Gives INEC nod to conduct fresh guber poll
As case shifts to Supreme Court
By Jimitota Onoyume, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Dapo Akinrefon
ABUJA—The Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, upheld the nullification of the April 11 governorship election that brought Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to power.
A five-man panel of Justices of the appellate court, in a unanimous judgment yesterday, dismissed three separate appeals that sought to set aside the verdict of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal that earlier sacked Wike from office.
The three appeals were lodged before the appellate court by Wike, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The appeals were all dismissed as lacking in merit, even as the appellate court directed INEC to go ahead and conduct fresh governorship election in the state.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice M. B. Dongban-Mensem, the appellate court held that Wike failed to prove that the election that produced him was conducted in substantial compliance to relevant sections of both the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The court said it was satisfied that the petitioners at the lower tribunal, All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in Rivers State, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, successfully established, through their witnesses and exhibits, that the election was fraught with manifest irregularities.
The court said there was sufficient evidence that INEC made use of the Card Reader Machines for authentication of voters for the election mandatory.
However, it noted that officials of the Commission in Rivers State “blatantly and brazenly” refused to employ the Card Reader Machines, an innovation the court said was meant to bring sanity and sanctity to the electoral process.
The appellate court said it would be tantamount to setting a bad precedent for INEC officials to be allowed to overlook directives and guidelines aimed at ensuring that elections were free, fair and credibly conducted.
It said: “It portends great danger for our democracy and electoral process for INEC officials to have the effrontery and temerity to thwart laid down directives and go ahead to conduct elections according to their own whims and caprices, not withstanding the approved guidelines.”
The court said the admission of two senior electoral officers that testified before the tribunal that the election was not conducted in compliance to the Electoral Act and Approved Guidelines, amounted to an indictment on INEC.
The appellate court waved aside Wike’s contention that he was not granted fair-hearing by the Justice Suleiman Ambrosa-led tribunal.
It described as “misconceived”, Wike’s argument that upon removal of the initial Chairman of the tribunal, Justice Muazu Pindiga, fresh pre-hearing session ought to have been held on the petition filed by APC and its candidate.
The court said Wike’s insistence that APC failed, to in line with section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010, give 21 days notice to INEC before it held the primary election that produced Dakuku, amounted to “a sympathizer crying more than the bereaved”.
It stressed that there was no time INEC complained that the notice APC gave to it was too short.
Justice Dongban-Mensem said the tribunal was right to have held that Dakuku was qualified to contest the April 11 governorship election in the state.
She further placed reliance on section 137(1) (a) and (b) of the Electoral Act to maintain that both APC and Dakuku had the requisite locus standi to challenge Wike’s election at the tribunal.
The Appeal Court maintained that the tribunal was right in according probative value to documentary and oral evidence that showed that the Rivers State governorship election was characterised by over-voting.
It said the fact that the number of voters that participated at the election far exceeded the num ber of those that were captured in the accreditation process, rendered the outcome of the election void.
The court dismissed Wike’s contention that the tribunal wrongly admitted into evidence, the Card Reader Report the petitioners tendered through a senior official from the ICT department of INEC, as well as argument that the Card Reader is not known to either the constitution or the Electoral Act.
It was the view of the appellate court that under section 160 of the Constitution, INEC has the powers to independently introduce guidelines and regulations it considers necessary for a free, fair and credible election.
The court held that even the President has no power to interfere with the decision of the electoral body.
“INEC can even without the guidelines, make use of the Card Reader Machines in the accreditation process. The innovation and introduction of the Card Reader has been firmly instituted by the Electoral Act.
“Harmonious reading of the Electoral Act clearly shows that INEC’s manual for the election was legally and properly made for the purpose of giving effect to the Act, to uphold the tenets of one-man-one-vote, as well as to enhance the credibility of the electoral process.
“Where evidence has been properly evaluated by the lower tribunal, unless the appellant shows that the tribunal made wrong conclusions, the appeal court does not find pleasure in interfering with the decision of the lower tribunal”.
The appellate court said it was convinced that the tribunal properly weighed all the facts of the case before it nullified Wike’s election.
Consequently, the court, yesterday, resolved all the seven grounds of appeal against Wike.
“Having determined that the 2nd respondent was not validly elected, I hereby affirm and uphold the decision of the lower tribunal that nullified his return as the winner of the April 11 governorship election in Rivers State.
“I hereby affirm the order for INEC to conduct a fresh election. I make no order as to cost,” Justice Dongban-Mensem ruled.
Meantime, Wike, yesterday, vowed to take the matter before the Supreme Court.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, Wike, said he completely disagreed with the judgment, saying he will exhaust his constitutional right by appealing it at the Supreme Court.
“Wike called on all his supporters and the people of Rivers State to remain calm as Justice will be done at the end of day.
“He assured the people of the state that he will use all constitutional processes to protect the mandate they freely bestowed on him, hence his decision to approach the Supreme Court for further adjudication,” he said.
Meanwhile, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Rivers State has expressed displeasure with the ruling of the Appeal Court yesterday which nullified the election of Governor Nyesom Wike.
Chairman of the party, Mr Felix Obuah described the judgement as the product of an alleged gang up of the Federal Government and APC against Wike.
Wike ‘ll lose at S’Court—Sagay
Commenting on the Court of Appeal verdict ousting Governor Nyesom Wike, head of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, welcomed the judgement.
Sagay said: “Everybody knew that Wike was not elected. Wike got into power through a brutal manner and I have never seen such brutal approach to power except through a coup. What Wike did was a bloody civilian coup, what he did was a big embarrassment to this country and if he had gotten away with it, I tell you that would have been the end to any type of free and fair elections in the South South.”