Rivers State Elections Petition Tribunal, sitting in Abuja, yesterday, nullified the April 11 election that brought Governor Nyesom Wike to power.
The three-man tribunal, headed by Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, upheld the petition filed against the election by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its gubernatorial candidate in the state, Hon. Dakuku Peterside.
Peterside hailed the verdict as a victory for democracy in Nigeria while Wike and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) vowed to appeal.
On its part, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it will decide what to do after receiving a copy of the judgment.
The tribunal maintained that the petitioners successfully proved that the governorship poll was characterised by violence and corrupt practices.
“We are satisfied with evidence of the petitioners to the effect that substantial number of the electorate in Rivers State were disenfranchised as a result of massive and widespread irregularities,”it said.
“We are further convinced that the election was characterised by corrupt practices. Consequently, we hold that the second respondent (Wike) was not validly elected. We hereby order the first respondent (INEC) to conduct a fresh election in Rivers State”.
The tribunal contended that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, did not conduct the election in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act and its guidelines for the poll.
It noted that whereas the electoral body had, in a statement, prior to the election, stressed that Card Reader Machines must be used to accredit voters, evidence adduced before it showed that INEC officials resorted to manual accreditation.
The tribunal observed that INEC’s directive, that election should be postponed in any polling unit where the Card Reader Machine malfunctioned, was not adhered to.
“Guidelines that were issued by INEC for the conduct of the election were clear and unambiguous to the effect that where Card Reader fails, poll should be postponed rather than resort to manual accreditation. It was not for anybody to go outside the guidelines,”it stated.
“We have also considered the potency of the evidence tendered by petitioners’ witnesses and we are satisfied that the petitioners succeeded in proving that the election was characterised by wide spread irregularities, violence and ballot snatching.
“We are satisfied that the petitioners were able to discharge the burden of proof placed upon them by the law. The petitioners were able to prove that electorates were disenfranchised”.
The tribunal held that witnesses brought by both INEC and Wike “were full of inconsistencies”.
It observed that most of th e witnesses called by the electoral body, during cross-examination, admitted that where the Card Reader Machines failed, they resorted to manual accreditation.
The tribunal said that it found out that in some polling units, number of voters exceeded the number of those accredited with the Card Reader.
Similarly, the tribunal noted that witnesses called by Wike, despite their evidence that the election was peaceful, when they were shown INEC document containing the guideline that election should be postponed wherever the Card Reader failed, declined to read it.
“While some claimed that they could not see, others insisted that they would not read documents that were presented to them because they were not the author”, it said.
“We were not impressed by the conduct of the respondents’ witnesses upon cross examination by the petitioners’ counsel.
“We are in agreement with counsel to the petitioners that the evidence of respondents’ witnesses were unreliable and untenable.
“In view of this, the respondents have failed to convince this court on the credibility of their claim that election substantially took place in Rivers State on April 11, 2015”.
Peterside, yesterday, hailed the judgment, describing as a victory for the democracy in Nigeria, governor Wike and the PDP, have vowed to appeal against it.
The first petitioner in the case and APC candidate in the election said: “The tribunal has put a nail in the coffin of impunity and executive rascality in Rivers State. The judiciary has restored confidence of Rivers people as they will now have the opportunity to cast their votes to determine who will rule them.
“We cannot be more happier than today. We believe that this is a victory for the entire country. The APC is confident and ready for the battle ahead. As we speak today, Wike is not the governor of Rivers State. If he chooses to go to Supreme Court we will definitely meet him there. However, I don’t see any court reversing the judgment of this tribunal”.
Meanwhile, counsel to the PDP in the petition, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, maintained that Wike would remain in office until the appeal processes are exhausted.
He said that the tribunal’s reliance on card reader accreditation to nullify the governorship election when evidence was led by both the respondents and the petitioners, that both Card Reader and manual accreditation were used for the election, needed to be tested at the Court of Appeal.
Uche said it was shocking that less than 24 hours after lawyers on all sides submitted nine written addresses and documents, the tribunal sent notice that judgment would be delivered yesterday morning.
According to him, the tribunal was aware that the Supreme Court judgment on the jurisdiction of the tribunal outside of Rivers State would be delivered on Tuesday.
He said despite that fact that the tribunal had 7 days to deliver its judgment, it chose to do so in less than two days.
Death of impunity – APC
Also yesterday, APC described the verdict as a deadly body blow to impunity and hooliganism.
In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the judgement has shown clearly that the era of impunity and hooliganism is over, and that the only way for elections to have legitimacy is for them to be free, fair and credible.
‘’What has come across from this judgement is that there is no shortcut to free, fair and credible elections. This is part of the wind of change that is blowing across the land and touching all arms of government under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari”, the statement said.
‘’Elections are about the expression of the will of the people, and they must always be free to express themselves, irrespective of what some desperate politicians may feel’’.
Judgment cannot stand — PDP
But the national leadership of the PDP viewed the judgment from the standpoint of bias against Wike, saying the verdict and that of Akwa Ibom State will not stand.
It said the verdicts of the Rivers and Akwa Ibom tribunals were designed to manipulate the wishes of the people, adding that it would resist “criminal acts to steal the states originally won by it”, using the tribunals.
In a statement, yesterday, by PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the party noted that it had before