The Ebonyi State Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja will deliver its judgement on Wednesday, September 27, on the petitions against the election of Governor Francis Nwifuru.
The Independent National Election Commission(INEC) declared Nwifuru of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the election, which was held on March 18, 2023.
Nwifuru polled a total of 199,131 votes across the 13 Local Government Areas of the state to beat his closest rival, Chukwuma Ifeanyi Odii of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who scored 80,191 votes.
But Odii and his party PDP and the second runners-up, Bernard Odoh, and his party, All Progressive Grand Alliance(APGA), rejected the result and challenged it at the tribunal.
Odoh, in his petition, is seeking Nwifuru’s disqualification on the grounds of Certificate forgery and ineligibility to stand for the election and asked the tribunal to retrieve the Certificate of return issued to him.
The APGA candidate said Nwifuru, at the time of the election, was still a member of the PDP and, as such, was not eligible to be sponsored for the election by the APC.
He averred that Nwifuru therefore was not qualified to contest the election to the office of the Governor of Ebony State as he belonged to two political parties, which he argued was unconstitutional.
Odoh further alleged that Nwifuru was not qualified to stand for the election as he allegedly submitted a fake certificate to INEC and prayed to the Tribunal to nullify the said election to the office of the Governor of Ebony State held on March 18, 2023.
He also urged the Tribunal to order a second election pursuant to Sections 179(3) and (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended into the office of the Governor of Ebonyi State.
Odoh further urged the Tribunal to declare that the said fresh election should be held between the two candidates who scored the highest number of votes in the March 18 election.
PDP Petitions Nwifuru’s Victory
In the other petition, the PDP and its candidate, Odii, asked the Tribunal to mandate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return issued to the Governor.
They also asked the Tribunal to declare Odii as the winner of the election and return him as the elected Governor of Ebonyi State in the March 18, governorship election.
The petitioners argued that Nwifuru was not qualified to contest the election on the platform of the APC as he was still a bonafide member of the People’s Democratic Party and had not officially defected to any other political party, including the APC.
They further averred that Nwifuru, being a serving lawmaker elected on the platform of the PDP to the State House of Assembly, and who had not defected officially at the floor of the House as the law requires, couldn’t have contested election in another party outside the PDP.
The PDP asked the Tribunal to declare that Nwifuru was not qualified to stand for the 2023 governorship election on the platform of the APC as he remained a member of the party, and the party never sponsored him for any election in the just concluded 2023 general elections.
The petitioners also cited a subsisting judgment by Justice Henry Njoku of the Ebonyi State High Court, which ruled that Mr Nwifuru and other lawmakers of Ebonyi State House of Assembly who purportedly defected to the APC are still members of the PDP.
The petitioners also alleged noncompliance with the Electoral Act, 2022, by the Independent National Electoral Commission as well as electoral malpractices, among other infractions.
But Nwifuru prayed the court to dismiss the suits for being unmeritorious.
The Governor governor argued that Nwifuru, while serving as Speaker, resigned his membership of the PDP and joined the APC before vying for the governorship primary election of the latter.
Nwifuru also presented APC’s membership register containing his details for Enwanweigwe Ward, the Governor’s country home.