Unlike in 2015, when the Tribunal and the Appeal Court nullified his election until he was rescued by the Supreme Court, last weekend’s judgment by the Governorship Election Tribunal in Port Harcourt has explained why it is even more difficult to remove Governor Nyesom Wike from office this time, writes Davidson Iriekpen
Rivers State went agog last weekend, when the Governorship Election Tribunal sitting in Port Harcourt affirmed the re-election of Governor Nyesom Wike. The election, which held on March 9, 2019, was characterised by large-scale violence due to the large deployment of soldiers and policemen, who unleashed terror on the people of the state.
But after a lot of deliberations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Wike winner of the poll. This angered the candidates of African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara, and his counterpart in the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Mr. Victor Fingesi, who filed separate petitions seeking nullification of the poll.
But delivering separate judgments on the petitions, the tribunal said Wike was duly elected and that INEC was right in announcing him the winner of the poll.
It declared that both petitioners failed to prove their petitions beyond reasonable doubt and that they also failed to adduce proper evidence to prove that the election was marred by violence and irregularities as they claimed.
Delivering judgment on AAC’s petition, Justice K. B. Olawoyin, reading a unanimous decision of the panel, declared that Wike won in 19 of the 21 local government areas, where elections held, while the petitioner won in two local government areas. He said the petitioner failed to call any witness to give credible evidence that there were malpractices that favoured Wike during the election.
The judge held that the first petitioner (Awara) could no longer lead any general and nebulous evidence on violence, adding that what was suspended was the collation of results for six local government areas and not the entire election, as was claimed. He declared that as at the time of the suspension of collation, INEC had concluded collation of results in 17 local government areas.
The tribunal also stated that by participating in the collation process, the petitioner had waived his right to complain. It also ruled that the results tendered by the petitioner, Awara, while giving evidence were inadmissible and, therefore, expunged from the records.
It submitted that the AAC governorship candidate tendered a certified true copy of the governorship election and the declaration of results by INEC. It, however, noted that neither Awara nor any of his witnesses tendered any results different from that of INEC.
Stressing that Awara failed to call his polling unit agents to testify, even though he admitted that they were all alive, the tribunal added that the results tendered by the petitioner had no names of polling unit agents, no signatures of polling unit agents, and no INEC stamp. It therefore declared the said results inadmissible and of no value.
The tribunal further said the evidences of most of the petitioner’s witnesses were of no value as they were discredited under cross-examination, or contradicted by their answers. It held that Petitioner Witness (PW) 3 to 19, who testified, were alleged ward or local government agents, whose testimonies had been found not to be credible.
The judge ruled that PW 3 was not a credible witness and his evidence was disregarded. He said the evidence of PW3 was contrary to the petitioner’s pleadings in his petition and noted that Exhibits AA1 to A12 tendered by PW4 were inadmissible in evidence, because PW4 was not the maker, ruling that the documents were dumped on it, with no polling agents called to give evidence. He expunged the exhibits from the records.
The tribunal said the evidence of most of the petitioner’s witnesses were of no value as they were discredited under cross-examination, or contradicted by their answers during cross-examination. It said some of the witnesses said the election was peaceful contrary to the claims of the petitioner.
While dismissing Awara’s petition, the tribunal also described some of the witnesses as pathological liars, who were out to mislead the judges, adding that aside the names of the witnesses and their respective wards, the statements of all of them were the same and each had seven paragraphs and therefore awarded N300,000 cost against him in favour of each of the three respondents.
In the petition by the ADP, Chairman of the tribunal, Justice K.A. Orjiako, in a unanimous judgment, described the petition as an adventure to discover the non-existent.
Orjiako declared that at the end nothing was discovered by the petitioner and said Fingesi lacked the locus standi to file the petition, concluding that the inconsistent facts contained in the petition filed by the ADP governorship candidate made it incompetent.
Orjiako said the petitioner wrote that he was challenging the election of the first petitioner instead of challenging the person returned as winner. He stated that the tribunal had earlier struck out the petition and the petitioner went on appeal.
He noted that the Court of Appeal affirmed that the petitioner lacked locus standi in view of the paragraphs of his own petition. The tribunal chairman said the petitioner also failed to prove widespread violence as claimed.
“We hold firmly that the petitioner has failed woefully in proving his allegations. The petition lacks merit and is hereby dismissed,” the judge said.
