By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, slated Monday to decide whether or not to dismiss the petition that was filed against Governor Nyesom Wike by the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The Justice Muazu Pindiga-led tribunal adjourned for ruling on a day APC and its governorship candidate in Rivers State, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, accused Governor Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, of plotting to hijack the proceeding of the tribunal.
The petitioners made the allegation following two separate applications challenging the continued hearing of the petition seeking to annul the April 11 governorship election in Rivers State.
The applications were filed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and Governor Wike.
The two defendants, through their various lawyers, yesterday, challenged the proceeding of the tribunal, insisting that pre-hearing session on the petition by the APC was not properly convoked.
INEC through its lawyer Mr. K.O.C. Njemanze, SAN, applied for an order dismissing the petition as being abandoned in consequence of non compliance with the provision of paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
INEC’s motion dated July 27, was filed pursuant to section 6(6) (a) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, and paragraphs 18(1) (3) and (47) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
The electoral body maintained that the petitioners failed to pay the necessary fees before they applied to the Secretary of the tribunal to issue them Form TF007, which will okay pre-hearing on the petition.
“It is our submission that payment of filing fee for such application is statutory and constitutes a condition precedent for the invocation of the jurisdiction of this tribunal.’’
“In the circumstance we submit that in the eyes of the law, there is no application for pre-hearing session. We therefore urge this tribunal to dismiss this petition as abandoned”, INEC added.
Similarly, Wike, through his lawyer Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, relied on the case of Ihedioha vs Okorocha and argued that the failure of the petitioners to properly apply for the pre-hearing session rendered the case before the tribunal liable to be dismissed.
Wike noted that the Imo State Governorship Elections Petition Tribunal had in a ruling it delivered on July 22, held that the failure of Ihedioha to pay the N100 filing fee in respect of an application for pre-hearing was fatal to his petition against Okorocha.
“It is clear that the application by the petitioners in this matter bears no receipt of any payment and therefore ought to be dismissed”, Wike argued.
The PDP through its lawyer Mr. Goddy Uche, aligned with INEC and Wike, saying “the petition is dead and should be given a befitting burial”.
The defendants contended that the tribunal could not take any further step on the matter until the competence of the pre-hearing application is determined.
Meantime, counsel to the petitioners, Chief Akinlolu Olujunmi, SAN, yesterday, prayed the tribunal to dismiss the two applications as lacking in merit.
Olujunmi urged the tribunal not to allow the defendants to rely on technicalities to defeat the course of justice, saying there is no specific provision of the law that made payment of N100 filing fee mandatory.
Arguing that the tribunal has the discretion to proceed with hearing the petition or to direct the petitioners to go and pay the fee, Olujunmi, SAN, urged the panel to be wary of plot by the defendants to take over its proceedings.
“I urge your lordships to be extra-vigilant and not allow the respondents to high-jack the proceeding of this tribunal”, the APC lawyer pleaded.
After listening to all the parties yesterday, the Justice Pindiga-led panel adjourned for ruling.
It will be recalled that the proceeding of the tribunal was stalled on Thursday owing to failure of governor Wike and the PDP to respond to the pre-hearing application by the APC.
The application by the APC will allow the tribunal to begin full-blown hearing on the petition seeking to annul the election that brought governor Wike to power.
Both APC and Peterside are praying the tribunal to sack Wike from office on the premise that the Rivers State governorship poll was not only fraught with manifest irregularities, but was also conducted with total disregard to relevant provisions of the Electoral Act.
The petitioners want the tribunal to void the election and order a fresh governorship poll in the state.
So far, four other petitions that were lodged against Wike before the tribunal have been dismissed.