Lagos – Residents of Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti state capital trooped out in their numbers last week in wild jubilations following the announcement that the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja, had validated the election of Dr. Kayode Fayemi as duly the elected as governor of the state in the July 14 2018 governorship election that held in the state.
In the election, which held on July 14 2018, Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC) polled 197,450 votes to defeat Prof. Kolapo Olusola-Eleka of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who was the deputy to the former governor, Ayo Fayose.
Not satisfied with the results as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the PDP and Eleka had approached the Governorship Election Tribunal set up for the state.
The tribunal initially commenced sitting in the state but had to relocate to Abuja for security reasons leading to the result judgment being read from the nation’s capital.
The jubilant crowd made up of party members and folks with no known political affiliation, passed through the Akure-Ikere-Ado-Ekiti road and caused serious traffic jam. There were jubilation and wild celebrations in other parts of the state including Ijero, Aramoko, Ikere, Okemesi and Ifaki among other major towns in the state.
It was instructive that there was no single incident of mayhem or fracas voyaging crowd of jubilant. No clash was reported between supporters of rival parties particularly the ruling APC and the PDP in the state.
The incident-free celebrations which coursed through Odo-Ado area to the government House and back to the APC secretariat in the Ajilosun area of town was the opposite of what obtained during the administration of the immediate past governor, Ayodele Fayose. Indeed, it was the view of many observers that the mood was indicative of a genuine victory by Fayemi.
Above all, one particularly instructive reason the news of the tribunal judgment was believed to have been received with such excitement is the change in the lifestyle of the people. In just a little over 100 days in office, things have begun to change significantly for the people. Now, pensions are being paid, salaries are regular and students now enjoy free education, while the aged are beginning to savour a great sense of belonging in their own state. For these people, old things have clearly passed away and suddenly, all things have become new.
Delivering the unanimous judgment, Chairman of the three-man panel of justices, Suleiman Belgore averred that the petition against Fayemi’s APC lacked merit and stated that the PDP and its candidate at the election, Elekah failed to prove its case with any credible evidence that the election that returned Fayemi was marred by irregularities.
The justices who were rather disappointed in the manner the PDP pursued its case, added that some of the oral evidences provided by the petitioners supported the respondents’ case that the election was free and fair and the winner duly announced.
According to Belgore, both PDP and Elekah did not substantiate their claim that governorship election in many polling units were characterised by lack of accreditation, over-voting, mutilation of results, inaccurate ballot account, votes-buying and snatching of election materials as well as cancellation of results, where the PDP and its candidates secured highest number of votes among other irregularities.
He therefore contended that in the absence of credible evidence substantiated with pleadings, all allegations that were raised by the petitioners were therefore deemed abandoned.
“Evidence of facts not pleaded goes to nothing,” Belgore said, adding that the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), with respect to the election would continue to enjoy the assumption of regularity, until such assumption is displaced with credible evidence.
“On the whole, we hold that the petitioners failed to prove the allegations on the balance of probability. In fact, oral evidence of some of the witnesses called by the petitioners strengthened the case of the Respondents.
“It is clear that the irregularities claimed by the petition cannot be substantiated. We found no reason to disturb the results,” Belgore stated in his lead judgment.
Expectedly, the APC in the state welcomed the verdict, thus, the party mood among its supporters in the state. But it was not so within the ranks of the PDP. They had reasons not to celebrate but not justified reasons, many reckoned.
In his reaction, Deputy Chairman of the APC in the state, Hon. Sola Eleshin described the electoral victory as well-earned without any underhand tactics to warrant cancellation of the victory by the tribunal.
According to him, the APC did not perpetrate any electoral fraud and so expected the victory to stand.
“We’re happy over the outcome of the election, but we are not in any way surprised. The governorship election that held on July 14 2019 was transparent.
“It was clear that Governor Fayemi won fair and square, so we are not afraid even if they want to appeal the judgment, we are ready for them, because we had no skeleton in our cupboard”
But in their reaction, the PDP said it would appeal the verdict at the appellate court as provided for in the subsisting Electoral Law.
An associate of Fayose of many years and Director of Media for the Eleka campaign, Lere Olayinka, told reporters that the PDP would appeal the judgment.
“That is not the last bus stop as regards the election petition Tribunal. The law is very clear regarding the hierarchies of courts we can approach to seek redress on this issue. We are surely going to appeal the judgement,” Olayinka said.
Analysts however feel appealing the verdict could turn out efforts in futility. Those who hold this view insisted that nothing good would come off an appeal of the verdict, more so the realities on the ground seem to support this assertion.
According to Femi Akinyemi, an analyst “One, the allegations of widespread irregularities was wide off the mark. Yes, there were instances of alleged votes-buying but both the PDP and the APC were reportedly guilty of this abuse according to election monitors. Even Fayose who was the major force behind Eleka allegedly made funds transfer to civil servants few days before the election with an accompanying urge that they should vote for his candidate”.
“Two, unlike the Osun State governorship election, where both foreign and local observers noted glaring irregularities, including intimidation of opposition party supporters with the connivance of security agencies, such was not the case with the Ekiti election that returned Fayemi. Observers – both local and foreign – gave pass mark to the conduct of the election”.
“Third, with the rancour free-jubilation and celebrations that greeted the tribunal verdict, observers insisted, was instructive of the feeling among people of the state that Fayemi won fair and square”.
Even the notorious faction of the union of road transport workers, who which was alleged to have been used by Fayose to manipulate or cause crisis in the state also welcomed the judgment, further lending credit to the contention of observers that the verdict scored good in both the court of public opinion and the temple of justice.
“The verdict of the tribunal represents the view of a cross section of our people. They believe that the tribunal has served them true justice in the case. If indeed the PDP had won as Fayose lied, the judgment would have been met with protests among PDP supporters in the state,” another Lagos-based analyst stated.
Certainly, it goes without saying that it would be difficult for the appeal court to upturn the verdict of the electoral tribunal on the strength of evidence that the PDP presented at the tribunal.
Analysts reasoned that if the party had any more evidence to substantiate its claims, the party would have presented it at the tribunal. In fact, some insisted that the move to appeal the result was interpreted as Fayose’s penchant for theatrics and playing to the gallery.
However, there were those who hold the view that the threat to appeal might just follow the same pattern. They contended that the party at the state level lacks the resources to engage in another round of legal battle even as they insisted that the PDP at the federal level does not seem to be giving any serious thought to appealing the verdict, given the body language of the party hierarchy since the verdict was pronounced.