The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on Thursday reversed the nullification of the election of Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel of justices, voided the verdict of the Nasarawa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which sacked Governor Sule of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
In the lead verdict that was delivered by Justice Uchechukwu Onuemenam, the court held that evidence before it established that the tribunal relied on legally inadmissible evidence to declare the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, David Ombugadu, as the valid winner of the governorship election that was held in the state on March 18.
According to the appellate court, the tribunal wrongly relied on the evidence of eight of the witnesses that were produced by the PDP candidate, whose statements on oath were not front-loaded alongside the petition.
It stressed that Section 285(5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Section 132(7) of the Electoral Act 2022, and Paragraphs 4(5) (6) and 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, every written statement on oath must be filed alongside the petition within the statutorily allocated time.
“Where a trial court admitted and acted on illegally inadmissible evidence, it is the duty of the appellate court to ensure that such illegally inadmissible evidence is expunged.
“A court of law is only allowed to act on legally admissible evidence. If documents are unlawfully allowed by a trial court, the appellate court is duty-bound to exclude the documents and discountenance the evidence.”
The appellate court proceeded to strike out all the evidence and exhibits that were tendered before the tribunal by the eight witnesses.
It held that the evidence of 12 remaining witnesses who testified for the PDP candidate was not sufficient to sustain the judgment of the tribunal.
More so, the appellate court held that the tribunal was in error when it deducted a total of 1,868 votes that were credited to Governor Sule on the premise that over-voting occurred in four polling units.
It held that the tribunal was wrong in its decision since the petitioners did not provide the necessary documents needed to prove over-voting.
The court noted that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, machines, and other electoral documents were merely dumped on the tribunal without any demonstration to show how the over-voting occurred.
It faulted the tribunal for summarily dismissing the evidence of witnesses that testified for the APC candidate, describing the action as “perverse”, adding that none of the witnesses that were called by the PDP and its candidate gave valid evidence that the tribunal could have acted on.
It held that the tribunal acted wrongly when it recomputed votes and made the declaration that returned the PDP candidate as the winner of the election.
“On the whole, I hold that this appeal has merit and succeeds; the majority judgment of the tribunal delivered on October 2 is hereby dismissed,” the court held.
Consequently, it vacated the order of the tribunal that directed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to withdraw the Certificate of Return that was issued to Governor Sule as the winner of the governorship contest.