Police Arrest Electoral Fraud Evidence in Rivers, Free Lawyers

*Cole cries out to Buhari for intervention 

*NBA, Falana, SERAP express outrage

Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt

In what appeared to be a plot to frustrate the filing of election petitions against the alleged fraud in the just-concluded elections in Rivers State, the police authorities in the state yesterday arrested lawyers preparing election petitions for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
 The police officers also seized all their documents containing the evidence of the alleged fraud in the elections in an apparent bid to stop the lawyers from appearing before the election petition tribunal on Monday.

The arrested lawyers include Aondo Jerry, Dr. Nelson U. Sobere, and Odum C. Eyiba.
However, hours later, the Rivers State chapter of the APC said the lawyers have been released following the public outrage that trailed the action of the police.
The spokesperson of the APC in Rivers State, Darlington Nwauju, confirmed that “the lawyers were granted bail on self-recognition while members of the support staff were granted conditional bail.”
The arrested persons were three lawyers and five support staff.
He, however, alleged that the election documents and the laptops with which the lawyers were working were still being detained at press time.
The APC governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Tonye Cole, has sent a Save Our Soul (SOS) message to President Muhammadu Buhari regarding the arrest of evidence of electoral fraud in the state.

In the message, Cole said: “Today in the morning hours the police in Rivers State arrested three lawyers that are standing for APC in Rivers State with regards to the just-concluded governorship election.
“Just this night after much effort by the leaders of the party, the police released the three lawyers but are still withholding all the electoral documents collected from the lawyers.”
As at press time, Cole was still at the State CID headquarters.
He vowed not to leave the facility until the documents are released.
While the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has vowed to take legal action against the police officers who arrested the lawyers, a human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has also condemned the action of the police officers, whose motive was to prevent the lawyers from appearing before the election tribunal on Monday.

Also, a civil advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Buhari to direct the police to release the lawyers.
The ordeal of the lawyers started in the early morning of yesterday when the officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force unlawfully and illegally arrested the lawyers and the support staff of Tuduru Ede (SAN) &Co, who were preparing Election Petitions for APC candidates who INEC claimed lost the elections of March 18, 2023, to the Rivers State House of Assembly.
According to a source who gave the account of the incident on condition of anonymity, the arrests were made in a hotel along Tombia Road, GRA Phase 2, Port Harcourt.

“The lawyers owing to tight timelines to file petitions quartered in the hotel to meet filing periods of 21 days.
“They only had Forms EC8As and related forms issued by INEC and committed no offences for accepting and working their briefs.
“Their clients who are APC and APC candidates have the right of access to the tribunal which the Police in collaboration with PDP are aggressively trying to obstruct by arresting and humiliating the lawyers.
“The arrested lawyers include Aondo Jerry, Dr Nelson U. Sobere, and Odum C. Eyiba.”
“They are currently held at a Police Station in Port Harcourt without access to them even upon several efforts of their principal Tuduru Ede (SAN) and other APC chieftains,” the senior lawyer explained.
Items seized from the lawyers include laptops and exhibits required for their petition defence, such as the agent’s copy of Form EC8 and CTC of INEC documents.

NBA, Falana, SERAP Express Outrage

Reacting to the incident, the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), in a statement issued yesterday vowed that the body would move against the police officers that were behind the arrest of the lawyers.
Maikyau stated that it was unfortunate and disturbing for police officers to be used as tools for contravening the rule of law.
He said though the police authorities had assured him of their release, NBA would ensure that those involved in the lawyers’ arrest would face the law.
The statement read in part:  “The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) strongly condemns such unwarranted harassment of lawyers in the lawful performance of their professional duties to their clients.

“Situations, where the instrumentality of the police is apparently being used to harass and intimidate lawyers, is a direct affront to the rule of law and a threat to our democracy; it is an invitation to anarchy and chaos, as people would rather resort to self-help than approach the civil and constitutional means provided for the resolution of disputes.
“I reached out to the Inspector General of Police (IG) and the Commissioner of Police (CP) Rivers State, and I have been assured of the release of our colleagues.
 “We shall also take up the matter to ensure that any person(s) including police officers, who may be found complicit in the events leading to the arrest of our colleagues, is sanctioned for any possible abuse of office.

“I will continue to talk with Mr. Tuduru (SAN) and shall keep you posted on further developments in this matter.”
Also reacting, Falana called on the Inspector General of Police (IG), Usman Baba, to order the release of the three lawyers detained in Rivers State.
Falana argued that their arrest and detention had no justification in law.
“I have just confirmed that the police will drag the detained lawyers to a magistrate court on Monday, April 3, and charge them with the forgery of electoral materials,” he said.

“The primary purpose of the latest display of naked power is to frustrate the opposition from filing an election petition against the rigging and violence that marred the March 18 governorship election in Rivers State.
“Since there is no legal justification for the arrest and detention of the lawyers, we are compelled to call on the inspector-general of police to order their immediate release.

“The Rivers State Commissioner of Police should publicly apologise to the lawyers. Those who claim to have won the governorship election in Rivers must be prepared to defend their mandate without any intimidation or harassment of lawyers and witnesses,” Falana explained.
On its part, SERAP urged President Buhari to direct the police to release the detained lawyers.
SERAP also condemned the arrest of the lawyers, describing it as “impunity”
“President Buhari must instruct the police to immediately release three lawyers who are reportedly arrested while filing processes to challenge the just concluded governorship election in Rivers State. This impunity must STOP,” SERAP tweeted.

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