By Solomon Bob
Continues from last week
BUT what were the issues? In a nutshell, following his defeat in the gubernatorial election of 2015 in Rivers State, Dakuku Peterside, filed a petition alleging corrupt practices and voter fraud and that the election was invalid and unlawful by reason of non-compliance with INEC guidelines and regulations with regard to the use of the smart card reader.
So pervasive and daunting were the allegations by Peterside and his party that only proof of even more daunting proportions would have sufficed. But proof to that degree was not only completely lacking, what was offered didn’t even scratch the surface. For example, as the law is that a petitioner who alleges irregularities and corrupt practices must prove same polling unit by polling unit through direct evidence, and since Rivers State had 4,442 polling units and 1,350 additional voting points to bring up a total of 5,792, Peterside needed to produce witnesses in their thousands to substantiate his allegations.
Instead, he called only 56 witnesses, including himself, out of which 18 were ward collation agents whose evidence were basically secondary or hearsay. Indeed, only 2 of his witnesses were voters and none of whom tendered a voter’s card! (Kakih v PDP (2014) 5 NWLR (pt. 1430); Uchae V Ecellui (2012) 13 NWLR (pt. 1317).
Essentially, Peterside’s petition was solely and entirely predicated on the non-use of the smart card reader of which heavy weather was made. The petition was humored by the decisions of the lower courts which pretended to bookend a new principle of law by curiously placing underserved reliance on INEC’s directives and guidelines while ignoring a host of statutory and judicial authorities that pointed to the primacy of the Electoral Act.
Predictably, the Supreme Court wasted no time in slapping down this utterly tendentious and anomalous interpretation by holding that the provisions of the Electoral Act are superior to any letter or directives of INEC and that the non-use of card reader cannot be a ground to challenge an election under S.138(1) of the Electoral Act.
As Kekere-Ekun, J.S.C. noted, “While the Electoral Commission is duly conferred with powers to issue regulations, guidelines or manuals…, by S.138(2) of the (Electoral) Act, so long as an act or omission regarding such regulations or guidelines is not contrary to the provisions of the Act itself, it shall not of itself be a ground for questioning the election…. As this court has held, the use of the card reader has not done away with manual accreditation provided for under S.149 of the Act”. [Nyesom V Peterside (2017) NWLR (pt. 1512) at 528].
Mohammed, C.J.N was even more categorical when he said: “…a distinction must always be drawn between the effect of a law made by the Legislature (National Assembly i.e. the Electoral Act, the constitution, etc) and a rule of procedure (by whatever name called) by any other authority ….Breach of the former can be severe and fatal than breach in case of the latter”. [Nyesom v Peterside, supra at 547].
Thus unraveled a petition that should not have been filed in the first place and which, having been filed, had been sustained by an interplay of media invention and revisionism, political intrigues and strong-arm tactics until those, too, ran their course and expired under the close scrutiny of the Supreme Court.
Beyond being good law, however, the enduring significance in the verdict in Wike’s case is that it summoned the collective vestige of a despairing nation and rekindled hope not only in our judiciary, but ultimately in our democracy. As the saying goes, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. The Wike judgment proved it.
- Being a paper presented by Mr Solomon Bob at the 2016 Egalitarian Mission for Africa dinner held in Abuja on February 8, 2017.