By Onyeje Abutu
Makurdi – The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi on Monday affirmed the re-election of Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue and dismissed the petition of Mr Emmanuel Jime for lacking in merit.
Jime of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had challenged the return of Ortom of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by the National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) on the grounds of substantial noncompliance with the provisions of Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.
Also joined in the petition were the PDP and INEC.
The petitioner alleged in his petition that Ortom was not dully elected by majority of lawful votes cast.
The APC governorship candidate also challenged the results declared in Buruku, Gboko, Guma, Gwer East, Gwer West, Konshisha, Kwande, Logo, Ukum, Ushongo and Vandeikya.
He therefore asked the tribunal to either declare him winner of the March 2019 governorship election in Benue or nullify Ortom’s election and order the conduct of a fresh election in the state.
During the hearing, the petitioner called 59 witnesses who testified that they witnessed irregularities, over voting and other electoral malpractices perpetrated by the PDP and INEC during the election.
Jime while testifying as PW17, urged the tribunal to declare him winner of the election on grounds that he polled 2,224 votes more than Ortom.
The petitioner also tendered over 1100 electoral documents including forms EC8A, EC8B, EC8C, EC8D, EC8E, voters registers and card reader reports.
He also tendered 2019 manual and guidelines for electoral officials in 384 Polling Units across 11 local government areas in contention.
However, Ortom, INEC and PDP asked the tribunal to strike out the petition in its entirety for lacking in merit.
INEC in its final written address, told the tribunal that the March 2019 election was conducted in full compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.
INEC and PDP called no witnesses while Ortom who was the second respondent in the suit called one witness.
Ortom told the tribunal through his counsel, Mr Sebastine Hon (SAN) that the burden of proof rested on the petitioner.
Delivering a nine hours judgment, the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Henry Olusiyi faulted the testimonies of the petitioner’s witnesses.
According to him, non of them could substantiate their claims of over voting and other irregularities alleged.
Olusiyi said that the petitioner failed to link the documents tendered in evidence to the petition, saying that they dumped the documents on the tribunal.
He also said that until the National Assembly amends the constitution, the voter register remain the only document used to ascertain the number of registered voters and not the smart card readers.