The contest for the Ogun East Senatorial District seat being held by business tycoon, Prince Buruji Kashamu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) entered a new phase recently when the National Assembly Election Tribunal sitting in Abeokuta adjourned the petition of Mr. Oladapo Abiodun and All Progressives Congress (APC) for final judgment.
Both Abiodun and the APC, jointly filed an 81-page petition challenging Buruji’s victory in the March 28, election.
Joined as co-respondents in the petition along with Kashamu were PDP, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the state Resident Electoral Commissioner.
In his petition against Kashamu, Abiodun assembled a 21-man legal team including three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Yusuf Alli, Ricky Tarfa and Abiodun Owonikoko, to prosecute his case at the tribunal against the INEC-declared winner.
On his part, Kashamu did not waste time in responding to the petition through his legal team led by Alex Izinyon (SAN) and Ajibola Oluyede (SAN) in a 29-page document. He prayed the court to dismiss the petition for lack of merit.
Following the conclusion of hearing of the cases of parties and the adoption of final written addresses, the three-man panel led by Justice Niki Tobi reserved judgment.
Apart from the PDP and APC, seven other political parties fielded candidates that contested the election. All the nine political parties were scored votes by INEC.
In their prayers before the tribunal, the petitioners prayed the three-man panel led by Justice Tobi to nullify the election that produced Kashamu as the senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District at the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, saying it was null and void.
The petitioners also wanted the tribunal to declare that Kashamu was not qualified to contest the election when he did. Also, it was the case of the petitioners that Kashamu never won the majority of lawful votes cast in the election to warrant his being declared the winner.
Based on the above, the petitioners, in their case, urged the panel to declare Abiodun as winner and duly elected senator for Ogun East Senatorial District of Ogun State, having scored the highest number of lawful votes cast at the March 28 election and having satisfied the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
In the alternative, the petitioners wanted the tribunal to cancel the entire election on the grounds of substantial non-compliance with the laws guiding the conduct of the election and direct the third respondent (INEC) to conduct fresh election in all the area, where the alleged massive malpractices and fraud took place in Ogun East Senatorial District during the March 28, National Assembly election.
Kashamu in his response to the petitioners’ prayers, however, contended that the latter were not entitled to any of the reliefs including the alternative relief. He urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition with substantial and punitive costs.
He contended that the claim of the petitioners that the first petitioner scored majority of lawful votes during the disputed election into Ogun East Senatorial seat lacks basis.
The first respondent (Kashamu), stated.the scores/votes returned in the disputed polling units and wards were lawful and valid, insisting that the exercise was peaceful as there was no case of harassment or intimidation, contrary to the claim of the petitioners.
The petitioners predicated their grounds for the reliefs sought at the tribunal on two legs: alleged wide-spread irregularities and malpractices that allegedly characterized the election conducted by INEC in several parts of Ogun East Senatorial District and the alleged non-qualification of the first respondent anchored on his reported indictment by a United States of America court.
On the ground of widespread irregularities and malpractices that allegedly characterized the conduct of the election, the petitioners argued that the result of the election as declared by INEC could not stand and was invalidated by virtue of the fact that the total 209,722 votes cast were higher than the number of accredited voters, 201,327, the first respondent was scored 99,540 votes as against 84,001 votes for the first petitioner.
“The petitioners stated that the elections in the wards and polling units being challenged and listed above were vitiated by substantial non-compliance with the mandatory requirements of the Electoral Act which substantially affected the validity of the aforesaid election such that the votes credited to the first respondent ought to be nullified as unlawful in the determination of the election results.”
Arguing the particulars of the alleged malpractices, the petitioners contended: “These corrupt practices comprise vote allocation by INEC officials, ballot stuffing, multiple voting, voting by under-aged persons and persons without valid voter card, ballot box snatching, intimidation, inflation of results, bribery, under supply of voting materials, threats, falsification, impersonation, buying of votes,” which they claimed substantially affected the outcome of the election.
The petitioners, among other areas listed Ijebu North Local Government Area, Sagamu Local Government Area, Ijebu East Local Government Area, Ikenne Local Government Are and Ogun Waterside Local Government Area as areas where the alleged malpractices were prevalent that the situation invalidated the results of the election declared by INEC.
The petitioners highlighted the alleged anomalies in the conduct of the election to include, the total votes cast being greater than the registered voters and the member of accredited voters being greater than the registered voters. The also alleged that the total vote cast was greater than accredited voters; total valid votes and rejected votes were not equal to total votes cast; accreditation for Senate record not equal to presidential record; accreditation for Senate record not equal to accreditation for House of Representatives record as reflected in forms EC84 and EC813 respectively.
However, in response, Kashamu contended that he won the disputed election fair and square in all the local governments where the petitioners alleged wide-spread malpractices based on his popularity and philanthropic gesture to the masses in the area.
“The first respondent is a businessman and has been involved in a lot of philanthropic activities in Ogun State using the Omoilu foundation which he founded in 2009 for the purpose of assisting the indigent citizens of the state through a series of empowerment programmes.
“As part of these empowerment programmes, the first respondent has given out 1,500 cars, 1000 motorcycles, 150 trailer loads of rice, 50 trailer loads of Indomie noddles and 50 tankers of kerosene, among other materials,” he said
As stated by the first respondent, the Omoilu Foundation had coordinators in each of the 20 Local Governments in the state and membership strength of over 200,000 which confirmed his popularity and acceptance by the people of Ogun East Senatorial District, whom he claimed voted overwhelmingly for him.
On the ground of non-qualification, it was the contention of the petitioner at the tribunal that the first respondent, having been allegedly indicted for criminal offences by a grand Jury in the United States of America, had a burden to clear his name of the indictment before he could be eligible to contest any election.
The petitioners drew the attention of the tribunal to the provisions of Sections 65 and 66 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) averring that with his alleged indictment, Senator Kashamu ought not to have stood as candidate of PDP in the disputed election.
The petitioners claimed that all efforts made by the first respondent to have his indictment quashed failed to impress the court in the United StatesA.
The first application filed by the first respondent in 2009 to quash his indictment was refused by Charles R. Norgle, District judge of the United States District Court for the Northern Districts of Illinois, Eastern Division in his ruling delivered on September 25, 2009 in a case No: 94 CR172, the petitioners stated.
“The first respondent appealed the above mentioned decision of the United States District court but the stated.appeal was dismissed and the judgment of Charles R. Norgle affirmed by the United States Court of Appeal for the 7th Circuit in case No 10-2782 on the September 1st 2011,” the petitioners averred.
The petitioners added that on January 1, 2014, the first respondent filed another application to quash his indictment and to void the warrant of arrest issued against him, but the application was refused by the court in its ruling of April 23, 2014 in suit No: 94CR172-15.
However, in his response to the petitioners’ submissions on his alleged non-qualification, the first respondent, through his counsel, argued that indictment was not a conviction and as such could not be a ground for his disqualification to stand as candidate of PDP and contest the election into the Ogun East Senatorial District seat. He placed reliance on the ruling of the High Court of Justice, Kings Bench Division and the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, London in suit Nos. CD2344/1999 and CO/214/2000.