. D, Odokwo and S.S. Ogunsanya of the Ebonyi National and State Assembly Election Petition Tribunal did not consider “time of service” as prescribed by Paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act 2022.
The group therefore pleaded with the tribunal to remember the time element in the handling of the petition so as not to jeopardise the cases brought up by petitioners.
“History books are replete with instances where the Court of Appeal had to order election petitions back to the tribunal for retrial. But, this has been seen as a veritable way of damaging election petitions by the abridgment of time,” Odimma Ebonyi noted.