Efforts by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to clinch the House of Representatives seat for Askira-Uba/Hawul Federal Constituency of Borno State suffered a setback as the Court of Appeal, for the second time, dismissed its case against the election of Dr. Midala Balami of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment on Friday, held that the case filed by Tarfaya Asarya of the APC was incompetent, lacking in merit and liable for dismissal.
According to the three-man panel, there was no reason whatsoever to set aside the judgment of the Borno State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, which affirmed the PDP candidate as the valid winner of the House of Representatives election that held in the constituency on February 25.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared that Balami secured a total of 28,820 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Asarya of the APC, who polled a total of 25,383 votes.
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the election, the APC and its candidate lodged a three-ground petition at the tribunal, insisting that Balami was not a valid candidate in the election.
The petitioners, among other things, contended that the primary election the PDP conducted, which produced Balami as its candidate, was done in breach of an order of the Supreme Court.
They argued that the apex court nullified a previous primary poll the PDP held in the constituency, which initially produced Adamu Yerima as its candidate and ordered that a fresh one should be conducted within 14 days.
It was their contention that the fresh primary poll that eventually led to the emergence of Balami as a candidate for the election, was done outside the 14 days that was ordered by the Supreme Court.
The appellants equally faulted INEC’s declaration of Balami as winner of the contest, arguing that he was not duly elected by majority votes cast at the election.
They told the tribunal that whereas election was cancelled in 10 polling units in the constituency due to malfunctioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines and violence, election did not hold at all in one polling unit.
According to the petitioners, in view of the margin of lead principle, INEC should not have declared a winner since the total number of votes from the affected polling units was capable of ensuring their victory.
However, the three-member panel tribunal, in a unanimous decision on August 25, dismissed the petition.
The tribunal held that it lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain an issue bordering on the nomination of a candidate by a political party.
It held that the case of the petitioners contained pre-election issues that were not within the purview of an election petition tribunal.
Stressing that the Federal High Court was the appropriate place for the petitioners to ventilate their grievances, the tribunal held that the APC and its candidate lacked the right to challenge a nomination that was made by another political party.
Meantime, while upholding the verdict on Friday, the appellate court panel led by Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme, held that under section 285(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the tribunal had a special jurisdiction to only determine whether anyone was validly elected.
It held that the scope of the jurisdiction conferred on the tribunal by the constitution could not be expanded to include the determination of the validity of the conduct of primary election or nomination of candidates by political parties.
The appellate court held that though the issue of eligibility of a candidate is both a pre and post election matter, “the appellants however chose a wrong venue to ventilate their grievances”.
It held that contrary to the claim by the appellants, INEC confirmed that results were cancelled in only five polling units in the constituency.
The court held that whereas the margin of lead claim of the APC and its candidate was based on voters register, they, however, failed to indicate the number of Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) that were collected in the affected polling units.
It held that the Electoral Act 2022 introduced a new electoral regime that entails the use of collected PVCs and number of accredited voters to establish the voting population of every polling unit.
Consequently, it resolved the case against the appellants and dismissed the appeal.
Reacting to the judgment, Balami lauded the judiciary which he described as the last hope of the common man.
Maintaining that his victory at the poll was an expression of the will of the electorate, the PDP candidate urged his opponent to sheath the sword and join him to move the constituency forward.