Benue: Or­tom’s tri­umph at tri­bunal and Tar­zoor’s urge for lit­i­ga­tions

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - From Hope Abah, Makurdi

On what­ever con­di­tion, Or­tom qual­i­fied to con­test. The pe­ti­tioner has failed to pro­vide ev­i­dence to the pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing PDP mem­ber­ship register which could have shown that Or­tom is still in PDP. …The pe­ti­tion is hereby struck out and dis­missed.”

These were the ex­act words of Jus­tice El­iz­a­beth Karatu, the chair­man of the three-man panel on the Benue State Gov­er­nor­ship Elec­tion Pe­ti­tion Tri­bunal which de­liv­ered judg­ment last week Mon­day on the case be­tween Gover­nor Sa­muel Or­tom of the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) and the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP) can­di­date, Prince Ter­he­men Tar­zoor.

In the judg­ment, which lasted at least three hours amidst tight se­cu­rity and height­ened ten­sion, the tri­bunal up­held Or­tom’s vic­tory at the April 11 gen­eral elec­tion, putting paid to the wran­gling be­tween sup­port­ers of both par­ties as to who should carry the day.

Tar­zoor was at the elec­tion tri­bunal to chal­lenge the emer­gence of Or­tom as the duly elected gover­nor of Benue State, al­leg­ing that he was not qual­i­fied for the con­test fol­low­ing his im­proper res­ig­na­tion from the PDP.

Tar­zoor, in his pe­ti­tion, had asked the tri­bunal to knock out Or­tom on the grounds that he was not duly nom­i­nated and qual­i­fied to con­test the poll on the plat­form of APC.

Tar­zoor added in­stead, he should be de­clared the right­ful win­ner of the elec­tion.

Few days to the rul­ing, the op­po­si­tion PDP and rul­ing APC in the state en­gaged in fierce war of words.

Stake­hold­ers of the PDP had dur­ing a meet­ing held at its sec­re­tar­iat in Makurdi ac­cused the state gover­nor of run­ning a cor­rupt ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The state chair­man of PDP, Dr. Em­manuel Agbo, said the pitiable sit­u­a­tion of the state would soon be re­versed as the “stolen man­date” would be re­trieved from Or­tom, who he re­ferred to as a tem­po­rary gover­nor for Tar­zoor to take on the man­tle of lead­er­ship.

But in a swift re­ac­tion, the APC chair­man in the state, Com­rade Abba Yaro, urged the PDP to pro­vide is­sue-based cred­i­ble op­po­si­tion rather than re­sort­ing to false­hood.

Yaro had main­tained that the ear­lier the PDP re­alised that gone were the days when it sub­jected the peo­ple to its whims and caprices, the bet­ter for the party.

He posited that Or­tom, who was duly elected by the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of the state would com­plete his re­new­able man­date to the lat­ter, and that all at­tempts by the op­po­si­tion to sub­vert his gen­uine man­date would fail, just like all the strate­gies em­ployed to stop his elec­tion.

How­ever, de­liv­er­ing judg­ment on the mat­ter at the filled-to-ca­pac­ity High Court 7, the Jus­tice Karatu-led tri­bunal held that the pe­ti­tioner failed to pro­vide ev­i­dence to the pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing PDP mem­ber­ship register which could have shown that Or­tom is still in PDP.

She there­fore ruled that: “On what­ever con­di­tion, Or­tom is qual­i­fied to con­test.”

The chair­man of the tri­bunal, re­ly­ing on rel­e­vant por­tions of the law, averred that Or­tom’s qual­i­fi­ca­tion can­not be dis­puted in line with Sec­tion 138 (1a) of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion, as the pe­ti­tioner must prove his ar­gu­ment on the strength of his case and not on the strength of the re­spon­dent’s.

Con­se­quently, Karatu added, “the pe­ti­tion is hereby struck out and dis­missed.”

She also or­dered that Or­tom’s cer­tifi­cate of re­turn be re­stored.

Ac­cord­ing to her, “The pe­ti­tioner was not able to prove sub­stan­tially that the first re­spon­dent (Or­tom) was its mem­ber. The let­ter of res­ig­na­tion of the first re­spon­dent was not dis­lodged ...the pe­ti­tioner must prove his case on the strength of his case and not on that of the re­spon­dent’s.”

The tri­bunal nonethe­less held that Tar­zoor had com­pe­tence to chal­lenge Or­tom’s mem­ber­ship of APC, but should have done so with cred­i­ble ev­i­dence be­fore the court.

Re­act­ing to the rul­ing, a coun­sel to the pe­ti­tioner, Don­ald Ker­tyo, said that there is room to con­tinue the strug­gle at the Ap­peal Court and up to the Supreme Court be­cause some of the is­sues can­vassed by his client were ne­glected in the judg­ment.

But coun­sel to Or­tom, Moses Atai, praised the tri­bunal for the judg­ment and promised that his client would ex­tend a hand of fel­low­ship to the pe­ti­tioner.

