In this analysis, SAMUEL OGIDAN reviews the election tribunal rulings last week that sacked Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and also ordered a re-run in 18 Local Governments Areas in Akwa Ibom State, both People’s Democratic Party perceived strongholds.
The state election tribunal sitting in Abuja, had last Wednesday ordered a re-run in 18 out of 31 local governments in Akwa-Ibom State and less than 72 hours after, the tribunal sacked Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, ordering fresh governorship election in the state.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, both judgements created positive and negative emotional outburst in the camp of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), respectively. While APC hailed the judgements and appreciated the judiciary for a job well done, the PDP condemned the judgements and described them as subversion of justice.
The tribunal sitting in Abuja, instead of the respective states where the elections took place had been a subject of controversy in the past few months since the cases were referred to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). While the PDP had kicked against the move, the APC supported the move with the excuse that security will be guaranteed.
The 13 governors, under the aegis of PDP Governors' Forum had condemned the relocation of the governorship election tribunals of Rivers, Taraba and Akwa Ibom states to Abuja. After a meeting of the PDP governors recently in Abuja, Abia state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, who addressed journalists on behalf of the Forum, said "we condemn in very strong terms the relocation of election tribunals in Rivers State, Taraba State and Akwa Ibom State to Abuja."
Akwa Ibom State elders under the aegis of 'Concerned Akwa Ibom Elders,' had also kicked against the move, describing the action as unjustifiable. The elders had said that the state will resist any attempt by the state opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) to subvert the collective wish of the people.
The elders, who spoke in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, at a press conference had called on the judiciary to resist predatory instincts of political manipulators that are hell bent on exploiting the system to achieve their 'sinister plot of subverting' the wish of Akwa Ibom people.
Speaking on behalf of the elders, Senator Anietie Okon, wondered why Election Petition Tribunals in other states particularly those in the South-west were not being moved to Abuja, adding that such decision was contrary to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Constitution in Section 285 Sub section (2) stated: "There shall be established in each state of the federation one or more election tribunals, which shall to the exclusion of any court or tribunal, have original jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions as to whether any person has been validly elected to the office of governor or deputy governor or as a member of any legislative House."
The elders maintained that without any convincing, honest and tenable reason to warrant such movement, they were convinced that, "those behind the relocation of the tribunal to Abuja were hiding under the pretext of none-existent security concerns to justify their barely concealed intentions. It was shocking that an otherwise peaceful and hospitable state like Akwa Ibom could be falsely labeled insecure."
Further according to the elders, "Let it be stated that whereas, Akwa Ibom State has remained a haven of peace and a good example of a secure state as compared to other states in the federation, before during and after the general elections. The spurious, baseless and false allegation of insecurity by the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) who lost the election in the state combined with the glee with which they celebrated the movement of the tribunal to Abuja betrays the hidden agenda of the petitioners".
President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, had approved the relocation of Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal to Abuja due to security reasons.
The Secretary of the Tribunal, Mrs. Deborah Musa, had said that Justice Ishaq Bello, the acting Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, approved the FCT High Court, Apo, as the secretariat and trial court for the tribunal.
The Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal had last Saturday sacked Wike as the governor of Rivers state, following a petition filed by Dakuku Peterside, the candidate of APC in the election, challenging the election of Wike as Rivers State Governor.
A cross section of political analysts, who spoke with our correspondent were of the view that the judgement was long overdue, against the backdrop of the violence associated with the Rivers state governorship election. They were also of the opinion that the crisis associated with the election was unnecessary and uncalled for, as the state from the beginning has been a traditional PDP state.
But, reacting to the judgement, the leadership of PDP described it as completely bizarre, unacceptable and part of the script by the ruling APC to manipulate the will of the people.
PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh said that the tribunal was biased against the governor, adding that the judgments will not stand the test of the law and the will of the people, as it 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."
The party had further described the judgement of the tribunal as heinous plot by the APC government, to use the judiciary and various security agencies to reverse the victory of the PDP in Rivers, Delta, Akwa-Ibom, Taraba and Abia states.
"We invite Nigerians and the international community to recall various reprehensible steps taken by the APC government that culminated in this ruling as well as the ridiculous Wednesday's verdict of the Akwa-Ibomstate governorship election tribunal, also sitting in Abuja," it said.
The party enumerated the various plot by the APC-led government to take over PDP controlled states to include "the curious and controversial relocation of the elections tribunals from their states to Abuja without any justification."
Other alleged plots, according to PDP include, "the constant juggling of judicial officers and members of governorship elections tribunal in PDP states, especially, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom states; constant harassment of judicial and electoral officers involved in the governorship election cases in these states, using agencies of government, particularly, the Directorate of State Services (DSS) under the direct command of a known APC member, Alhaji Lawal Daura and constant threats, intimidation and coercing of witnesses against the PDP in the tribunals."
The party said that "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 proof of claims."
It said: "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."
Now that the tribunal had upturned 18 local governments in Akwa Ibom state, sacked Wike as Rivers state governor and ordered a re-run, would the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court if the cases happen to drag to this level, state otherwise and revise the judgment? And if both courts uphold the judgement of the tribunal, would the PDP lose the states to APC when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducts a re-run?
On the other hand, would the protest of the opposition PDP that APC-led federal government wants to use the judiciary and other apparatus at its disposal to get the two states from the PDP come to pass? Nigerians are waiting to see the dimension the nation's democracy has taken.