In a landmark ruling that spanned more than eleven hours, the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal convened in Abeokuta, Ogun State, delivered a unanimous verdict on Saturday, affirming Governor Dapo Abiodun as the rightful winner of the March 18 election.
Presiding over the tribunal, Justice Hamidu Kunaza pronounced the dismissal of the petition filed against Governor Abiodun by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate, Ladi Adebutu.
The tribunal’s decision was resolute, deeming Adebutu’s petition as “incompetent, defective, and lacking in merit.”
Governor Abiodun had originally secured victory with 276,298 votes, with Ladi Adebutu amassing 262,388 votes, and Biyi Otegbeye of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) trailing as a distant third with 94,754 votes, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
However, PDP and Adebutu had contested the election’s outcome before the Tribunal, alleging that Governor Abiodun did not legitimately secure the majority of votes during the March 18 governorship election.
Their petition, marked EPT/OG/GOV/03/2023, accused INEC of non-compliance with the Electoral Act and cited corrupt practices during the election. They also claimed that election processes were disrupted by thugs in more than 99 polling units, which disenfranchised over 40,000 voters.
Adebutu sought a court order declaring him as the winner and urged the court to mandate INEC to conduct a fresh election in 99 polling units spanning 41 wards across 16 Local Government areas of the State, where elections were either not held or were canceled due to disruptions and over-voting.
Nevertheless, the judges ruled that the petitioners failed to substantiate allegations of non-compliance, overvoting, voter disenfranchisement, the non-qualification of the second respondent (Abiodun), and corrupt practices during the election beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Kunaza, in delivering the lead judgment, noted that the forensic experts lacked adequate qualifications, and their reports could not be relied upon. The tribunal also found no direct evidence of voter disenfranchisement during the election.
Regarding the alleged non-qualification of Abiodun due to criminal records, Justice Kunaza stated that the petitioners failed to demonstrate that the second respondent (Abiodun) had been tried, arraigned, and convicted in the US.
Summarizing the verdict, Justice Kunaza declared, “The petitioners have not successfully proven the allegation of non-compliance with the electoral act and have not discharged the burden of proof.”
He further commented on the cash cards presented by the second petitioner, stating, “Although cash cards were produced by the 2nd Petitioner, those cards were funded on 16 and 17 March 2023 (eve of the elections) and those cards somehow found their way to some polling units on Election Day; vote-buying must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, a threshold which Respondents failed to meet.”
In concluding the case, Justice Kunaza proclaimed, “I uphold the election of Dapo Abiodun as the duly elected governor of Ogun State in the March 18 election.”
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