THE Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Monday, dismissed the petition brought before it by James Faleke challenging the election of Yahaya Bello as governor of Kogi State.
The three-member panel, headed by Justice Halima Mohammed, held, in a unanimous judgment, that Faleke could not be declared governor of Kogi State, because he was not nominated by the All Progressives Congress (APC) as its substantive candidate in the 2015 Kogi governorship election.
Justice Mohammed, who read the judgment stated that the APC was right to have nominated Bello to replace the late Prince Abubakar Audu as its candidate in the December 2015 supplementary election.
She held that Faleke had no locus-standi to file the petition since he was not nominated by the APC as its governorship candidate in the said election.
Mohammed further said: “Votes cast in an election belong to a political party which nominates a candidate; hence it was lawful for the party to transfer votes polled by the late Audu to Bello.
The tribunal further held that APC, as a political party, was legally empowered to nominate and sponsor a candidate for an election as the nation’s constitution did not recognise an independent candidate.
She, thereafter, dismissed Faleke’s petition challenging the legitimacy of Bello’s election for lacking in merit and further held that Faleke remained the valid deputy governor of the state, because there was no evidence to show that he wrote to his party withdrawing his candidature as deputy governor as required by law.
Faleke had petitioned the tribunal challenging the declaration of Bello as governor of Kogi State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He prayed the tribunal to declare him winner of the election on the ground that he had a joint ticket with the late Prince Abubakar who was the governorship candidate of the APC at the time of election.
Crisis started when the APC replaced Audu, the late standard-bearer of the party in the November 21, 2015 governorship election in the state with Bello.
Faleke, who was the running mate of Audu in the election, felt slighted by the action of his party; he then asked INEC to declare him winner of the election, a request INEC declined to oblige him.
He contended that he ought to have inherited the late Audu’s votes, who was leading in the election before it was declared inconclusive, since he was his running mate.
The electoral umpire went ahead to hold a supplementary election with Bello as a substituted candidate for the APC.
Bello’s argument was that he was duly nominated by his party to fly the flag of the party as its governorship candidate in the supplementary election, and that he scored the highest number of votes in the exercise.
Faleke, in his petition, maintained that Bello was unqualified to be governor of Kogi State.
Anthony Adeniyi, counsel for Bello applauded the verdict of the tribunal, saying the party remained one indivisible entity.
Idris Wada, former governor of the state and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state also petitioned the tribunal asking it to declare him winner of the election, following the death of Audu.
According to the former governor, Bello was an interloper who had no business with the exercise.
The tribunal will deliver judgment on Wada’s petition today.
Meanwhile, Faleke has faulted the judgment of the tribunal, saying that the tribunal erred when it held that he had no locus standi to challenge the election.
He told newsmen that he would discuss with his team of lawyers and would challenge the decision of the tribunal at the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Governor Bello, had on on Monday, described the judgment of the tribunal that dismissed the petition filed by Faleke as an opportunity to make the state great again.
He said the judgment was victory for the people of the state, who had been yearning for meaningful development for many years.
The governor, who spoke in Lokoja, the state capital, after the tribunal’s verdict, however, said with the judgment, he would be glad to receive Faleke in the government fold to enable him to contribute to the development of the state.
Bello said: “Since my mandate is from the almighty Allah, I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to have this victory today. It is a victory for the people of Kogi State, it is a victory for our party.
“It was a judgment between me and my brother, Honourable Faleke, he is not my opponent, we belong to the same party and it is just an explanation that he sought from the court and court has given its own explanation to him, he is my brother, he should come and join me. My advice is that those who want to cause division within the party should drop that idea, they should let us unite our party, they should let us unite the state.
“There are lots to be done in the state, he (Faleke) should come and join me. He should join me by giving me certain ideas and advice that he has to contribute to the development of the state. I want to assure him that we will work together as Kogites, as party men. It is a general victory for all of us. The state is expecting a lot from me, a lot has been given to me, they should be patient because I am determined to work and I am going to work.
“A lot has gone bad in the past, we can’t fix everything in one day, it will take painstaking steps to make sure all that have gone wrong are corrected and place the state in a better pedestal.”