Can Wike, Rivers’ leg­is­la­tors turn the hands of the clock?

Daily Trust - - INSIDE POLITICS - By Hamza Idris

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

Dakuku Peter­side

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