NIGERIA: You can’t stop tribunal, S-Court tells Wike

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25102015C Wike Jonathan

ABUJA — Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, yesterday, lost his bid to use the Supreme Court to oust the judgment of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that sacked him from office last week Saturday.

This happened as 20 members of Rivers State House of Assembly whose election was nullified by the state legislative election petition tribunal, appealed against the judgment.

Wike had gone before the apex court to challenge the jurisdiction and competence of the tribunal to conduct hearing on the petition filed against his election by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, outside Rivers State where the said election held.

He contended that the action of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in relocating the tribunal to Abuja without due consultation with either the Chief Judge of the state or President of the Customary Court of Appeal, was in breach of Section 285(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act, 2010.

Wike urged the apex court to hold that former chairman of the tribunal, Justice Muazu Pindiga, was wrong to have dismissed the preliminary objection he filed against the jurisdiction of the panel to continue further hearing on the petition, outside Rivers State.

Besides, he wanted the Supreme Court to set aside the verdict of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which had on September 5, upheld the decision of the tribunal.

Aside the APC and Peterside, also joined as 3rd and 4th respondents in the appeal marked SC/718/2015, were the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Though both INEC and PDP did not file any process in support of Wike’s appeal, however, the two respondents, made oral submissions through their counsel, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, and Mr. Gordy Uche, SAN, urging the apex court to rule that the tribunal lacked the territorial jurisdiction to entertain the petition against the appellant.

Meantime, delivering judgment on the matter, yesterday, a seven-man panel of justices of the apex court led by Justice John Fabiyi, affirmed the verdicts of the two lower courts.

Dismissing Wike’s appeal as lacking in merit, the Supreme Court maintained that the tribunal was validly constituted and entitled to sit in Abuja to exercise its jurisdiction.

The court, yesterday, faulted Wike for placing reliance on the decided case law in Ibori vs Ogboru, saying the case was distinguishable from his own  matter.

According to Justice Amiru Sanusi who read the lead  judgment, “I have considered the submission of parties and provisions of the law and arrived at the conclusion that the facts in the case of Ibori vs Ogboru which was relied upon by the appellant, are distinguishable from the facts in this case.

“On the former case, it was the tribunal that on its own volition, decided to relocate to Abuja while in the instant case, there were security challenges in Rivers State before the tribunal was relocated.

“More importantly, evidence abound that there were serious security challenges prevailing in Rivers State that called for a doctrine of necessity to be adopted.

“Based on ground of doctrine of necessity, the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA) deemed it proper and expedient to relocate the tribunal to Abuja and that was to safeguard the lives of the chairman and members of the tribunal.

“I am therefore in agreement with the lower court. Similarly, the case of Ogboru vs PCA and Dalhatu vs Turaki are irrelevant and inapplicable to the instant appeal in view of the disparity with the facts in the case at hand.

“I hold that the tribunal was properly constituted by the PCA even without consultation with the Chief Judge or President of the Customary Court of Appeal in Rivers State.

“The PCA has the power to relocate the tribunal to Abuja to hear and determine the petition in view of security challenges prevalent in Rivers state then. Therefore the tribunal was properly constituted.

No merit in the appeal — S-Court

“I am unable to see any merit in this appeal and I hereby dismiss it without any order as to cost”, Justice Sanusi held.

While concurring with the lead verdict, Justice Fabiyi who presided over the apex court panel, noted  that at the time the tribunal was relocated to Abuja, there was no sitting Chief Judge or President of the Customary Court of Appeal in the state that the PCA would have consulted as prescribed in Section 285(2) of the Constitution.

“That in effect made the use of the word shall’ in the constitution not feasible. The doctrine of necessity that was adopted by the PCA was on point. Like they said in natural sciences, prevention is better than cure. The PCA took preemptive measures to safeguard the lives of the tribunal chairman and members”, he added.

Other members of the apex court panel who agreed that Wike’s appeal was devoid of merit were Justices Mary Peter-Odili, Joseph Ariwola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Suleiman Galadima and Inyang Okoro .

Meanwhile, Wike has gone before the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge the nullification of his election by the Justice Suleiman Ambursa-led tribunal.

Wike is contending that the judgment of the tribunal was against the weight of evidence adduced before it.

He specifically faulted the tribunal for placing reliance on a mere election guideline that INEC issued prior to the April 11 gubernatorial poll in the state, rather than the Electoral Act itself.

Wike further argued that the tribunal failed to revert itself to an earlier decision by another governorship panel that sat in Lagos State in the case between Jimi Agbaje  and Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, where the issue of Card Reader was also decided.

It will be recalled that the Justice Ambursa-led panel had in its judgment on Saturday, upheld the petition against Wike, stressing that the petitioners were able to successfully prove that the governorship poll was characterised by violence and malpractices.

“We are satisfied with evidence of the petitioners to the effect that substantial number of electorates in Rivers State were disenfranchised as a result of massive and widespread irregularities.

