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LAGOS: INEC files request to dismiss Rhodes-Vivour’s petition

THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has requested that the Lagos State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal dismiss the petition of the Labour Party’s governorship candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Viviour for lack of evidence.

The submissions were contained in a 32-page final written address submitted to the tribunal by INEC’s legal team led by Charles Edosomwan, SAN, alongside six other lawyers.

The petitioner, Rhodes-Vivour, approached the tribunal on April 9 to challenge the outcome of the March 18 governorship elections conducted by INEC in Lagos State.

When the trial started, the petitioner called 10 witnesses as proof of his case while INEC, the first respondent, called no witness but instead tendered two documents which were admitted as exhibits before the court.

INEC in its preliminary objection to the petition had submitted that Rhodes-Vivour challenged the elections in Alimosho, Ikorodu, Mushin, Surulere, Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland. Eti-Osa, Ibeju-Lekki, Apapa, Ojo, Shomolu, Ikeja, Ifako-Ijaiye, Oshodi-Isolo, and Epe Local Government Areas but noted that evidence was only led in relation to Alimosho, Mushin, Surulere and Lagos Island, and such evidence was a far cry from what the law demands of the petitioner.

The electoral body urged the tribunal to note that no evidence was also called in the other local government areas beyond the tendering of some documents which it says were simply “dumped” on the tribunal.

INEC also submitted that of the 10 witnesses called by the petitioner, eight of them who testified either as supervisors or ward collation agents with respect to incidents that occurred at various polling units gave hearsay evidence of what they were told by polling unit agents, evidence which it argued ought to be expunged from the court records.

The electoral umpire also went on to formulate three issues for determination.

The issues included “whether or not in the circumstances of the case, the candidates of the APC, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and his deputy, Obafemi Hamzat, at any time suffered from any limitation (individually or collectively), in their qualification to contest the 2023 Lagos State Governorship Election;

“Whether or not the conduct of the Lagos State governorship election of March 18, 2023 complied substantially with the Electoral Act, 2022; the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2023; the Manual for Election Officials, 2023; and all other electoral laws;

“Whether or not at the Lagos State Governorship Election held on March 18, 2023, Sanwo-Olu did not win the majority of lawful votes cast.”

On issue one, INEC submitted that the petitioner failed to establish that the deputy governor did not accompany his nomination form with a verifying affidavit as evidence which was led by the candidate’s lawyer indeed showed that the affidavit was submitted and same was admitted as an exhibit before the tribunal.

On the alleged dual citizenship of Hamzat, INEC asked the tribunal to resolve the issue against the petitioner for failing to lead evidence to prove the allegation.

On issue two, INEC noted that the petitioner’s grouse was principally that the electoral body failed to adhere to prior assurances that the results from the elections shall be transmitted in real-time to the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal.

In response to this issue, INEC submitted that the nature of non-compliance contemplated by the Electoral Act 2022 is non-compliance with the provisions of the Act and not with the assurances allegedly made by INEC officials. It also noted that compliance “in relation to transmission of results to the IREV is not even a provision of the Electoral Act.”

The election umpire extensively pleaded compliance with all the relevant laws governing its operations when it came to the conduct of elections and further submitted that the conduct of the March 18 Lagos Governorship Elections remained unimpeachable.

“Assuming without conceding that it indeed breached the said guidelines, we submit that it would not of itself constitute non-compliance as to contemplate if it could even be considered substantial. The point here being made is that the real-time transmission or otherwise of the results is not the holy grail the Petitioner wants this honourable tribunal to believe,” INEC said.

“This is because as deducible from the combined reading of paragraphs 48(e) and 93 of the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Election, 2022, there could be instances where the electronically transmitted or transferred result is unavailable. In that instance, the hard copy remains paramount. It is therefore disingenuous for the Petitioners to insist that the alleged non-transmission of the results in real-time amounted to non-compliance with the Electoral Act, 2022.”

On the issue of voter suppression and corrupt practices, INEC simply said that the petitioner’s case suffered from the debilitating effect of the dearth of the necessary evidence to sustain the claims and it urged the tribunal to discountenance them.

On whether Sanwo-Olu emerged as the winner of the elections, INEC tendered forms EC8D and EC8E, a summary of the collated results from all the Local Government Areas of Lagos State, and the declaration of results, respectively, as proof of what the evidence showed, evidence which it said was in no way vitiated by the petitioner in the presentation of his case.

The electoral body concluded that based on the diligent examination of the evidence led by the petitioner, the court ought to return no other verdict than one of dismissal.

“The Petitioner wholly failed to discharge the evidential burden placed on him by Section 136 of the Evident Act, 2011, and Section 135 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2022. In the light of the wide range of serious allegations touching practically all of the units where the election was conducted, the total dearth of evidence in proof of the Petitioner’s case is most astonishing,” INEC said.

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