Crying Foul Over Tribunal Verdicts

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Wike

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Tribunal verdicts over the conduct of April 11 governorship election appears to be heating up the polity as the Peoples Democratic Party alleges that the ruling All Progressives Congress used the Department of State Services to manipulate the outcome of the tribunals against it

By Olu Ojewale  |  Nov 9, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

WIN some, lose some. That, psychologists would like to tell us, is the reality of life. But in Nigerian politics, nobody likes to lose or admit loss. That, perhaps, has brought about the unfolding melodrama going on in the political circles currently as tribunal verdicts on the last general elections are being reeled out.

Typically, the winners have been euphoric, painting towns red in celebration, while losers have been moaning pointing accusing fingers, even as they head for the appellate court for redress. Since the pronouncements of the tribunals, both ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have been exchanging altercations on the verdicts handed down so far.

The issue at stake is the reasons that the different tribunals gave to dismiss or uphold the elections. The reason mostly bother on the guidelines provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the provisions of the Electoral Act which is the law binding the elections. The INEC had issued guidelines mandating electoral officers to use the card reader to verify the voters whereas the Electoral Act provided for the use of the INEC register to allow registered voters to vote in the elections. In areas where the card reader failed to function across the country both the card reader and the register were used to clear voters to vote. But those who lost the election went to the tribunal to annul such elections based on the use of voter register instead of the card reader.

The current contention in the states arose because some of the tribunals judges are upholding elections in the ruling All Progressives Congress controlled like in the case of Ambode Versus Agbaje in Lagos state where the tribunal ruled that the guidelines do not have a life of its own and could not be relied on to dismiss the case against incumbent Governor Akinwumi Ambode. It therefore upheld Ambode’s election as complying substantially with the Electoral Act.

With this ruling in Lagos, it was expected that all the tribunals will give their judgements along same line of reasoning. But the reverse is the case in the rulings the tribunals gave in the PDP-controlled states of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom.  In both states, the tribunal based its ruling on INEC guidelines instead of the Electoral Act. This is why the PDP is crying blue murder, alleging that the APC-led federal government manipulated the process.

Even before the verdict was given, the PDP had publicly cried out that the Department of State Services, DSS, was intimidating judiciary officials and INEC witnesses. It is, therefore, not surprising that shortly after the tribunals ruled against it in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States, the PDP summoned emergency national caucus meeting on Thursday, October 29 to discuss what it described as “onslaught against the PDP and its candidates in last general elections by the All Progressives Congress.”

According to a statement signed by Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the party, the meeting was in furtherance of the decision of the party leadership “to fully activate its structures in stiff resistance to the manipulations of the APC and to resist the coercion and threats of the APC-led government.” The PDP said it was concerned about the tribunals’ verdicts in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Taraba and Abia states, accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari administration of scheming to capture the states for the ruling APC.

Metuh had previously described the verdicts in the two states as completely bizarre, unacceptable and part of a script by the APC to manipulate the will of the people. His statement said in part: “The bias in the judgment against the PDP in Rivers as well as Akwa-Ibom is evidenced in the contradictions inherent in the trial process of the two cases and the verdicts therein, whereby the tribunals clearly disregarded standing legal norm that a petitioner must establish prove of claims. Also curious is the fact that after both the petitioner and respondent agreed before the tribunal that both card reader and manual accreditations were used for the election, the tribunal still went ahead to base its decision on issues of card reader.

“The PDP charges all lovers of democracy, particularly our members in Rivers and Akwa-Ibom States not to be daunted, as these judgments will not stand the test of the law and the will of the people. We reassure that the PDP will do all within the ambit of the law to resist this criminal attempt by the APC to steal and thwart the will of the people.”

Similarly, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, condemned the tribunal judgments nullifying the elections in the states. He accused the APC of conniving with a section of the judiciary, saying it had become worrisome and portended grave danger to the corporate existence of Nigeria. “This is worse than corruption that the president claimed to be fighting,” Fayose said.

Perhaps, not unexpectedly, Nyesom Wike, whose election as governor of Rivers State, has been nullified by the tribunal looking at elections complaints in the state, has no kind words for the judiciary. Wike described the nullification of his election by the Election Petition Tribunal as a gang up against him and the people of the state. He thus warned that the judiciary was setting a dangerous precedent in the country with the way it had gone about elections in Rivers state.

Udom
Udom

Opunabo Nko-Tariah, special adviser to the governor on media and publicity, in a statement on Tuesday, October 27, in Port Harcourt, alleged that there had been effort to wrestle power from Wike through the back door. In any case, he promised that legal steps would be taken to defend the mandate of the people displayed in the April 11, governorship elections.

Nonetheless, both the APC and Judiciary are not taking the allegations made by PDP lightly. Expectedly, Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the APC, in a statement, said the judgment has clearly shown that the era of impunity and hooliganism was over, and that for any election to have legitimacy it must be seen to be free, fair and credible.

