ANAYO ONUKWUGHA writes on the recently announced date for the Local Government elections in Rivers State amidst protest by the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC)
A few days ago, the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC) led by retired High Court Judge, Justice Chukwuneye Ichegbu Uriri, announced that the election into the 23 local government councils of the state would hold on Saturday, 16 June, 2018.
The last local government election held in the state was on May 23, 2015, just a few days to the expiration of the eight- year tenure of the immediate past governor and current Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
The processes leading to the election were challenged in court by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which later boycotted the election when RSIEC went ahead to conduct it.
With the expiration of the tenure of Amaechi and swearing-in of the incumbent governor, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Attorney-General of the State and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Emmanuel Aguma (SAN) reopened the matter at the Federal Court.
In June 2015, the court sacked all the elected 23 local government chairmen, and their councillors, who were elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) based on the fact that RSIEC disobeyed its order to stay action and went ahead to conduct the election.
Without delay, Wike appointed the first set of caretakers to run the affairs of the 23 local government councils and subsequently, they have been running the affairs of the councils since then.
But the sacked elected local government officials approached the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the Federal High Court.
Announcing the date for the local government election, Uriri stated that the release of the election timetable was in line with the power conferred on him as enshrined in the Rivers State Independent Electoral Law No. 2 of 2018.
He appealed to stakeholders to abide by the rules of the game and avoid violence as they prepare for the task ahead.
The RSIEC chairman called on all the major stakeholders, opinion leaders and traditional rulers to encourage one another to turn up en-masse and ensure that law abiding and well meaning citizens are voted into office.
He reiterated the commitment of the commission to conducting a credible, free and fair local government council election.
However, the APC has declared that if will not particulate in the election as announced by RSIEC insisting that there is no vacuum in the administration of the 23 local government councils in the state since the tenure of the elected chairmen and councillors were yet to expire.
The chairman of APC in the state, Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, who addressed newsmen in Port Harcourt, also said the matter is a subject of litigation before the courts.
Ikanya said, “It is very shocking for the Chairman and Chief Electoral Commissioner of the Rivers State Independent National Electoral Commission (RSIEC) Justice C. I. Uriri to express worries that for some time now, there has not been a local government election in the state, adding that the law abhors vacuum.
“For the records there is no vacuum in the leadership of our Local Government Areas (LGAs) since the term of office of the elected LGA Chairman and Councillors has not expired and the matter is a subject of litigation before the courts in Nigeria. Justice C. I. Uriri, who served as a judge of the High Court of Rivers State should have known better that there is no vacuum and accordingly advise his appointer –Wike– to stop putting Rivers State on the news for the bad reasons.
“The issue about the leadership of the LGAs is a matter before the courts of the land and for a retired judge to claim that there is vacuum is not only unprofessional but smacks of bias and this calls to question his independence to head such a hallowed institution as RISIEC.
“For the records – Justice C. I. Uriri and RSIEC should note the case of the leadership of the LGAs is a subject of litigation before the Federal High Court (FHC), Court of Appeal (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC) in Suit No: PHC/PH/CS/84/2015, Appeal No: CA/PH/338/2016 and Appeal No: SC/536/2016 respectively and that until the cases are decided by the courts any action by RSIEC and the Rivers State Government on the subject matter is an affront to the rule of law and that the APC will not partake in this illegality.
“You can all recall that RSIEC issued out notice in accordance with the RSIEC Law to the public and called on political parties wishing to sponsor candidates to present their candidates and the Local Government Council elections held in Rivers State on 23/05/2015.
“That the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the political party of Governor of Rivers State – Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (CON) – took out an action by way of originating summons against the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), RSIEC, Governor of Rivers State, Inspector General of Police and State security Service before the FHC Presided over by Justice Lambo Akanbi.
“The PDP in addition to the originating summons filed alongside the originating summons a motion on notice filed on 27/05/2015 for an order of mandatory injunction setting aside the Local Government Elections conducted by INEC and RSIEC on 23/5/15. That Justice Lambo Akanbi delivered a ruling on 09/07/2015 in favour of the PDP and the elected chairmen of the APC and the 23 LGAs filed an application before the CA for leave to appeal as interested parties. Leave was granted on 20/06/16.
“It is important to note that the APC and the 23 LGA chairmen had approached the Federal High Court to challenge their dissolution by Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike and be joined in the matter in a motion on notice filed on their behalf on the 22/04/15 in Suit No: PHC/PH/CS/84/2015 as necessary parties and to enable them file and serve their counter affidavit in opposition to the motion seeking to nullify that election.
“The motion also prayed the trial court to stay its ruling to enable them file a counter affidavit in opposition to the motion seeking to nullify their elections. Even when the motion was in the file of the Court, Hon. Justice Lambo Akanbi, formerly of the Port Harcourt Division of the FHC, refused to fix it for hearing and did not even issue hearing notice to the 23 LGA Chairmen.
“Notwithstanding the pendency of the appeal and the motion challenging the jurisdiction of the FHC filed on 27/04/15 and the motion for joinder filed by the 23 LGA Chairmen, the learned trial judge – Justice Lambo Akanbi – delivered his ruling on 09/07/15 in favour of Governor Wike and the PDP.
“Dissatisfied by the decision of the lower court, the 23 LGA Chairmen appealed to the Court of Appeal where Mr. Wike filed an application for a stay of ruling on the matter. The CA, however, ruled against Wike and PDP prompting their move to the SC. Delivering its ruling the SC struck out the matter, dismissing the entire prayer of Wike and Rivers PDP. The apex court ordered the Appeal Court to admit the elected 23 LGA Chairmen as parties.
“The CA is expected to proceed with the matter and deliver judgment. The 23 LGA Chairmen are asking the court to nullify their dismissal from office by Wike as he had no constitutional power to sack elected officials of the third tier of government.”
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