Can Wike, Rivers’ legislators turn the hands of the clock?
The 2015 general election in Nigeria was described by both international and local observers as one the best in the country’s crave for democratic government.
The election saw the transfer of power at the centre from the hitherto ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The same feat was recorded in many states, where the opposition party took over. The PDP retained its firm grip on some.
However, despite the encomiums poured on various stakeholders that contributed to the success of the elections, the avalanche of petitions that trailed the process left much to be desired.
For many months, the governorship, national and state assemblies’ tribunals held sessions and took note of grievances of hundreds of candidates, who felt shortchanged and thereafter verdicts started pouring in, a development that favoured some people that were declared winners and upturned the victory of others.
However, of all the judgments, none attracted as much attention as that of the Rivers State, where the governor and all members of the state House of Assembly were sacked.
All of them are members of the PDP.
In retrospect, political pundits believed that in the first place, there was no election in Rivers anyway.
According to them, “the purported election” in Rivers was marred by alleged violence, ballot stuffing and electoral malpractices, which culminated in the emergence of Nyesom Wike of the PDP as governor.
Wike, said to be the godson of former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, was a former Minister of State for Education.
With the alleged support of the powers that be at the time, Wike had a running battle with his erstwhile benefactor, former Governor Chibuke Amaechi who defected to the APC for some obvious reasons.
Soon after the results of the gubernatorial election that favoured Wike was declared, his main challenger, the candidate of the APC, Dakuku Peterside protested, saying there was no semblance of election in Rivers.
Peterside therefore vowed to go to any length to seek for justice.
In all, 18 candidates, including Wike and Peterside vied for the governorship position but the real contest was more or less between the PDP and the APC candidates.
Observers believed that Peterside of the APC actually saw a credible window to seek redress at the courts, when he realized that Wike, in cohort with election handlers and other stakeholders allegedly overstretched their boundaries by rigging out electoral processes, including the card readers to declare a scandalous result.
It was gathered that a leaked document showed that the authentic total number of voters accredited using card readers and Permanent Voter Cards for the Rivers governorship election stood at 292, 878.
But Wike got far more than expected, even when some voters were said to have been accredited manually when the card readers allegedly failed at some poling units.
The Returning Officer for the governorship election and Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, Professor Faraday Osasere Oruwese, said Wike garnered a total of 1,029, 102 votes, representing 87.7 percent of the total votes.
He said on the other side, Peterside came second with a total of 124,896 votes, representing 10.65 percent.
Based on INEC records, Rivers State has a total of 2,079, 231 registered voters.
The final result submitted to the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja, by Prof Oruwese, showed that a total of 1,228, 614 voters were accredited while the total number of votes cast stood at 1,187, 295.
However, while Wike and his supporters were celebrating the ‘victory’, Peterside said he will stop at nothing to prove that there was the need to question the integrity of the election.
“Materials were hijacked in many local government areas even before accreditation started and election did not hold in many areas too,” he alleged.
“Even in areas where they managed to conduct the election, results were written in the homes of PDP chieftains,” he added.
In spite of the reservations, Wike was issued with his certificate of return and thereafter sworn in. On the other hand, Peterside and the APC headed to the election petition tribunal.
And on Saturday, 24th October, the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal for Rivers announced its findings and thereafter nullified the election of Gov. Nyesom Wike for “noncompliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.”
The Tribunal, sitting in Abuja, ordered INEC to conduct fresh governorship election in the state within 90 days.
The three-member tribunal, presided over by Justice Suleiman Ambursa, held that the petitioners (APC and Peterside) successfully proved their case that the election was conducted in total disregard to electoral guidelines.
Specifically, Ambursa, who read the ruling, said that the process of accreditation for the election was compromised with the use of incident forms rather than adherence to card reader.
He said it was the view of the tribunal that the election was held contrary to guidelines, insisting that the issue of accreditation in election cannot be compromised.
It could be recalled that before the 11th April governorship election, INEC had declared that it will not approve the use of manual accreditation for governorship election in any of the states of the Federation.
With this view, questions were raised in places where the number of voters that participated in the election exceeded the number of people accredited with the card readers.
However, while the Rivers governorship tribunal was conducting its briefs in Abuja, Wike rushed to the Supreme Court to question its jurisdiction.
And the result of his litigation at the apex court, which was declared on Tuesday, Oct 27, was not in any way favourable to him and his supporters as it turned out to be tragic.
Wike had told the Supreme Court that the tribunal which sat in Abuja had no jurisdiction over matters that transpired in Rivers State, and prayed that its findings should be discarded.
That notwithstanding, in its judgment, the Supreme Court explained that the tribunal was forced to relocate to Abuja due to security concerns.
In a judgment read by Justice Amiru Sanusi, the court averred that “…Evidence abound that there was serious security challenges prevailing in Rivers State which therefore called for the doctrine of necessity to be adopted.
“I am unable to see any merit in this appeal and I hereby dismiss it without any order as to cost,” Justice Sanusi said.
Earlier, while responding to the judgment of the tribunal in a state broadcast, Wike said he remains the governor of Rivers State.
“I have since instructed my team of lawyers to immediately commence the appeal process and have the decision of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal upturned for good.
“By virtue of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, I am still your governor and will remain your governor until the exhaustive conclusion of the appeal process at the Supreme Court,” he said.
On his part, Peterside said, “this judgment is resounding because, at last, we are vindicated. The journey, no doubt, was tortuous, but the suffering was worthwhile.”
Similarly, the state and National Assembly Petitions Tribunal for Rivers State, which also sat in Abuja, had nullified the election of 20 members of the State House of Assembly, all of them members of the PDP.
The tribunal ousted the Speaker, Owaji Ibani and 20 others while delivering its judgment at the FCT High Court in Jabi, and thereafter ordered fresh elections within 90 days.
The tribunal cited cases of irregularities and violence among other electoral malpractices which warranted the nullification of the lawmakers’ election victory.
The petition was brought by candidates of the APC against the lawmakers.
Like Wike, all the lawmakers said they would appeal the ruling.
“I am still the Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly and the members still remain members of the Rivers State House of Assembly,” said the Speaker, while addressing journalists on the outcome of 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,” he said.
Our correspondent reports that both the PDP and the APC used different tones in responding to the tribunal judgments, especially that of the governorship election.
The PDP said the judgment showed clear bias against Wike, stressing that it was “completely bizarre and part of the script by the APC to manipulate the will of the people.”
A statement signed by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh said, “We invite Nigerians and the international community to recall various reprehensible steps taken by the APC government that culminated in this ruling as well as the ridiculous Wednesday’s verdict of the Akwa-Ibom state governorship election tribunal, also sitting in Abuja.”
On its part, the APC described the ruling as part of the wind of change that is blowing across the land.
In a statement issued by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, the party said, “they must realize that they can only derive their legitimacy from the people, and that unless they respect the wishes of the people, they will not go far.”
Nigerians are now anxiously waiting to see what would transpire at the Supreme Court even as the status quo will remain at the Rivers government house and the state House of Assembly, considering the fact that Wike and the 21 legislators have been covered by the Nigerian Constitution, at least for now, until they exhaust their cases at superior courts.
This is despite the fact that election observers, including the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria’s 2015 elections had condemned the elections in Rivers State.
Gov Nyesom Wike