“What has come across from this judgment is that there is no shortcut to free, fair and credible elections. This is part of the wind of change that is blowing across the land and touching all arms of government under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Elections are about the expression of the will of the people, and they must always be free to express themselves, irrespective of what some desperate politicians feel,” the statement said.

But Dakuku Peterside, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the April election, berated Wike for casting an aspersion on the judiciary, his agents and the PDP. Peterside, who spoke in Abuja on Tuesday, October, 27, said the vilification of an important arm of government like the judiciary by desperate politicians portended grave danger for Nigeria and its budding democracy.

He described the disparagement and on-going war against the judiciary by Wike and the PDP as a dangerous example that must be checked quickly because of its calamitous consequences. “The judiciary is a sacred and respected institution. Therefore, any person or persons who openly criticise judges and their rulings obviously have a sinister motive,” Peterside said, adding: “The APC in Rivers State and its candidates took their losses at the various election petitions tribunals with equanimity, knowing full well that a window of opportunity still exists. Even when we felt very dissatisfied with the verdicts, we still did not abuse the judiciary or judges who handled our cases because we know the consequences of such defamatory actions.

“Wike and Rivers PDP are still living in the past but they should be reminded that Nigeria of today is a survivor because it defeated impunity and all the lawlessness of the last administration.”

On his part, Tonye Princewill, governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Rivers State, said he was not surprised that the tribunal cancelled the election in the state. Princewill, therefore, thanked the judges for upholding the law, the parties for conducting their briefs with civility and the people of Rivers State for surviving the period. He added that if he were the PDP candidate, he would not have bothered to appeal the judgment but allow a re-run as directed by the tribunal.

Defending the Judiciary which appears to be at the receiving end of the PDP’s anger at the tribunal rulings, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, chief justice of the federation, CJN, said attacks on the judiciary by politicians and some lawyers amounted to disparaging the integrity and reputation of the judiciary. The CJN, in a statement issued by Ahuraka Issah, his media aide, said he was sad that “some politically-exposed persons, governors and even lawyers to some litigants averred that verdicts by election tribunals were influenced by money and political pressure”.

Mohammed said it was not enough for those making such allegations to say the judiciary was corrupt and look the other way while thugs beat up judges. He said the fight against corruption is a collective one, especially among public officials, particularly governors who are the chief security officers of their states. The CJN urged governors and public office holders to be sincere in the fight against corruption, noting that action speaks louder than words.

He said where proven allegations of fraud were made against judges and court workers, it would be more productive to report such to the National Judicial Council, NJC, a constitutionally-mandated body to look into such matters. He said the judiciary remained an impartial institution, the last hope of the common man and the blind dispenser of justice without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

However, rather than joining issues with the judiciary or the federal government, Governor Emmanuel Udom of AKwa Ibom-Ibom State said he would be heading to court to upturn the decision of the Akwa-Ibom governorship election tribunal delivered on Wednesday, October 21, nullifying the results of the April 11 governorship election in 18 local government areas of the state. The tribunal, however, upheld the credibility of the election results in the remaining 13 local government areas.

Reacting on behalf of Udom, Aniekan Umanah, Akwa Ibom State commissioner for information, said the governor would challenge the judgment at the appellate court. The tribunal, headed by Justice Sadiq Umar, while delivering judgment in a petition filed by Umana Umana, APC governorship candidate in the election, in a more than more than seven hours judgement, agreed with Umana that there was disenfranchisement as a result of violence, snatching of election materials, irregularities and harassment of the electoral officials during the poll.

Consequently, the tribunal ordered a re-run of election in the affected local government areas to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, within 90 days. The tribunal did not make any pronouncement in the prayer seeking invalidation of the election of Udom. But according to the Electoral laws of Nigeria, he is allowed to remain the governor while pursuing the case at the appellate court or the Supreme court. He has 21 days within which to file an appeal.

In the case of River State, the election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja, on Saturday, October 25, nullified the entire election in the state.

The tribunal said that the election that returned Wike as winner and governor-elect was marred by irregularities and violence that played a major role in the outcome. Consequently, it ordered the INEC to conduct a fresh poll within 90 days.

Besides, Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, head of the tribunal, said that under cross-examination, the character and testimonies of voters called by Wike left much to be desired. According to him, their evidence was “incredible and unreliable.”

On the other hand, the tribunal noted that the petitioners had discharged the burden of proof creditably, as it held that the APC and Peterside had proven their case beyond doubt that the election did not hold in most places, and that where it did, it was marred by irregularities and violence.

That notwithstanding, it is believed in some quarters that the verdicts of the two tribunals and others yet deliver judgement could have been stage-managed. Sources close to the PDP alleged that President Buhari was actually plotting a dangerous game of taking over governments of Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa, three key Niger Delta states.

The objective, it was said, was to get enough financial resources required in rebuilding the Northern zones ravaged by insurgency and the attendant need to rehabilitate the people in the affected areas.