In the same vein, Or­tom de­scribed his vic­tory as the hand­i­work of God, while he promised to em­brace the op­po­si­tion and to work with them for the good of the state.

As ex­pected, Tar­zoor has re­jected the out­come of the tri­bunal and vowed to seek re­dress at the ap­pel­late court.

The di­rec­tor of media and pub­lic­ity in his cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tion, Cor­nelius Hwande, in a state­ment in Makurdi, shortly af­ter the judg­ment, as­sured their sup­port­ers that the pe­ti­tion of Tar­zoor was sound and premised on cred­i­ble grounds, which if viewed dis­pas­sion­ately, would give vic­tory to the PDP can­di­date.

Hwande fur­ther stressed that the Court of Ap­peal, Makurdi Di­vi­sion, which will likely be the next des­ti­na­tion of Tar­zoor in his quest for jus­tice, has a rich history of dis­pens­ing jus­tice with­out fear or favour.

He pointed out that the ap­pel­late court has al­ready given judg­ments that laid a prece­dent for the PDP can­di­date’s vic­tory when he ap­proaches the court.

The Tar­zoor cam­paign spokesper­son fur­ther urged PDP faith­ful across the state to keep faith with the as­pi­ra­tions of the party’s gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date, and his vi­sion for a greater Benue State, which ac­cord­ing to him have been “con­cisely ar­tic­u­lated.”

He main­tained that the road to jus­tice, no mat­ter how long, will ul­ti­mately lead to the de­sired des­ti­na­tion of vic­tory for Tar­zoor.

The Or­tom’s vic­tory, which was hinged in ac­cor­dance with Sec­tion 138 (1a) and Sec­tion 177 (c) of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion, seem to be gen­er­at­ing another round of dis­course among po­lit­i­cal watch­ers, who think that it would be dif­fi­cult to un­seat the gover­nor.

They re­called that for­mer Gover­nor Gabriel Suswam knew what it meant to draw a le­gal bat­tle line with an in­cum­bent when he ad­vised his party and the gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date soon af­ter the elec­tion to sheath their sword.

Suswam, a lawyer by pro­fes­sion, had said he was con­ver­sant with how court cases could dis­tract a gover­nor from ac­com­plish­ing lofty goals for the de­vel­op­ment of the state, and there­fore ap­pealed to Tar­zoor to shun lit­i­ga­tion by em­brac­ing his op­po­nent to fur­ther the ad­vance­ment of the state.

To lead by ex­am­ple, the for­mer gover­nor, who also lost his sen­a­to­rial elec­tion, had with­drawn his pe­ti­tion filed against his ma­jor chal­lenger and win­ner of the Benue North East sen­a­to­rial seat, Sen­a­tor Barn­abas Ge­made.

How­ever, some op­ti­mistic have posited that Tar­zoor would laugh last, given the ar­gu­ment al­ready perched by his coun­sel, while re­spond­ing to the tri­bunal’s rul­ing soon af­ter the judg­ment was de­liv­ered.

Mean­while, the Com­mis­sioner for In­for­ma­tion and Ori­en­ta­tion in the state, Chief Odeh Ageh, has called on state el­ders and stake­hold­ers to come to­gether and find al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion in­stead of drag­ging one another to var­i­ous courts.

He told news­men in Makurdi that there is no gain in­sti­tut­ing lit­i­ga­tion against one another, and wast­ing re­sources that would have been used to fur­ther de­velop the state.

Ageh said: “I ad­vise our peo­ple in the area of lit­i­ga­tion, par­tic­u­larly as it con­cerns tri­bunal, and I am ap­peal­ing to our el­ders and stake­hold­ers of Benue, to come to­gether and find al­ter­na­tive dis­pute res­o­lu­tion, in­stead of drag­ging our­selves be­fore one court of law and another on is­sues that are very ob­vi­ous.”

Ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sioner, “the state gov­ern­ment is not afraid of ap­peal but the mag­ni­tude of money spent on lawyers and time wasted could be chan­neled to de­vel­op­ing the state.”

He stressed that lead­er­ship comes from above and that Or­tom’s vic­tory at the tri­bunal is a vic­tory for democ­racy, a vic­tory for change and a vic­tory for Benue peo­ple.

Also, the state chair­man of the Chris­tian As­so­ci­a­tion of Nige­ria (CAN) in Benue, Arch Bishop Yi­mam Ork­war, has ap­pealed to the PDP gov­er­nor­ship can­di­date not to waste his time to go to Ap­peal or Supreme Court against the in­cum­bent gover­nor.

“We in CAN are not politi­cians but all we do is sup­port who­ever God gives the op­por­tu­nity to rule us. We sup­ported the PDP-led gov­ern­ment in the state in the last dis­pen­sa­tion and we are also sup­port­ing the APCled gov­ern­ment in this present dis­pen­sa­tion.

“Tar­zoor should not waste his time go­ing to Ap­peal or Supreme Court. God and the peo­ple have given Or­tom the man­date to gov­ern us and all hands must be on deck to en­sure that he suc­ceeds,” Ork­war posited.

Gover­nor Sa­muel Or­tom of Benue State

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