Ernest Chinwo writes that while the judgment of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal may have brought some succour to the harassed Governor Nyesom Wike, major opposition political parties in the state have lost steam as a result of internal conflicts
To state that Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is one of the most harassed governors in the country may be an understatement.
Right from his first tenure, Wike faced a series of litigations at the tribunal. Indeed, the tribunal ordered a re-run of the governorship election. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. But the Supreme Court came to his rescue when it declared Wike winner. This judgment put on hold the determination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to oust Wike from office and wrest the state from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Thus, the 2019 general elections provided another opportunity for the opposition in the state to neutralise the vocal “enfant terrible.”
But Wike was twice lucky as the internal wrangling within the APC in the state denied the major opposition the opportunity to field any candidate for any position in the state. The Supreme Court affirmed that position. But that did not stop the opposition. Few days to the March 9 governorship election, the APC adopted the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara, and vowed to give him all the support to ensure that Wike does not steer the ship of state.
If Wike ever thought of having a smooth ride on account of the crisis rocking the APC, that changed the game. Awara, an unknown actor in the political scene, suddenly became the focus of attention. Can the APC use this man to tame Wike, whose supporters even call him “High Tension”? Some wondered.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Wike winner of the elections and returned him governor of the state for a second term.
While the state celebrated, aggrieved persons approached the elections petitions tribunal for an order to reverse the INEC decision. But in a unanimous decision, the tribunal, in its judgments on the matters separately instituted by the AAC and the Action Democratic Party (ADP), said Wike was properly re-elected to be governor of the state till 2023.
Delivering judgment, the tribunal, chaired by Justice K.A. Orjiako, said Wike was duly elected and that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was right in announcing Wike winner and declaring him duly elected.
The tribunal declared that both petitioners failed to prove their petitions beyond reasonable doubt and that they also failed to adduce evidence to prove that the election was marred by violence and irregularities as they claimed. It ruled that the neither Awara nor his party was able to produce any credible witness to prove any violence or disruption that marred the election to dispute the verdict of the INEC as claimed.
With the clean bill of health received by Wike from those judgments, the governor definitely got some reprieve but it is not yet Uhuru for the embattled helmsman. While the matters may continue at the Court of Appeal, the ongoing case has revealed some issues that may well be instructive to the discerning public.
First was the failure of the APC to make good its promise to its adopted son, Awara.
The second was the discord between Awara and his party, the AAC.
It also brought to the fore what people can do to ensure that they remove from office a person they consider not favourable to their cause whether it is in the interest of the state or no.
On the first score, the APC, going by the result declared by the INEC was not able to deliver its adopted son, Awara, as governor of the state. INEC said Wike won in 19 of the 21 local government areas were elections held. According to INEC, elections did not hold in two local government areas. Wike, INEC declared, polled a total of 886,264 votes to defeat Awara of the AAC who polled 173,859 to come second.
Dissatisfied with the result announced by INEC, Awara approached the tribunal to declare that he actually won the election.
Awara was not alone in disputing the result declared by INEC. Governorship candidate of the ADP, Victor Fingesi, also went to the tribunal to dispute the result declared by INEC.
Thus, the judgment of the tribunal should put a stop to the dispute. But no. Counsel to Awara, Emenike Ebete, while applauding the work of the tribunal declared that his client would definitely go on appeal against the judgment.
He said, “We are certainly going to appeal this judgement because there are a lot of issues that were not addressed by the Tribunal. We are working towards making what happened in Rivers state a Law.
“That INEC can suspend an election and come back to declare results after three weeks? We want the court to tell us that INEC has the power to do so.”
But counsel to his party, the AAC, Henry Bello, applauded the judgment and said the party was satisfied with what the tribunal did.
“The AAC is a young party. That the AAC won two local government areas in the election shows that we performed well. That should be satisfactory to the AAC. We want to show to Nigerians and the world that we are different. The party was not interested to contest the result declared by INEC.”
He said the party would not appeal against the judgment. That brought to the fore the division between the party and its candidate.
But while the state is awaiting the next move by the litigants, it is suffering because there is nothing to show that there is a credible opposition to check the actions of the government.
Analysts recall that by the first 100 days of Wike during his first tenure, almost all the potholes in the state capital were gone.
The effort of the governor to show the people that he meant business reflected in what he was able to achieve in that short period. Roads were constructed or completed to show government presence.
But today, the same state that was pothole free, at least in the state capital, is now ridden with that same issue. Motorists that believed that they have come to El Dorado are now singing a different song. Roads that were a smooth ride across the state are now wearing different looks.
These are only symptoms of the decay that that have become the order of the day in the state.
But who is there to tell the government that all is not well with the state? The opposition APC has gone comatose. Riddled with same divisions that cost it participation in the last elections, the APC is still engrossed in internal conflicts. The AAC has never been there. So is the ADP. So who will provide the alternative voice?
The opposition parties have only given Wike the leverage to govern as he pleases because there is nobody to play the credible role as opposition.
However, Wike has assured the people and residents of the state that he would not relent in the provision of needed infrastructure. He has said that the second term syndrome that makes politicians to be complacent during their second tenure would not catch up with him.
As it stands, the tribunal judgment has only given the governor a reprieve. How long that would last remains to be established as the leadership of the APC and their protégé, Awara, are not likely to rest until they get to the apex court.
With the clean bill of health received by Wike from those judgments, the governor definitely got some reprieve but it is not yet Uhuru for the embattled helmsman. While the matters may continue at the Court of Appeal, the ongoing case has revealed some issues that may well be instructive to the discerning populace