Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal has affirmed the re-election of Governor Nyesom Wike. This followed the dismissal of the petition filed by the candidate of African Action Congress (AAC) in the March 9 governorship election, Biokpomabo Awara, seeking nullification of the poll.
The tribunal also dismissed the petition filed by the governorship candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP), Mr. Victor Fingesi, against the re-election of Wike.
In separate judgements delivered Saturday on the petitions by both political parties, the tribunal said Wike was duly elected and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was right in announcing him winner of the poll. The tribunal declared that both petitioners failed to prove their petitions beyond reasonable doubt and they also failed to adduce proper evidence to prove that the election was marred by violence and irregularities, as they claimed.
Delivering judgement on AAC’s petition, Justice K. B. Olawoyin, reading a unanimous decision of the tribunal, declared that Wike won in 19 of the 21 local government areas where elections held, while the petitioner won in two local government areas. The tribunal said the petitioner failed to call any witness to give credible evidence that there were malpractices that favoured Wike during the election.
It held that the first petitioner (Awara) could no longer lead any general and nebulous evidence on violence, adding that what was suspended was the collation of results for six local government areas and not the entire election, as was claimed. It declared that as at the time of the suspension of collation, INEC had concluded collation of results in 17 local government areas.
The tribunal stated that by participating in the collation process, the petitioner had waived his right to complain. It also ruled that the results tendered by the petitioner, Awara, while giving evidence were inadmissible and, therefore, expunged from the records.
According to the tribunal, the AAC governorship candidate tendered a certified true copy of the governorship election and the declaration of results by INEC. It, however, noted that neither Awara nor any of his witnesses tendered any results different from that of INEC.
The tribunal said Awara failed to call his polling unit agents to testify, even though he admitted that they were all alive. It added that the results tendered by Awara had no names of polling unit agents, no signatures of polling unit agents, and no INEC stamp. The tribunal therefore declared the said results inadmissible and of no value.
The tribunal said the evidences of most of the petitioner’s witnesses were of no value as they were discredited under cross examination, or contradicted by their answers.
It held that Petitioner Witness (PW) 3 to 19, who testified, were alleged ward or local government agents, whose testimonies had been found not to be credible.
The tribunal ruled that PW 3 was not a credible witness and his evidence was disregarded. It said the evidence of PW3 was contrary to the petitioner’s pleadings in his petition.
It said Exhibits AA1 to A12 tendered by PW4 were inadmissible in evidence, because PW4 was not the maker. The tribunal ruled that the documents were dumped on it, with no polling agents called to give evidence. It expunged the exhibits from its records.
The tribunal said the evidences of most of the petitioner’s witnesses were of no value as they were discredited under cross-examination, or contradicted by their answers during cross-examination. It said some of the witnesses said the election was peaceful contrary to the claims of the petitioner.
The tribunal also described some of the witnesses as pathological liars who were out to mislead the judges.
According to the tribunal, aside the names of the witnesses and their respective wards, the witness statements of all of them were the same and each had seven paragraphs.
The tribunal held that the evidence of PW 7, Stanley Nweke, Ward Collation Agent in Omuma Local Government Area, was at variance with the pleadings of the petitioner. It said the evidence of PW 7 was of no value and was discountenanced.
The tribunal also threw out the evidence of PW 9, Henry Iyalla, whose name was not found in INEC’s official list of Collation Agents. It described PW 9 as an imposter, saying his evidence did not contradict the fact that election held in Degema Local Government Area.
The tribunal, noted however, that PW 21, the State Collation Agent of AAC, Mr. Nenye Kocha, had been consistent in his testimony from collation to the tribunal that the AAC lost the governorship election. The AAC governorship collation agent, according to the tribunal, is a truthful witness, whose evidence is credible.
The tribunal also accepted the testimony of PW 22, Joseph Osademe, a producer with AIT, who tendered the video clip showing INEC officials declaring Wike winner of the election.
The tribunal placed value on the document tendered by Assistant Commissioner of Police in Rivers State, ACP Victor Onugbo, which authenticated the victory of Wike at the March 9 election.
While dismissing Awara’s petition, the tribunal awarded N300, 000 cost against him in favour of each of the three respondents.
In the petition by the ADP, the Chairman of the tribunal, Justice K.A. Orjiako, in a unanimous judgement, described the petition as an adventure to discover the non-existent. Orjiako declared that at the end, nothing was discovered by the petitioner.
Orjiako said Mr. Victor Fingesi of the ADP lacked the locus standi to file the petition. He held that inconsistent facts contained in the petition filed by the ADP governorship candidate made it incompetent.
The tribunal said the petitioner wrote that he was challenging the election of the first petitioner. It said an election petition must challenge the person returned as winner and not the petitioner.
Orjiako stated that the tribunal had earlier struck out the petition and the petitioner went on appeal. He noted that the Court of Appeal affirmed that the petitioner lacked locus standi in view of the paragraphs of his own petition.
The tribunal chairman said the petitioner also failed to prove widespread violence as claimed.
“We hold firmly that the petitioner has failed woefully in proving his allegations. The petition lacks merit and is hereby dismissed,” the judge said.
The tribunal declared that the petitioner failed to prove that Wike did not score the highest number of lawful votes during the March 9 election. It said the allegation that the winner did not score the highest number of votes was an invitation to compare figures, adding that the petitioner ought to plead his own results and that of the winner for the court to crosscheck.
It also agreed with INEC that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act.
The tribunal stated that the testimonies of the witnesses of the party were mere hearsay, since most of them were not at the respective polling units where elections took place. It held that INEC had the power to suspend an election, in line with Section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
The tribunal further stated there was no evidence that after the suspension of the election, the petitioners refused to participate in the process.
Reacting to the judgements, counsel to ADP, Dolapo-Tella Attoni, said in as much as he saluted the industry and transparency of the tribunal judges, he had many grounds of appeal against the judgement. He said he would consult with his client to determine the next line of action. Counsel to Awara, Henry Bello, also said he would appeal the judgement.
Meanwhile, Wike has organised a thanksgiving service to appreciate God following his victory at the tribunal. The governor and other Rivers leaders held the service at the Government House Chapel of Everlasting Grace.
Reacting to the judgement, Wike said all PDP candidates in the state at the 2019 general election had virtually no opponents.
According to him, “It is so painful that someone could say that no election held in Rivers State. There was nobody who ran the election against us. But for connection, how can anyone say he ran election against us in Rivers State?” He said that he would never be distracted by the antics of the opposition.
Counsel to PDP, Ahmed Raji (SAN), attributed the victory to God. Raji said God crowned the efforts of the legal team with success, explaining that judgement is a judicial confirmation of the votes of Rivers people.
National Chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, congratulated Wike on his victory at the Tribunal, saying Justice has been served on Rivers people through the jribunal judgement.
Also speaking, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) described Wike as a winner anytime.