The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has dismissed the appeals filed by the Labour Party’s governorship candidate Chief Great Ogboru and his All Progressives Congress, APC counterpart, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor, in the April 11, 2015 governorship election in Delta State, challenging the judgment of the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal which had earlier affirmed Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s victory.
In a unanimous judgment by the five-man bench presided over by Justice Uwani Abba-Aji on Thursday, December 24, 2015, the appeal court held that the appeals lacked merit and that the tribunal was right to have dismissed Ogboru and Emerhor’s petitions.
Both Chief Ogboru and Olorogun Emerhor had filed their petitions, through their lead counsels, Chief Dele Adesina, SAN (Labour), and Chief Thomson Okpoko, SAN, (APC), before the Court of Appeal, following the Delta State tribunal decision, challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission’s declaration of Okowa of the PDP as winner of the poll.
Reacting to the Court of Appeal judgment in a spontaneous victory service at the Government House Chapel, Asaba, after the judgment was delivered, a jubilant Governor Okowa, flanked by his wife, Edith expressed surprise that Deltans had turned out in their numbers, despite the public holiday, to join him in the thanksgiving service, even as he added that he was dedicating the victory to God as it had been made possible by God through the prayers of Deltans, who came out massively to vote for him in the April, 2015 gubernatorial elections.
“In the last few days, there have been a lot of rumours, a lot of speculations but, we continued to trust in the Lord, I thank God for His faithfulness and I appreciate all Deltans for your prayers and support, the wish of Deltans expressed in the April 2015 elections have been upheld,” he said.
Governor Okowa once again called on his two opponents to join hands with him saying, “It is time they (my opponents) have a rethink. It is time for peace to reign in Delta State, We believe that Delta State is one and we need to live as brothers and sisters.”
Speaking further, Okowa said, “There is room for reconciliation, for peace. We must continue to build bridges. We must continue to do those things that unite us as a people. Delta State is greater than all of us and if their (Ogboru and Emerhor) ambition is all about Delta State and not personal, then they should join us in taking Delta State to greater heights.”
Governor Okowa who, equally spoke with journalists after the thanksgiving service said that the Court of Appeal judgment in Abuja was a perfect Christmas gift for Deltans, as it had further re-affirmed their faith in the decision they made to vote massively for him and the PDP in the April 11, 2015, Delta State governorship election.
“This is a perfect Christmas gift for Deltans. I believe that Deltans must be very excited because the truth is that they trooped out on April 11 to cast their votes and the courts have continued to uphold their wishes. By God’s grace, we will not Delta State down,” Okowa said.
However, in a swift reaction, Chief Great Ogboru and the Labour Party, Delta State has vowed to pursue its case to the final logical conclusion at the Supreme Court
A statement issued by Henry Efe Duku, Senior Media Aide to Chief Great Ogboru reads thus: ‘The Court of Appeal just delivered judgment in favour of PDP in our appeal. We salute their Lordships for concluding this phase of the litigation process.
“We note at once that the Court did not pronounce on all the burning issues submitted to it for adjudication. Significantly, the Court did not make a finding on the fact that the result of the election was pre-written before collation of votes began.
“There is another phase at the Supreme Court to test the correctness or otherwise of this judgment. Obviously, it shall be tested on appeal.
“May God bless our dear Delta State and help us all,’ the statement concluded.
Although the Emerhor/APC camp had not released any statement reacting to the Court of Appeal judgment, it is highly expected that they would also head to the Supreme Court to seek a final opportunity to present their case challenging the election of Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa as the Governor of Delta State, after the April 11, 2015 governorship elections in the state.
Deltans and Delta political watchers will attest to the fact that an air of palpable tension and real uncertainty had pervaded the state in the days preceding the Court of Appeal judgment, following the decision of the judges to reserve judgment after having listened to the submissions of all the contending parties in the matter.
The sense of expectation and foreboding, in equal measure, had been further heightened when the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, not only sacked and replaced the five man panel of judges handling the April 11, 2015 Delta State governorship election at the Court of Appeal, in Benin city following cases of alleged corruption, compromise, and abuse of office leveled against the judges, but equally moved the judgment on the matter from Benin to Abuja, ostensibly to forestall any security breach and breakdown of law and order, given the proximity of Edo and Delta States.
The sacked judges, whose names were reported, are Justice J.O. Bada, Justice P.M. Ekpe, Justice H.A. Barka, Justice M.N. Oniyiangi, and Justice U.A. Ogakwu.
They were then replaced by new judges, whose names included Justice (Mrs.) Uwani Abba-Aji (Chairman), Justice Tom Yakubu, Justice Mohammed Danjuma, Justice I.O. Akeju, and Justice (Mrs.) Bolaji-Yusuf, from which the final panel for the Appeal judgment, would be selected.
This decision to replace the earlier judges, was interpreted in certain quarters as a definitive sign indicating the direction the judgment would go, especially given the reported filial bonding between Justice Bulkachuwa and President Muhammed Buhari and indeed, the recent Appeal Court verdicts in Akwa-Ibom and Rivers State respectively, which she supervised.
Further spice was added to the pending judgment, when an online news portal reported that Governor Okowa had mopped-up a whooping N530million from Banks in Asaba to boost his financial war-chest with the speculated intent to Influence the Judges (either the sacked or the replacements), and had equally mobilized over 2000 ex-militants to Abuja ahead of judgment, with the aim of protesting the result if it went contrary to the verdict earlier given by the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led Delta elections petitions tribunal.
The tension barometer then went into frenzied overdrive, when news filtered in, that the judgment had been brought forward by one day to Wednesday, December 23, at 4pm, instead the earlier announced Thursday December 24, only for another round of news to creep into the airwaves late on Wednesday night that the judgment day still remained December 24.
The rest, as they say is history, and contrary to all the speculations and permutations, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa emerged victorious once again.
All attention will now be focused on the Supreme Court as the duo of Chief Great Ogboru and Olorogun O’tega Emerhor seek a favourable judgment and as he savours the sweet taste of his present victory at the Court of Appeal, Governor Okowa knows only too well, what is obvious now, which is that the matter will not be completely settled until the early months of 2016.