The annulment, at the weekend, of Governor Nyesom Wike’s election by the Rivers State election tribunal may have completely distorted the subsisting equation, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Not many people, who closely monitored the elections in Rivers State, particularly the power play that characterised periods before, during and after the governorship election, would say that they weren’t expecting that the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal was going to eventually upturn the process that produced Governor Nyesome Wike.
That the tribunal nullified Wike’s election is not necessarily a pointer that he would lose the rerun election.
In fact, almost immediately after the news broke and people were calling one and other to confirm the veracity, Wike had tweeted: “The victory God has given, He will sustain,” which signifies that the governor is not relenting in his claim that he is politically relevant in Rivers State politics and is unafraid of the judgment.
Whatever was the basis of the governor’s confidence, a majority of All Progressives Congress (APC) members, who were not surprised when the Justice Suleiman Ambrosa-led tribunal in its Saturday verdict, nullified the election on the grounds that it did not comply substantially with electoral guidelines, hysterically celebrated the invalidation of the gubernatorial polls held April 11, 2015 by the tribunal, which also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election within 90 days.
When politics and other issues become argumentative and opposing sides seek redress in court, some of the aggressive sides easily castigate journalists as biased or hired hatchet men not necessarily as vital part of the popular court of public opinion that can see where the pendulum would swing, irrespective of how the Wike government has been unfavoured to reports, the tribunal held that the characters of voters (witnesses) called by Wike were impugned under cross-examination and it agreed that the evidence of the witnesses of Wike and INEC was incredible and unreliable.
On the other hand, it noted that the petitioners had proved their case beyond doubt. That simply was what got the Rivers State APC governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the Rivers State APC and the immediate past governor, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, who is also one of the very controversial ministerial nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari, the opportunity to enter another round of competitive politicking for the soul of the state.
The judgment of the Ambrosa-led three-man election petitions tribunal in Rivers State was influenced mainly by the tenacity of the Amaechi-led APC in the state, to prove that violence, intimidation and malpractices marred the conduct of the state’s governorship election.
They called witnesses to the tribunal to establish that the March 28 presidential poll and April 11 governorship elections were characterised by irregularities during cross-examination by counsel to the first respondent (the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); second respondent, Wike and the third respondent, the PDP.
For instance, the APC collation officer in Akukatalu local government area, Mr. Jack Tamunosaki, during cross-examination by the counsel to INEC, Mr. Ikpeazu Onyechi; the PDP, Mr. Chris Uche and Wike’s counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala said there was no election in the 13 polling units in Ward 12, where he monitored.
Tamunosaki said: “I did not see any election materials at the centre where they are supposed to be. My job for my party was to cover the 13 polling units; I arrived at the collation centre as early as 6:30am. The shooting started at about 7:00 p.m. on the 10th of April up till April 11 in Abolima town. I was in my ward up till 11:00 pm on that day and till the next day, there was no electoral materials.
Another witness, a collation officer, Mr. John Lekova-Kootte, who testified for the APC said result sheets were not declared openly for the officers at the centre to see and that the election materials for the ward he supervised were taken to unknown destination by some PDP officials.
He also alleged that there was no collation at the centre.
Mr. Mactarlane Dimabo, Ibifagha Adiesigha and Tamuno Bristol, collation officers for wards 5, 6 and 12 respectively all claimed that materials like ballot papers, result sheets and ballot boxes were not made public. They also alleged that hired thugs intimidated voters and that most of the INEC ad-hoc staff were card carrying members of the PDP.
But when giving testimony on behalf of the military at the resumed hearing of a petition by the APC candidate, Dr. Peterside, Captain Garba Sani, who led a deployment of the military to maintain law and order during the poll, told the tribunal how members of his team encountered thugs in virtually everywhere they visited, which was practically what the APC needed to prove at the tribunal.
By all standards, this was a dicey testimony in the course of the legal battle that ensued. It was a kind of affirmation of the APC claim before the Justice Ambrosa-led tribunal that violence marred the electoral processes. He also told the tribunal that INEC officials were rescued by military operatives from the claws of the political thugs, who entangled them.
