The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, on Wednesday, restored the vote-buying allegation made by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its governorship candidate, Oladipupo Adebutu, against Dapo Abiodun of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The appellate court gave the ruling in an appeal marked CA/IB/EPT/GOV/OG/03/2023, filed by Adebutu and his party on the 6th of July, 2023, and heard on August 3, 2023, against the ruling of Justice A. Kanuza of the Ogun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal delivered on June 19, 2023, on vote buying during the March 18 Governorship election in Ogun State.
The Tribunal had ruled in favour of the 2nd respondent (Dapo Abiodun) and struck out the petitioner’s reply to the 2nd respondent’s reply to the petition.
But on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal panel, in a ruling written by Justice M. B. Idris and read by Justice Aliyu Waziri, sustained paragraphs 2, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, and 18 of Adebutu and PDP’s (the petitioners) reply to the 2nd respondent’s reply to the petition.
The sustained paragraphs of the petitioners’ reply concern the submission of a forged certificate to the 1st respondent (INEC) Dapo Abiodun, violence and disruption of polling units by agents of the 2nd respondent, and the allegation of vote buying by the 2nd respondent.
Also, the sustained paragraphs include the petitioners’ defence of the allegation of vote-buying raised by the second respondent in his reply to the petition.
At the tribunal, Counsel to the Petitioners, Chief Gordy Uche (SAN), argued that the Petitioners did not raise any new facts in their reply but gave a response to the new issue raised by the second respondent in his reply, which was not part of the issues raised in the petition.
The Chairman of the Ogun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Kunaza, while delivering his ruling on a motion filed by the 2nd respondent seeking the tribunal to strike out the Petitioner’s reply to his reply to the petition on the grounds that the Petitioners (Adebutu and PDP) held that they cannot raise new facts in their response to his reply,
Details of some of the sustained paragraphs stated that “The Petitioners deny paragraph 4 of the 2nd Respondent’s Reply and state that the submission of a forged certificate to the 1st Respondent (INEC) by the 2nd Respondent along with his Form EC9 can be lawfully challenged before this Honourable Tribunal under Section 134 (1) (a) of the Electoral Act, 2022, and the Petitioners and the said complaint are not statutes barred.
“The Petitioners, in their specific response to the above paragraphs, state that it was rather the 2nd and 3rd Respondents, whose agents were captured on tape recording before and during the election, distributing cash in Ogun State Government envelopes to entice voters to vote for the 2nd and 3rd Respondents.
The Petitioners hereby plead and shall, at the trial, rely on the video clips and media reports of the 3rd Respondents’ vote buying.
“The 2nd and 3rd Respondents took advantage of the Naira redesign controversy and the prevailing cash crunch to offer Naira in cash to the electorate.
The 2nd and 3rd Respondents shared old Naira notes, and when some of the beneficiaries were worried that they were being given old notes, the agents of the 2nd Respondent assured them that the 2nd respondent, who is the governor, would compel the banks to accept them.
“The Petitioners plead and shall rely on photographs and video recordings where the agents of the 2nd Respondent were caught on tape distributing Nara cash notes to the electorate.
“Again, on March 18, 2023, when the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections were held across Ogun State, the 2nd and 3rd Respondents caused to be distributed to the electorate pre-loaded top-up gift cards of A5,000 and N10,000 to buy their votes and to financially influence the 2nd Respondent to win the governorship election.
“These top-up gift cards with PINS and Serial Numbers could either be used to buy airtime by dialling *979*PIN# or could be used to withdraw or transfer cash by dialling *979*SPID* ACCOUNT NUMBER* PIN#. These were deployed massively and widely on Election Day to buy votes.
These cards were distributed on Election Day by APC agents who also had Point of Sale (POS) machines, which were used to either buy airtime and data, collect cash, or cause the amount preloaded in the accounts to be sent to voters’ accounts.
“The Petitioners state that the 1st Petitioner’s Family only shared endowment cards at the burial ceremonies as burial ceremonial souvenirs of his philanthropic and benevolent mother, late Chief Mrs Caroline Oladunni Adebutu, through her Endowment schemes, which were in existence in her lifetime and which she had utilised in mass empowerment programmes.
“The 2nd Respondent is aware of this fact as he was personally in attendance during the said burial as a guest of the 1st Petitioner’s father, Chief Kessington Adebukunola Adebutu.
The said cards had nothing whatsoever to do with vote buying or the inducement of voters to vote for the Petitioners, and they had nothing to do with the election.
“The election in the polling units listed in paragraph 9 of the 2nd Respondent’s Reply to the Petition was cancelled due to violent disruptions by the agents of the 2nd and 3rd Respondents when they envisaged that the 2nd Respondent was not likely to win in those polling units and also due to overvoting, not as a result of wilful disruption of election materials and resistance to the use of BVAS or any act of the Petitioners.
The Petitioners state that the allegation of wilful disruption of election materials and resistance to the use of VAS by the voters is false and an afterthought of the Respondents.
“The Petitioners deny paragraph 30 of the 2nd Respondent’s Reply and state that neither the Petitioners nor their agents were involved in the procurement or distribution of customised pre-paid Verve ATM Cards, nor were any of the Petitioners’ agents apprehended by law enforcement agents for any offence whatsoever during or after the conduct of the election.
“The Petitioners categorically state that none of the Petitioners’ agents could have made any statement to law enforcement agents that the Petitioners instructed, knew, or consented to any act of vote buying as mischievously claimed by the 2nd Respondent”.
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