Court Rules on Rejig of Panel on Wike’s Election Friday

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Ernest Chiawo

The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt will on Friday rule on whether or not it is proper for the President of the Court of Appeal to constitute another panel to examine the merit and substance of the case brought by Mr. Awara Festus and the African Action Congress (AAC), against the election of the Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike.

The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had in conformity with the Court of Appeal decision in APPEAL NO: CA/PH/376/2019 recently halted the erstwhile panel from continuing with the matter.

The directive was preceded by the displeasure expressed by the Appeal Court against the erstwhile ttribunal’s decision in refusing to entertain the petition as filed by a party in the case, and its dismissal of the petition which is purported to have been withdrawn by a faction of the party.
The AAC had ran into a leadership crisis wherein another Chairman, Mr Leonard Ezenwa, was said to have been named as new helsman.

A faction of the party had also claimed that Ezenwa, without consultation with the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the AAC, hired another lawyer, Mr Henry Bello, to represent it in court.

Bello was the same lawyer that represented a faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, led by Senator Magnus Abe.
Until the sudden emergence of Bello as the AAC lawyer, the party and Awara, were represented by Mr. Tawo Tawo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Following the dispute in the party, leading to the purported suspension of its presidential candidate, Mr Omoyele Sowore, Ezenwa emerged as the acting chairman of the party.

The Sowore faction of the party in the state believed that Ezenwa failed to diligently prosecute the petition, leading the tribunal to dismiss it, describing it as “abandoned”, even as the law prescribes that any objection to pre-hearing matters, has to be addressed after the substantial issues have been dealt with.

The Sowore faction subsequently filed an appeal as its chieftains believed that the division within its rank was manipulated and orchestrated by a political interest group.

The Appeal Court subsequently directed that in deference to the petition filed by the Sowore faction of AAC, another panel be set up to review the substance of the case.

But Bello, representing Ezenwa faction approached the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt to obtain an order stopping the setting up of another panel.

Although the order was not granted by the judge, the court reserved ruling on the propriety of setting up the election panel to re-examine the issues in the suit.

One of the issues the court is expected to decide is the alleged double age declaration of Wike purportedly certified by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

It was alleged that the governor had declared a different age while he was chairman of Obi Akpor Local Government Area, from that which he declared when he became governor.