“We are further convinced that the election was characterised by corrupt practices. Consequently, we hold that the 2nd Respondent (Wike) was not validly elected. We hereby order the 1st Respondent (INEC) to conduct a fresh election in Rivers State”, the tribunal ruled.

Besides, it was the view of the panel that INEC did not conduct the election in substantial compliance with both the Electoral Act and its own guidelines for the poll.

It noted that whereas the Commission had in a press release it issued prior to the election, stressed that Card Reader Machines must be used to accredit voters, the tribunal said that evidence that were adduced before it showed that contrary to that directive, INEC officials resorted to manual accreditation of voters for the poll.

The tribunal equally observed that INEC’s directive that election should be postponed in any polling unit where the Card Reader Machine malfunctioned, was not adhered to.

According to the tribunal, “Guidelines that were issued by INEC for the conduct of the election were clear and unambiguous to the effect that where Card Reader fails, poll should be postponed rather than resort to manual accreditation. It was not for anybody to go outside the guidelines.

“We have also considered the potency of the evidence tendered by petitioners’ witnesses and we are satisfied that the  petitioners succeeded in proving that the election was characterised by wide spread irregularities, violence and ballot snatching.

“We are satisfied that the petitioners were able to discharge the burden of proof placed upon them by the law. The petitioners were able to prove that electorates were disenfranchised”.

The tribunal held that witnesses that were brought by both INEC and Wike “were full of inconsistencies”.

It observed that most of the witnesses called by INEC, during cross-examination, admitted that where the card Reader Machines failed, they resorted to manual accreditation. Besides, the tribunal said that it found out that in some polling units, number of voters exceeded the number of those accredited with the Card Reader.

Rivers Speaker, 19 others to appeal tribunal judgement

Meanwhile, Speaker of the Rivers state House of Assembly, Hon. Ikuinyi Owaji Ibani and 19 other state lawmakers whose elections were nullified on Monday by the state legislative electoral tribunal have appealed the judgement.

The Speaker, Hon Ibani who addressed newsmen in his office at the state House of Assembly complex in Port Harcourt yesterday expressed hope that the judgement of the lower tribunal will be upturned at the appeal court. He further dismissed as untrue media reports that he and nineteen others were no longer members of the state House of Assembly. According to him, they still remained members of the House, adding that he was hopeful he would complete his tenure as lawmaker.

“I heard over the news that the speaker and 20 others have been sacked by the election tribunal.

“No member, not even the Speaker has been sacked.”

The lower tribunal gave judgement in their opinion. In their judgement, they held that there should be a rerun within 90days. “, he said,

The Speaker who pleaded that the same principles of law should apply in all situations around the country wondered why card reader was an issue in the election of Governor Nyesom Wike yet it was not the issue in a similar election in Lagos state.

“We have strong faith in the Nigerian state and its judicial system. We believe as legislators that conscience not placed on the canvas of justice is unconscionable. We believe that the same principles in law should be applied in all circumstances.”

“Governor Ambode’s case had nothing to do with the card reader but Governor Wike’s case had something to do with the card reader. I will not want to preempt the judgement of the appellate court. All I can tell you is that I have appealed against the judgement of the lower tribunal.”, he said

“Our lawyers have applied for the records of proceedings. Already we have gone on appeal, if you look at the law it states that from the day judgment is given in any petition you have to file your appeal and in 60 days judgement should be delivered.

Indeed no member of the House of Assembly was sacked by the tribunal. But we believe that if a particular principle applied in some situations in the North, and the West it should also apply in the South-South.

We did not consult God to create us as Rivers people. We did not consult God to put Rivers where it is today in the map of Nigeria. We did not consult God to make us part of the nation state called Nigeria, ” he said.

Hon Ibani who reiterated his position that the general elections in the state were free and fair, said he was hopeful that the judiciary will redress what he perceived as wrong done with nullification of the elections by the tribunal.

“The whole world knows that election was conducted in the state on April 11.The whole world knows as well that INEC prepared for such election for a long period. Because we have faith in the judiciary system, we have faith in the judges and we believe that our case will not be different.

We have faith in the Chief Justice of Nigeria that justice must be done. We have faith in the judiciary.

You can’t insulate democracy from justice. Through free will the people voted governor Wike and members of the state House of Assembly. We must keep faith with the Nigeria state. “, he said.

The election petitions tribunal sitting in Abuja Monday nullified the election of twenty members of the House on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. Those affected included the Speaker, Hon Ibani and Majority Leader of the House, Hon Martins Amewhule, representing Obio Akpor constituency 1.

The tribunal judgement upheld the election of twelve other members of the House that included Hon Evans Bipi, who is the Chief Whip and former leader of the anti Amaechi lawmakers during the second term of former Governor Chibuike Amaechi. The election of the member representing Eleme constituency on the platform of the All Progressive Congress. APC was also upheld by the tribunal.

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