BY PETER DURU
Early July, a Makurdi Federal High Court delivered a ruling which dismissed the suit of the former PDP governorship aspirant at the last general elections, Mr. Terver Kakih, who challenged the victory of Governor Gabriel Suswam, thereby finally halting the over one year sequence of protracted litigation against the election of the governor.
The said judgement came a month after the Supreme Court also threw out a consolidated suit filed by the defeated Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, candidate at that election and his ANPP counterpart, Professors Steve Ugba and Daniel Saror respectively, and, by so doing, confirmed Suswam as duly elected.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, in January, the Justice Halima Mohammed-led Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi had keyed into an earlier ruling of the Supreme to dismiss Ugba’s and Saror’s petitions on the premise that the 180 days constitutionally prescribed for the adjudication of all electoral matters had elapsed.
But undaunted by the ruling of the tribunal, Ugba and Saror approached the Supreme Court in their quest to seek a leverage that would avail them a platform to unseat Suswam.
It was not to be, as the apex court confirmed an earlier ruling of the lower tribunal by dismissing the appeal on the grounds that the action had been overtaken by the 180 days within which all litigation and disputes arising from the general elections ought to be dispensed with, as prescribed by law.
While these series of legal scrimmage lingered, a dichotomy of two major political camps, the pro-Suswam and the opposition block, took the centre stage in a fierce political battle to sway public opinion and sympathy in Benue.
This development created deep animosity between the two blocks, at such a magnitude never before seen in the political history of the state.
As the tussle dilly-dallied, the opposition relied heavily on its propaganda machine to rattle the government and also win and sustain the sympathy of it’s followers while the Suswam camp depended on its subtle appeal to the people to remain calm and supportive of its cause.
Indeed, a major attraction of the barrage of litigation against the outcome of the last governorship election in Benue was the judgement of the Makurdi Federal High Court presided over by Justice Marcel Awokulekein which finally put to rest allegations of certificate forgery leveled against the Benue governor by his political rivals since none has indicated interest to approach the appellate court for further adjudication in the matter.
In that litigation, Kakih had premised his action, among others, on the allegation that Suswam parades forged WAEC certificates on which basis he stood disqualified to seek any elective position.
The former PDP aspirant contended that the party primaries that threw up Suswam as the party’s candidate was skewed and lacking transparency.
Delivering judgement in the matter, Justice Awokulekein described the suit as “frivolous, vexatious, unmeritorious and lacking in merit”.
He lashed at the plaintiff and his witnesses for presenting prototype, hearsay and opinionated evidence before the court which he said were inadmissible in law.
Reacting to the verdict, counsel to Suswam, Jubrin Okutekpa SAN, said it was victory for justice, adding that it has finally brought to an end the demeaning rumors and phantom allegations of certificate forgery leveled against his client.
In another reaction, a former classmate of the governor at the School of Basic Studies Makurdi and currently the Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Solomon Wombo, said the allegation of certificate forgery which the opposition harped on was a calculated attempt to smear and demean the personality of Suswam in the eyes of Nigerians.
According to him, “I recall vividly that in 1982, Governor Suswam and I were barely twenty years when we went through the rigors of screening at the School of Basic Studies at a time when education was worth it’s salt. At a time when before anyone was allowed admission into any high institution thorough screening was conducted by relevant educational bodies to ensure genuineness of all credentials presented by candidates.
”That accounted for why some of us described the so-called certificate forgery case as obviously ridiculous and laughable because there was nothing like that and it couldn’t have been”.
Suswam himself poured encomium on the people of Benue for remaining steadfast with his administration in the face of obvious falsehood against his person and the process that gave him victory at the polls.
According to him: “The reality of the Supreme Court verdict calls for total reconciliation among the people of Benue State and all of our political leaders”.
The governor assured that the remaining three years of his administration would be dedicated to uplifting the people of the state
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