By Sunday Ogli, Makurdi
THE Benue State National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal presided over by Justice Ori Zik-Ikeorha, has nullified the election of Senator Emmanuel Udende of the All Progressives Congress, APC, representing Benue North East Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
Recall that Senator Udende was declared winner of the February 25, 2023 National Assembly election after polling a total of 135,573 votes to defeat Senator Gabriel Suswam of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who garnered 112,231 votes.
Not satisfied with the outcome of the election as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Senator Suswam approached the Tribunal on the ground that the election was marred by over-voting, irregularities, alterations and falsification of results.
Suswam who was former Governor of Benue State between 2007 and 2015, challenged the results from 474 polling units across five Local Government Areas, LGAs, in the Senatorial Zone which is made up of seven LGAs with 1,844 polling units.
During the hearing Senator Suswam tendered 1,182 exhibits, and called 19 witnesses while Senator Udende called one witness and tendered five exhibits. The APC called three witnesses and tendered three documents. INEC on the other hand failed to call any witnesses, resting it case on the evidence of the others.
In her ruling in a judgement that lasted over three hours, Justice Zik-Ikeoha declared that the evidences provided by the petitioners’ counsel established that there were cases of over-voting, falsification and mutilation of results sheets as well as malpractices “in five out of the seven LGAs that make up the Senatorial District.”
The Tribunal held that “the petitioners establish that the result from the affected polling units were falsified.”
The tribunal therefore cancelled 51,895 votes entered for Senator Udende and also cancelled 21,229 votes entered for Senator Suswam.
After subtracting the padded votes, Senator Suswam was left with 90,590 while Senator Udende scored 82,699 votes.
Upholding the petition, Justice Zik-Ikeorha held that “the Tribunal is satisfied that the petitioners have fulfilled the requirement of the law and judgment is entered in their favour.”
The court ordered INEC to issue a fresh certificate of returns to Senator Suswam as he stood duly elected.
Reacting, Counsel to Senator Udende, Mr. Innocent Daagba said “we are not satisfied with the decision and I will advice my client to appeal.”
On his part, Counsel to Senator Suswam, Mr. Donald Kertyo, opined that the Justices did a thorough job and ensured that justice was served in the matter.