The tribunal declared that the petitioner failed to prove that Wike did not score the highest number of lawful votes during the March 9 election. It said the allegation that the winner did not score the highest number of votes was an invitation to compare figures, adding that the petitioner ought to plead his own results and that of the winner for the court to crosscheck.
It also agreed with INEC that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act.
The tribunal stated that the testimonies of the witnesses of the party were mere hearsay, since most of them were not at the respective polling units, where elections took place. It held that INEC had the power to suspend an election, in line with Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). It further stated there was no evidence that after the suspension of the election, the petitioners refused to participate in the process.
Before the latest judgments, the tribunal had also upheld Wike’s victory, when it dismissed the petitions filed by the governorship candidate of the Labour Party, Chief Isaac Wonwu, and its counterpart in the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), Mr Clifford Edanuko. While that of Wonwu was dismissed following a motion for withdrawal, moved by his counsel, Mr. Uche Ulemene, that of Edanuko was dismissed due to the discontinuation of the petition.
All the decisions so far are a far cry from what transpired during Wike’s first term in office in 2015, when the tribunal nullified his victory, and also at the Appeal Tribunal, until the Supreme Court came to his rescue.
In 2015, due to pressure from the All Progressives Congress (APC)-federal government, the state election tribunals were relocated to Abuja. So, it was not a surprise when they nullified the elections of most of the candidates for Senate, House of Representatives and the state House of Assembly.
But in the current petitions, observers believed that the tribunals sat in Port Harcourt, because the ruling APC did not bother since its candidates were disqualified following internal party disputes.
But before then, in the build up to the election, in its attempt to “capture” the state, the APC had made several efforts to stop Wike from contesting the election. One of such was when one Elvis Chinda resurrected a suit that was withdrawn a few years ago, faulting the statutory declaration of age by Wike.
In the suit filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja, Wike’s disqualification was anchored on an allegation that he forged the statutory declaration of age he allegedly attached to the Form CF.001 submitted to INEC the 2019 governorship poll.
According to the plaintiff, the document deposed to on behalf of the governor on October 3, 1986 by one Collins Nyeme Wike, claimed that he hailed from Rumuepirikom in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, when the said local government was only created three years after.
Chinda, through his lawyer, Achinike William-Wobodo, claimed that, the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, was only carved out of Port Harcourt Local Government in 1989 by Decree No 12 of 1989.
However, on March 8, 2019, a date to election, Justice Inyang Ekwo dismissed the suit and held that the plaintiff failed to prove the allegation beyond reasonable doubt as required of a case of forgery being criminal in nature.
The judge also held that the suit had become statute-barred, because it was filed outside the time stipulated by Chinda, who had subsequently filed an appeal against the judgment but was said to have wrongly given it to the ‘Federal High Court’ instead of the ‘Court of Appeal’. He later applied to the Court of Appeal for amendment of the notice of appeal to reflect the name of the Court of Appeal.
Sensing the anomaly, and dissatisfied with the judgment, Wike quickly appealed at the Supreme Court contending that the amendment granted by the Court of Appeal was illegal as he contended that it violated Paragraph 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act. Chinda too filed an appeal in respect of the issue.
In its judgment, five-man panel of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, on July 16, unanimously dismissed the suit. The apex court held that the notice of appeal filed before the Court of Appeal by Chinda was incompetent.
Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, who prepared the lead judgments on the two appeals, upheld Wike’s case and ruled that the amendment of the notice of appeal by the Court of Appeal was illegal.
In the judgment read on his behalf by another member of the panel, Justice Paul Galinje, held: “By paragraph 14(2) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act, the amendment was illegal.” The court struck out the amended notice of appeal pending before the Court of Appeal for being incompetent.
Reacting to the judgments, counsel to ADP, Dowlapo-Tella Attoni, said in as much as he saluted the industry and transparency of the tribunal judges, he had many grounds of appeal against the judgment. He said he would consult with his client to determine the next line of action.
Counsel to Awara, Henry Bello, also said he would appeal the judgment.
But Wike said all PDP candidates in the state at the 2019 general election had virtually no opponents. According to him, “It is so painful that someone could say that no election held in Rivers State. There was nobody, who ran the election against us. But for connection, how can anyone say he ran election against us in Rivers State?”
He said that he would never be distracted by the antics of the opposition.
Counsel to PDP, Ahmed Raji (SAN), attributed the victory to God. Raji said God crowned the efforts of the legal team with success, explaining that the judgment was a judicial confirmation of the votes of Rivers people.
Also speaking, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) described Wike as a winner anytime.