The governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Kaduna has upheld the victory of the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate, Uba Sani, who was declared the winner of the 18 March governorship election in Kaduna State.
The disputed election was challenged by the first runner-up, Isah Ashiru of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both the PDP and Mr. Ashiru contended that extensive irregularities and result manipulation had occurred in certain local government areas, favoring Mr. Sani.
They maintained that Mr. Sani did not secure the highest number of valid votes cast during the election and, therefore, should not have been declared the winner.
Ruling on the matter, the three-member panel led by Victor Oviawe declared that the PDP and its candidate could not validate their claim that the election was rigged.
The verdict, which was announced via Zoom on Thursday, due to security concerns, held that the pre-hearing notice was filed out of time and therefore deemed to be abandoned. The petition was therefore dismissed.
The chairman of the tribunal and another member concurred that the appeal brought forth by the PDP and Mr. Ashiru lacked merit due to the procedural issue concerning the filing of the pre-hearing notice. They held that it “was abandoned and out of time, and therefore had dealt the entire petition a fatal blow.”
The tribunal said that if the petition had not been dismissed for its lack of merit, it would have ordered a supplementary election to be conducted within 90 days in 22 polling units.
Like in several other states, the Kaduna governorship election was allegedly marred by irregularities, prompting the petition by the PDP to challenge the outcome.
According to the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Sani polled 730,001 votes to defeat his closest rival Mr. Ashiru who scored 719,196 votes.
The candidate representing the Labour Party (LP), Jonathan Asake, secured a distant third position with a total of 58,283 votes, while Suleiman Hunkuyi of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) garnered 21,405 votes in the election. Both parties did not challenge Mr. Sani’s victory.
In response to the court’s judgment, the spokesperson for the governor, Mohammed Shehu, stated on behalf of Mr. Sani. In the statement, Mr. Sani praised the judgment, characterizing it as a victory for democracy and a confirmation of the people’s choice, ultimately viewing it as God’s will.
“On this historic day, I join the people of Kaduna State to celebrate this monumental victory for democracy,” the governor stated.
“I consider this verdict not only as a win but a call to action, a call to deliver on our campaign promises as captured in the SUSTAIN agenda. This victory is a testament to the strength of our great judicial institutions and a proud moment for me as one of the pioneer advocates for democratic governance in Nigeria decades ago.
“The Deputy Governor, Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, and I express our immense gratitude to the good people of Kaduna State for their prayers, support, and firm belief in our mandate.
“Indeed, your unshaken loyalty and confidence in our administration is the propellant to ensuring we continue to deliver on our promises to you,” he added.
Nevertheless, Ashiru, in a statement he personally signed and issued following the tribunal’s verdict, reassured the people of Kaduna that he would persistently pursue the mandate they had entrusted to him until its logical conclusion.
He, however, shed more light on what transpired in the court, which earlier today created confusing reports in the media.
He said: “Given the ruling of the Kaduna state election tribunal, it has become necessary to share with our teaming supporters the true position of the ruling.
“On the preliminary objection, the tribunal, based on the majority of 2:1 judges upheld the preliminary objection of the respondent to the effect that the application for pre-hearing was done prematurely i.e. before the service of the last set of petitioners’ reply to the 2nd respondent’s reply to the petition was served.
“However, the law enjoins the tribunal, as a trial court, to proceed to pronounce on the merit of the substantive suit so that in the event the court of appeal finds that the trial tribunal was wrong in its decision on the preliminary objection, it would have the benefit of pronouncing on the decision of the tribunal in the substantive matter.
“Accordingly, the trial tribunal finds merit in the aspect of the petitioner’s case relative to the margin of win between the two leading candidates. The tribunal by a split decision of 2:1 accordingly, nullified the election of the governor of Kaduna state, ordered that the Certificate of Return be retrieved and fresh elections be conducted in some polling units in 4 LGAs and the outcome thereof be reckoned with before the declaration of the winner of the governorship election in Kaduna state.
“I want to again thank the people of the state while urging them all to remain law abiding while we pursue the appeal process.
“One thing I can assure the good people of Kaduna state is that I will pursue this mandate you freely gave me to its logical conclusion and by the grace of God, victory on our side.”