The move is believed to be an exigent plan for the area should the United States, Britain and other European countries failed to redeem their respective pledges to release funds to support rebuilding of the ravaged northern states whose economy has been comatose following the devastating activities of Boko Haram insurgency.

Okowa
Okowa

Accordingly, President Buhari is said to be seeking alternative sources of funding for the rehabilitation efforts and taking over the three states in the Niger Delta would provide the required oil wealth, hence, “unfolding tendencies” to have them in the grip of the federal government. A close source confided that the plot to take over the three states was thought to be the most viable option open to the North in rebuilding its ruined economy.

The thinking, it was gathered, was to seize power from the PDP-controlled states in the South-South with the convincing understanding that the combined wealth of Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states would create the desired cash flow in the four years of the Buhari administration. This, perhaps, is why the PDP has been crying foul since election verdicts were given against their candidates in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.

Besides, sources said that plans had also been perfected to also rig the elections in Bayelsa State in favour of Timipre Sylva, governorship candidate of the APC and that commitment had been extracted from Sylva to surrender 40 percent of its monthly federal allocations within the fixed limit of financial mopping. “This explains why the Presidency is hell bent on fielding Timipre Sylva for the governorship election despite his standing trial for corruption at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as well as the various extra-judicial killings charges against him as sued by the affected people in the state,” a leader of an Ijaw rights group said.

A source also hinted that the choice of Sylva was appealing to the powers that be given his contributions in attempts to perpetuate the late President Musa Yar’Adua in office even when it was obvious he was bed ridden in Saudi Arabia. The source claimed that Sylva actually donated billions of naira to support efforts contrived by a powerful cabal to stop former President Goodluck Jonathan from being sworn in as president.

Realnews could not get reactions from the Presidency as its mail to Shehu Garba, senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, was not answered.

But a senior member of the APC in the South-West who is not authorised to speak on behalf of the party, said the allegations were all baloney and lacked substance. “There is no truth in all that I can assure you. If President Buahri wants to rebuild the affected North-East he is a position to do it without asking for money from any state. Look, is the states that asking for bailout you want the president to ask for money?” he said rhetorically.

Besides, in July, federal government a World Bank loan of $2.1 billion to rebuild North-East zone devastated by Boko Haram insurgents.

That notwithstanding, the  Buhari Media Support Group, BMSG, an umbrella support group for the Buhari government, has asked the opposition PDP to stop chastising the president, members of the judiciary and anti-corruption agencies over their current predicaments.

Addressing a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja,, Muhammad Labbo, coordinator of the group, said as far as President Buhari  was concerned, the APC administration would not depart from the averred resolve to uphold the rule of law.

Labbo said that both the president and the APC had not in any way interfered with the operations of either the judiciary or any of the anti-graft agencies since the inception of the administration.

“This is a president that is committed to the rule of law and he has said it that he is not going to interfere… The era of impunity of interference in this country is over…On this note, we admonish the PDP to stop casting aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary by its unguarded utterances. The Nigerian Judiciary remains the last hope of the common man. We must collectively strive to protect that sacred institution,” he said.

Contrary to cries by the PDP, the Delta State governorship election petition tribunal, sitting in Asaba, on Monday, October 26, dismissed the petitions filed by the governorship candidates of the Labour Party, LP, and the APC challenging the election of Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP as governor on April 11, 2015.

Great Ogboru, candidate of the LP and O’tega Emerhor, candidate of the APC, challenged the declaration of Okowa of the PDP as the winner with 724,680 votes, defeating Ogboru who polled 130,028 votes, and Emerhor with 67,825 votes. Delivering the judgement Justice Nasir Gunmi, the chairman, dismissed the petitions for what he described as lack of merit and the inability by the petitioners to prove their cases beyond reasonable doubt.

Besides, governorship tribunals in Abia and Taraba states are yet to deliver judgments on petitions challenging gubernatorial elections held in the two states.

Notwithstanding how the PDP hierarchy is feeling about the outcome of the tribunal verdicts, Godwin Ogboji, a lawyer, said the governors could still remain in office as long their appeals against the tribunal judgements were in appellate court. He cited section 143, subsection 1 of the Electoral Act 2010, which guarantees an elected governor could stay in office and execute his duties as chief executive, as long as a notice of appeal is given against the judgment within 21 days from the date of the judgment.

Ogboji said the power of incumbency could also swing the new elections in their favour.

Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and human rights activist, expressing satisfaction with the way the tribunals have handled the matters within the stipulated time, enjoined the aggrieved to seize the opportunity to work and convince electorate of their good plans for their respective states. “Instead of them wasting time and money on appeals, I think they can as well start to prepare for another election and if they win an open and transparent contest they can claim to have won in a free and fair contest,” Ubani said.

However, as things are going there may be no end to accusations and counter accusations until another contest is lost and won either through the courts or in the event of a re-election where a winner will emerge.

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