ABEOKUTA – The Supreme Court, will today (Friday) deliver judgment on an appeal the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Ladi Adebutu, filed to challenge the outcome of the governorship election that held in Ogun State on March 18, 2023.
The appeal is seeking to remove Governor Dapo Abiodun, who contested and was re-elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, from office.
A five-member panel of the apex court, led by Justice Inyang Okoro, adjourned to deliver judgement on the electoral dispute after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had declared that Abiodun of the APC polled a total of 276,298 votes to defeat his closest rival, Adebutu of the PDP, who garnered a total of 262,383 votes.
Dissatisfied with the outcome of the poll, Adebutu approached the Ogun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, insisting that he was the valid winner of the gubernatorial contest.
He, among other things, alleged that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022.
Aside from alleging that the election was marred by irregularities and corrupt practices, Adebutu alleged that over 40,000 voters from his strongholds were disenfranchised due to violence.
He told the tribunal that he secured the highest number of valid votes cast at the election and therefore ought to have been declared the winner by INEC.
However, Adebutu’s petition was dismissed by the Justice Hamidu Kunaza-led three-man tribunal, which affirmed Abiodun as the bonafide winner of the contest.
Likewise, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal, on November 24, 2023, in a split judgement of two to three, upheld the decision of the tribunal.
While the appellate court, in its majority decision that was delivered by Justice Joseph Ikyegh, found no reason to dislodge the judgement of the tribunal, in her minority verdict, Justice Jane Inyang directed INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return it issued to Abiodun and, within 90 days, conduct a fresh election in some polling units in the state.
Whereas Adebutu approached the Supreme Court to challenge the majority judgement of the appellate court, on the other hand, Governor Abiodun lodged a cross-appeal to set aside the minority verdict that ordered the fresh election.
INEC equally lodged a cross-appeal, praying to the Supreme Court to validate the result of the election that it earlier announced.
When the matter came up for hearing last Thursday, January 11, 2024, the apex court panel held that all the cross-appeals would abide by its decision in the main appeal that was filed by Adebutu.
Meanwhile, while adopting his brief of argument, Adebutu’s lawyer, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, told the apex court that INEC was ordered to conduct a fresh poll in 99 polling units where results were either cancelled or the election did not hold at all.
He argued that in view of the number of units affected by the order for a fresh election as well as the margin of lead principle, it was wrong for INEC to declare and return Abiodun of the APC as the winner of the gubernatorial contest.
On its part, INEC, through its team of lawyers led by Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss Adebutu’s appeal as lacking in merit.
INEC’s lawyer maintained that governorship and presidential elections were not determined by margin of lead but by the spread of votes, in line with the provision of Section 179 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Likewise, Governor Dapo Abiodun’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, urged the apex court to dismiss the appeal and affirm the return of his client as the authentic winner of the election.
Governor Abiodun, since losing out on the cross-appeal lodged at the apex court to set aside the minority verdict that ordered the fresh election, has turned Abuja to his permanent abode, while Adebutu on the other hand has remained sleepless over what could be the outcome of the Supreme Court judgement.
However, it is a matter of time to determine who wins the March 18, 2023 Ogun state governorship election.