Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The Supreme Court has upheld the victory of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, in the 2019 gubernatorial election.
The apex court, in a judgment delivered by a panel of three justices, upheld Wike’s appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal which reinstated the petition of the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) Biokpomabo Awara.
The Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal had earlier in October dismissed the petition of the AAC candidate, Awara, declaring Wike winner of the poll, which was later challenged by the AAC candidate at the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment by the three justices led by Justice Inyang Okoro, Friday ruled that hearing of an abandoned petition amounted to no other purpose than academic, adding that the hearing was an exercise in futility.
Earlier, the apex court also upheld Wike’s appeal against Awara with appeal number SC1111/2019 over a judgment by the lower court dismissing the appeal by the governor on the appointment of the counsel to Awara to file court processes.
Speaking after the judgment, the counsel to Wike, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), noted that the two judgments were landmark pronouncements by the Supreme Court.
“Across all the tribunals in the country, the issue has always been what is the relationship between the power of the tribunal to dismiss the petition that has been abandoned vis-a-vis the constitutional provision that says that interlocutory matters bordering on jurisdiction must wait until the final judgment.
“That is the issue that was resolved by the Supreme Court today that when an issue is abandoned you don’t have to wait until the final judgment before the tribunal can pronounce on it that you are dismissing this petition because it has been abandoned,” he said.
Orbih noted that by the two judgments, the matter filed by the AAC in Rivers State has received its final nail on its coffin, adding that it is dead and buried forever.
Reacting to the judgment, the counsel to AAC, Henry Bello, disclosed that the two judgments just delivered by the Supreme Court cover six appeals namely, SC1111/2019 SC1113/2019 and SC1121/2019, adding that the appeal for SC1112/2019 covers SC1114/2019 and SC1122/2019 respectively.
Bello said: “The first judgment has to do with abuse of process. At the tribunal in Port Harcourt, there was an appeal against a decision of the tribunal. At the same time, the same thing in the appeal was also sought to be rectified by the tribunal in another application.
“Our contention at the tribunal was that it was an abuse of court process and that it should be dismissed. The tribunal agreed with us and dismissed that. They went on appeal to the court of appeal in appeal number CA/PH/EPT/375/2019. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the tribunal that it was not an abuse of court process.
“Today, the Supreme Court has upheld our position that it was an abuse of court process. And moving forward, there was a decision of the Supreme Court on 15th of October in appeal number 1120 where the Supreme Court upheld the appointment of my humble self as counsel to AAC.”
He noted that based on the judgment, counsel to Awara, Festus, could not file processes on his behalf anymore, but however noted that the counsel defiantly continued to file processes even after he had taken over the conduct of proceedings pursuant to the business of order 9 rule 35 of the Federal High Court rules which is applicable by virtue of paragraph 52 of the first schedule to the Electoral Act.
“And so we contended that it was wrong. So the Supreme Court has by this judgement now set aside all those processes filed on my behalf and held that those processes were file in abuse of court process.
“The final judgment in 1112 applies to two other related appeals. In that one because of the judgment in 1111 that processes filed on my behalf were null and void, one of such processes was application for issuance of the hearing notice filed again on my behalf without my instruction, consent or authority.
“The Supreme Court has today agreed that those processes were null and void and there was no application for issuance of pre-hearing notice. Now that has to do with the purpose of paragraph 18 of the first schedule of the electoral act which says within seven days of completing of pleadings you must apply for pre-hearing notice to be issued.
“Then paragraph 18 (4) says if you don’t apply then your petition is abandoned and it will be dismissed. Now section 285 of the constitution says you cannot raise an objection to the competence of an election petition.
“So the contention of Mr Awara is because of section 285, paragraph 18 is inconsistent with the provision of section 285 of the constitution. Supreme Court has told us today that both of them are consistent, they are procedural, one does not offend the other.
“If paragraph 18 had offended section 285, then the right given to the tribunal to dismiss a petition that is not properly prosecuted would not have been there. But the Supreme Court has today held that you must be diligent in the prosecution of your election petition, if you are not diligent, the tribunal has the right to dismiss it.
“This is the first judgment in respect of that and is a serious precedence that will assist us in all election petitions in the country moving forward,” Henry noted.