By 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.