Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, yesterday, reserved judgement on the petition seeking to nullify the election of Governor Nyesom Wike.
The petition was lodged before the tribunal by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its candidate in the April 11 governorship election in the state, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
The Justice Suleiman Ambrosa-led panel okayed the matter for judgment after all the parties, yesterday, adopted their final written addresses.
Whereas the petitioners, through their counsel, Chief Akinolu Olujimi, SAN, urged the tribunal to sack Governor Wike and order the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct fresh governorship poll in Rivers State, all the respondents, sought the dismissal of the petition for want of merit.
Cited as 1st to 3rd Respondents in the matter were INEC, Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
While adopting their final written argument dated October 19, counsel to the petitioners, Olujimi, SAN, urged the tribunal to hold that “no governorship election known to any law in Nigeria, took place in Rivers State on April 11, 2015. My lords, the central issue in this petition is about the pleadings of the parties. It is the nature of the pleading that defines the issue in dispute between the parties. It is the case of the petitioners that there was no election conducted in Rivers State known to the law. The 2nd Respondent (Wike) has the burden to justify the over 1 million votes that were allotted to him by INEC. What we are simply asking for is the nullification of the election.”
On his part, Wike, through his lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, relied on the provision of section 85(1) of the Electoral Act to insist that Dr. Peterside was not validly nominated by the APC to contest the governorship election.
Wike contended that instead of the 21 days provided by the Electoral Act, APC, only gave INEC 16 days notice before it conducted the primary election that produced Peterside as its governorship flag-bearer in the state.
“My lords, this goes to the issue of qualification. The Appeal Court had in its decision in Labour Party vs. Wike, held that the 21 days notice is mandatory. There is, therefore, no locus standi in the petitioner before this court.”
On the issue of whether or not Wike secured the lawfully cast votes to warrant his declaration as winner of the April 11 governorship poll in the state, Ukala relied on the decided case-law in Buhari vs Obasanjo and contended that the petitioners failed to effectively discharge the burden of proof placed on them by the law.
“What they were expected to do was to call all officers who conducted the election, as well as tender all the electoral forms that were used. So far, aside calling only 56 witnesses, the petitioners only tendered 3,157 copies of the Forms EC8A, whereas from their own calculation, there were supposed to have tendered 5,792 copies. It is, therefore, our position that the petitioners did not meet the standard of proof set by the law,” Ukala added.
Besides, Wike also relied on the case of Ngige vs INEC, 2015, 1-NWLR, part 1440, and argued that the burden of establishing that the election was conducted in substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act, rested on the petitioners.
Similarly, INEC, through its lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, urged the tribunal to dismiss the petition and affirm the governorship election result it declared in Rivers State.
INEC relied on the case of Gundirin vs Nyako, and argued that APC and Peterside ought to have proved that the election was flawed, by calling witnesses from each of the polling units in the state.
“We pray this tribunal to dismiss the evidence of the PW-40. Assuming that the issue of irregularity was brought to the attention of the INEC and it looked into it and took the decision to declare the result, it means that INEC did not accept the opinion expressed by the PW-40. It also means that INEC rejected those reports, it can therefore never amount to admission against the election,” INEC lawyer submitted.
Earlier, lead counsel to the PDP, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, also prayed the tribunal to dismiss the petition and uphold governor Wike’s election.
After listening to all the parties the tribunal reserved its judgement on the matter.
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