The Governorship Election Appeal Tribunal sitting in Owerri, Imo State, has nullified the election Governor Okozie Ikpeazu of Abia State.
The court also declared Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections.
The five-member panel, headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, annulled the election on the grounds of substantial non-compliance with the electoral law.
Delivering judgment in an appeal filed by Otti, the court said that the APGA candidate scored 164, 444 valid votes to defeat Ikpeazu who scored 114, 444 votes.
The court declared that Otti was the winner of the April 11 and April 25 supplementary elections in Abia State.
Omoleye said that the cancellation of the elections held in three local councils – Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa – by the returning officers after the results were uploaded to INEC was wrong.
The court ruled: “In the Electoral Act, the Returning Officer has the right to only declare results of elections and not to cancel elections.
“This panel discovered that the earlier results uploaded to INEC headquarters correspond with the correct valid registered voters in the three LGAs, while that awarded to the respondent, shows over voting and therefore null and void.”
Omoleye had while reviewing preliminary objections and issues raised by both parties, struck out the preliminary objections by Ikpeazu’s counsel to the effect that the appeal lacked merit.
She also turned down the objection raised by the Peoples Democratic Pary (PDP) that the members of the panel were wrongfully constituted and affirmed the arguments of Otti’s counsel.
The appellate court maintained that the lower tribunal erred by not handling all the issues raised.
“It was wrong for the court to insist that because the appellant failed to appear in person, his matter will not be given due attention. For not appearing in person, the first appellant did not abandon his case,” she said.
After nullifying the election, the court insisted that there was no need to call for re-run because the results of the April 11 and 25 polls clearly present Otti as the genuine winner of the exercise.
The court therefore, directed INEC to issue Certificate of Return to Otti and swear him in as winner of the election.
In his reaction to the judgment, Mr Oracle Nwali, a lawyer in Otti’s legal team, described the victory as “an end of the year gift to APGA,” saying Otti would not disappoint Abia people.
On his part, Mr. Charles Esonu, the PDP scribe in Abia, said that party and its candidate would study the judgment and decide on the next line of action.