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Niger PDP in limbo over senate seat verdict

Prior to last Friday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Niger State, particularly in the Niger East Senatorial District did not envisage that the tribunal,…

Prior to last Friday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Niger State, particularly in the Niger East Senatorial District did not envisage that the tribunal, set up to look into various petitions against the August 2014 by-election in the zone, would sack its winner, Senator Shem Nuhu Zagbayi.
The tribunal’s verdict, which declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Barrister David Umaru, as the winner of the by-election, analysts say, will have a far reaching psychologically negative effect on the PDP and its supporters, particularly as the tribunal judgement was passed few weeks to the commencement of this year’s general elections.
On the other hand, the verdict, many say, would be a morale booster to both Umaru and the teeming supporters of the APC not only in Niger East but in the whole of the state.
The battle, which gave birth to the tribunal’s verdict on Friday, began in September last year when Barrister Umaru dragged the PDP candidate and winner of the election, Dr. Zagbayi and 388 others, before the election tribunal over results of the election, with a prayer that he should be declared winner, having scored the highest votes against the PDP candidate.
In a petition filed before the tribunal and made available to Daily Trust, the APC candidate and his party pleaded with the tribunal to cancel the results from 378 polling units in the nine local government areas of the senatorial district as a result of electoral malpractices recorded during the by-election.
Those named as respondents in the petition included the PDP, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) and all the presiding officers of the commission that participated in the conduct of the by-election.
Umaru and his party also sought for an order from the tribunal to cancel and deduct the votes scored by all parties in the affected polling units from the final results recorded by INEC to determine the rightful winner of the by-election.
He said in the petition that “if the results of the polling units affected by these non-compliance and irregularities are cancelled and deducted from the total final scores of the candidates, I shall emerge with the highest number of valid votes cast at the election.”
According to the official results first released by INEC, the PDP candidate scored 92,056, while the APC candidate secured 87,406 votes. But based on this, the APC candidate asked the tribunal to deduct 22,491 votes from APC results and 53,837 votes from that of PDP in determining the lawful winner of the by-election.
He added in his petition that, “if the results of the above stated polling units that were affected by non-compliance are cancelled and deducted, I shall emerge with the highest number of valid votes cast thus; APC 87,405-22,491 = 64,914 PDP 92,056-53,837 = 38,219.”
The petitioner also prayed the tribunal to declare the INEC declaration of Dr. Zagbayi and his party as winner of the by-election conducted on August 30 and September 6 as null and void, for the fact that he did not secure the highest votes.
He had contended that Dr. Zagbayi was not qualified to contest the election having not been properly sponsored by his party, the PDP, in accordance with relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Passing its judgement on the bye-election, the tribunal issued an order to INEC to return the certificate of return to Barrister Umaru of APC as the actual winner of the by-election.
Reading his judgement that lasted for about four hours last Friday, chairman of the tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Bako, said the tribunal granted the order directing INEC to issue the certificate of return to APC candidate because he scored 79,779 as against the PDP candidate who got 68,525 votes.
He said: “An order is hereby granted to nullify the result of 100 polling units out of the polling units that were affected by non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
“Order is also granted for the deduction of the scores from the final scores of the parties (namely), the 1st petitioners, (Barrister Umaru) and the 1st respondents, (Dr. Zagbayi).
“An order is granted nullifying the return of the 1st respondent on the ground that he did not win the majority of the lawful votes cast in the election held on 30th August and concluded on 6th September, 2014.
“That an order declaring the 1st petitioner as the winner of the election held on the 30th of August but concluded on the 6th of September 2014 having won the majority of lawful votes cast at the election be and is here by granted.
“That an order directing INEC to issue a certificate of return to the 1st petitioner forthwith as the duly elected senator for Niger East Senatorial District is hereby granted,” he stated while passing his verdict.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the verdict, the counsel to Umaru, Barrister Chris Osuagwu, said their victory was a signpost of the formal arrival of good things to happen to the party in next month’s general elections.
He said: “We give glory to God for this judgement. Today’s judgement has shown that no matter how long evil thrives, judgement must surely prevail.”
Similarly, counsel to Dr Zagbayi, Barrister Musa Suleiman, said the judgment delivered showed an act of truthfulness, adding that as lawyers in the service, justice must be respected saying, “his client will respect the decision of the tribunal.”
However, PDP in the state said after studying the verdict, which favoured the APC candidate, the party has resolved to appeal the judgment.
The party further appealed to its members not be deterred, calling on them to remain committed towards winning the forthcoming general elections.
In a statement through its spokesperson Hassan Shaba, the PDP said APC supporters should not rejoice yet over the tribunal ruling as it is not yet uhuru, insisting that the ruling is not a true reflection of what transpired during the polls and that the party would soon file an appeal.
He, however, maintained that the judgment would not in any way affect the fortunes of the party at the general elections.
He said PDP still remains the party to beat, adding that the appeal on the tribunal ruling would affirm the party’s victory in the senatorial election, which he said, Senator Zagbayi won.
“Let me call on our teeming supporters to remain calm. We are going to appeal the judgment of the tribunal. The judgment has further motivated us to work harder to harness established electoral fortunes of the PDP. We are not deterred. We have been victorious, and we will always remain committed to sustain our victories in the state since 1999,” he said.
Some observers of political happenings in the state are of the opinion that the ruling of the tribunal must have sent a shiver down the spine of PDP in the state and in particular, its Niger East senatorial candidate and incumbent governor of the state Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu.
Analysts say that it will be catastrophic for the PDP in the zone, if Barrister Umaru replaces Zagbayi of PDP, who was declared winner of the by-election by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and was subsequently sworn in to occupy his seat at the Red Chamber.
It is believed that if the verdict is upheld by a higher court, this will equip Umaru to fight Governor Aliyu gallantly for the Niger East Senatorial position in the upcoming general elections.
It is further said that if, for whatever reason, the governor fails to emerge as the winner on February 14, that will be an ultimate mortal blow to PDP in the state.

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