Sani’s weighty testimony was at the instance of a subpoena issued to Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen Tukur Buratai, by the tribunal at the instance of the petitioners to bring the military to tribunal. So when he was being led in evidence by the petitioner’s lawyer, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), he said the military arrested some of the armed thugs and that the thugs were handed over to the police for further actions.
“We arrived at Tai local government on April 10 to ascertain the level of security but we encountered thugs, over 200 in a particular place and some of them carrying machete about. I was able to arrest one of them with their cutlasses and handed him over to police, who came in an operational truck. There were a lot of road blocks mounted by thugs and as we were clearing one, the hoodlums were erecting in other places. In some places, there were attempts to conduct elections but I did not see any particular place where election took place,” he explained.
During cross-examination, Sani told the tribunal that he led a team of 38 soldiers deployed to the place by the military authority; he denied that the military aided election rigging. He also denied ever shooting to scare away voters. He said as the team leader, he wrote a report on his findings and that the report was in possession of the military.
Like Sani, other witnesses called by the petitioners came to the tribunal to show in one way or the other that the election could not actually stand the test of time.
What is however not clear yet is whether the legal victory will be total and can translate into a political victory as Wike is not only stamping his authority by emphasising that he was still in charge in the state, his supporters are already assuring Nigerians on the social media that he would win a rerun election against Peterside any time.
The governor is not even looking at the rerun yet. First, he is convinced that the legal battle is not yet over. He is not satisfied with the earlier judgment and hopes to appeal.
Addressing a crowd of supporters at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, Wike said: “By my training, I am not supposed to criticise any Judge for his opinions, but I have to say that the tribunal has given its verdict, but we know by the special grace of God, it is not God’s verdict.
“Let me tell you that despite all the gang ups in Abuja against Rivers State, we must protect the interest of our state. If they like let them use all the powers they have, but their powers can never be superior to God’s power. I want to urge you all to be calm and peaceful because I am still the Governor of Rivers State.
“We believe that we have a good case. I have never seen where a lower court will over rule the verdict of a higher court. In Lagos State, PDP went to court with the governorship candidate of the APC. One of PDP’s grouses was that INEC did not comply with use of card readers, but at the court of appeal, it was held that the issue of card readers has no place in the electoral act. But today we have heard that the card reader is part of our electoral act as far as the Rivers state Election Tribunal is concerned.”
But the candidate of the Labour Party, Tonye Princewill did not agree with Wike because there are enough reasons why Wike should not bother to appeal Saturday’s judgment of the governorship tribunal which annulled his election and ordered a rerun.
“Even PDP supporters I’m sure in their heart of hearts knew that this day would come. Like I said to my supporters on that election day, justice will prevail and the truth of this day will come out. If the APC legal team could not prove that there was no election in Rivers state, nobody could. It was that obvious.
“I’d like to thank all the judges for upholding the law, the parties for conducting their briefs with civility and the people of Rivers State for surviving this period. If I was the PDP, I would not even bother to appeal this judgment. I’d rather head back to the court of public opinion. Ultimately, that is where this matter will end. Why delay?” he stated.
Although happy with the judgment, Peterside has not made much statement on the judgment, however shortly after the pronouncement, he expressed the assurances that he would defeat Wike in a well organised election on his twitter handle when he said: “Whether we run the elections three times, I’ll win Wike three times.”
In all that is currently happening in Rivers State, one man working to reverse the political situation in the state is Amaechi.
He has maintained that Wike never won the governorship election. He has vowed to go through all legal means to reclaim the mandate and as things stand today, he is on the verge of achieving that, if Wike’s legal battle fails. And where a rerun eventually holds, the PDP must be prepared to contend with Amaechi.
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, recently eulogized Amaechi and recommended that Nigerian youths should take a cue from the former governor, who is also one of the rare politician friends of the Nobel Laurel, Professor Wole Soyinka
IBB tweeted: “Nigerian youths should learn a lesson from Rotimi Amaechi. All you need in life is to be intelligent and smart.”
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