In Abuja on Wednesday, the Ebonyi State Election Petition tribunal rendered its verdict on Petition No. EPT/EB/GOV/01/2023 (BENARD ODO & APGA Vs INEC, FRANCIS OGBONNA NWIFURU & APC), ruling in favour of Governor Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru of Ebonyi State.
The Tribunal acknowledged that the petition pertained to a pre-election matter over which it lacked the jurisdiction to make a determination. Despite this, the Tribunal proceeded to evaluate the petition on its merits and ultimately dismissed it, finding it lacked merit.
Furthermore, the Tribunal emphasized that the Constitution does not contemplate that the failure of the 2nd Respondent (Governor Nwifuru) to vacate his position as Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly after defecting from the PDP to the APC should prevent him from contesting the governorship election under the APC banner. The Tribunal concluded that the petitioners failed to establish that the 2nd Respondent was not qualified to run for the Governorship Election, as there was substantial evidence indicating that he had officially resigned from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the time of the election.
The summary of the Court’s ruling highlighted several key points:
1. The petitioners failed to approach the appropriate court to address the issue of political party membership.
2. The Tribunal lacks the authority to address matters that occurred before the election.
3. Only an aspirant who participated in the primaries of the 3rd Respondent (APC) has the right to challenge the membership of the 2nd Respondent (Governor Nwifuru).
4. No court can intervene in the internal affairs of a political party without substantial evidence (No PDP membership Register of Enyanwuigwe ward was presented to prove the 2nd Respondent’s PDP membership).
5. The petitioners’ claim that the 2nd Respondent’s APC Form was forged lacked supporting evidence.
6. The date of the 2nd Respondent’s defection from PDP to APC was disclosed in Exhibit R5 (votes and proceedings of Ebonyi State House of Assembly).
7. Section 109 of the 1999 Constitution as amended does not apply to the 2nd Respondent but to members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly.
8. Holding that the 2nd Respondent was not qualified to run for the Governorship election because he did not vacate his seat, as ordered by Justice Ekwo, would be unjust.
In conclusion, the only ground for qualification that was considered in this pre-election matter was membership in the APC. The petitioners failed to prove any of their claims, and the petition was consequently dismissed with no cost awarded.
Meanwhile, the judgment for Petition No. EPT/EB/GOV/01/2023 [IFEANYI CHUKWUMA ODII & PDP Vs INEC, FRANCIS OGBONNA NWIFURU & APC) was still ongoing at the time of this report.
Additionally, Mrs. Chioma Nweze, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Community Development, South East region, described Governor Francis Nwifuru’s victory at the Ebonyi State election petition Tribunal as a triumph for democracy. She encouraged the Governor’s opponents, Prof. Benard Odoh of APGA and Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii of the PDP, to drop their litigation and collaborate with Governor Nwifuru to promote good governance in the state. She commended the tribunal’s verdict, which upheld the mandate given to the Governor by the people of Ebonyi in the March 18 governorship election, and urged all contenders to support his administration for the development of the state.
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