On Saturday, October 5, 2019, the Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal dismissed the petition brought before it by the governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Victor Fingesi.
On that same day, the three-man panel, led by Hon. Justice Kingsley Orjiako, which is the second tribunal to be constituted for the state, dismissed the petition brought before it by the governorship candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Biokpomabo Awara.
Fingesi and Awara had approached the tribunal challenging the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to declare Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as winner of the March 9, 2019 gubernatorial election in the State.
However, this is the second time the tribunal is dismissing Fingesi and Awara’s petition. But unlike Fingesi of the ADP, the AAC candidate does not enjoy the support of the Leonard Ezenwa-led national leadership of his party.
The tribunal had, on July 9, 2019, struck out some paragraphs of the ADP candidate’s petition and the entire petition filed the AAC governorship candidate, its pre-hearing processes were said to been filed out of time.
This prompted the duo to approach the Court of Appeal, to challenge the decision of the tribunal on their separate petitions.
While the Court of Appeal dismissed Fingesi’s appeal, it set aside the judgement of the tribunal, which struck out Awara’s entire petition and ordered the tribunal to hear the petition on it’s merit.
Awara, through his counsel, Tawo Tawo, (SAN), addressed a petition to the President of the Court of Appeal, demanding the reconstitution of a tribunal to hear his matter, saying he had lost confidence in the Orjiako-led panel.
The AAC governorship hopeful’s petition was opposed by both the national leadership of his party, and the leadership of the PDP in Rivers State.
Addressing newsmen in Abuja, AAC acting national chairman, Leonard Ezenwa, said: “The leadership of the party has intercepted a letter written by one Mr Tawo E. Tawo (SAN) on behalf of Mr. Awara Biokpomabo Festus, the governorship candidate of our party at the 2019 general elections without consultation with the party and without notice to all other parties involved in the election petition to the President of the Court of Appeal seeking the reconstitution of the panel.”
Ezenwa, who regretted that the politicians were seeking the reconstitution of another panel, said: “After the unexplained circumstances in the disbandment of the first panel headed by Justice G.K. Kaigama, we wonder why the actors were so desperate in their plot to achieve their aim.
“This second panel headed by Justice K. A. Ojiako commenced sitting on 19th June 2019.
“It is this panel yet again that the Mr. Awara, working with persons who are not members of our party but who have hijacked his governorship race seek to disband and requesting for a new panel.
“We have at various fora complained about the hijack of the governorship ambition and race of Mr Awara.“Our worry is that while we do not have any worries anymore with what Mr. Awara does with his personal life, it is our worry and challenge that in this obnoxious plot by Mr Awara and his paymasters, they have at every time dragged the good name of our great party into their evil plot.
“Our party did not go into the Rivers State governorship election with the intention to win as the prevailing circumstances then did not allow us to campaign.
“Our party’s candidate did not campaign, the party did not have agents in most of the polling units in the state, hence our party is concerned that this hijack of our governorship candidate by forces willing and ready to compromise the entire judiciary and which were done with the full consent and connivance of our former National Chairman, Mr. Omoyele Sowore is not in the interest of the people of Nigeria and good people of Rivers State particularly.
“The said letter by Mr. Awara was surreptitiously sent to the office of the president of the Court of Appeal against the normal practice for the respondents and indeed all parties in the election petition to be copied the letter.
”It must be mentioned that the Order of the Court of Appeal did not also include the reconstitution of the tribunal that is to hear the matter as wrongfully contained in the letter.
“Mr Tawo E. Tawo (SAN) on behalf of Mr. Awara had at the resumed hearing of the tribunal acknowledged that the contents of his letter were not correct and claimed he was misled in asking for the reconstitution of the panel as though it was what was ordered by the Court.
“At this point, it would be proper to exhibit to you a copy of the letter written by Mr. Tawo E. Tawo on behalf of Mr Awara which the learned Senior Advocate smuggled into the office of the President of the Court of Appeal against the best practices of copying other parties in the suit.”
Delivering the judgement last Saturday on Awara’s petition, a member of the three-man tribunal, Justice K. B. Olawoyin, declared that Wike won 19 out of the 21 local government areas where elections held, while the petitioner won in two local government areas.
He said the petitioner failed to call any witness to give credible evidence that there were malpractices during the election that favoured Wike.
The tribunal, which also held that the first petitioner can no longer lead any general and nebulous evidence on violence, declared that what was suspended was the collation of results for six local government areas.
It declared that as at the time of the suspension of collation, INEC had concluded collation of results in 17 local government areas of the state, stating that by participating in the collation process, the petitioner lost his right to complain.
While delivering judgement on Fingesi’s petition, chairman of the tribunal, Hon. Justice Kingsley Orjiako, dismissed the petitions for lack of merit.
Counsel for ADP, Dolapo-Tella Attoni, had in their eight grounds petition, stated that the PDP candidate, Wike, was not duly elected for a second tenure in the said election, arguing that the result declared by INEC was non and void.
The party also told the court that the election was marred by violence and snatching of election materials, stating that there was no election in the state.
In the judgement which lasted for about three hours on Saturday, Orjiako, after summarising the arguments of parties, including INEC, Wike and PDP in the matter ruled that the petition by the ADP lacks merit, adding that the petitioner lacks locus standi to argue the position in court.
The tribunal chairman ruled that the petitioner failed to present any reasonable cause of action against the 2nd respondent (Wike), stating that the ‘Petitioner (ADP) lacks the locus standi to present grounds 5&6 based on inconsistent paragraphs in the petition.
The panel held that during cross examination of the 2nd petitioner (Fingesi), he could not prove that there was no election in the state, adding that the petitioner could not also tell the court the number of voters in his polling unit in Okujiagu, Port Harcourt City local government area, neither was he able to prove to the court that election did not hold in other polling units in the area.
Ojiako further ruled that the petitioner failed woefully to prove to the court that the INEC election guidelines were not followed or that there was widespread disruption of the election by violence or that the 2nd respondent did merit result declared in his favour.
The tribunal further noted that there is ‘No evidence of the said inflated votes for the 2nd respondent. The result by INEC shows that the 2nd respondent won the election’.
The tribunal also held that by law the INEC has the right to suspend an election and that the petitioner’s continued participation in the election is a prove that they agreed on the suspension, resumption and declaration of the result on the March 9 Governorship election.
“We hold firmly that the petitioner could not defend it’s petition. We declared that this petition lacks merit and is dismissed.
“We also uphold the declaration of the 2nd respondent (Wike) as declared by INEC and award the petitioner N300, 000 cost to be paid to the each of the three respondents”.
Wike has however said he believes that nobody ran election against him during the March 9, 2019 governorship election.
While reacting to the judgments of the two petitions, the governor said but for reliance on connection, all PDP candidates had no opponents in the state.
He said: “It is so painful that someone could say that no election held in Rivers State. There was nobody who ran the election against us. How can anyone say he ran election against us in Rivers State?”
Wike stated that he would never be distracted by the antics of the opposition, saying he will continue to promote the interest of the state.
“I will never be distracted. I will do everything in the interest of Rivers State. I will continue to work. Nothing will distract me,” Wike stated.
He however expressed happiness that justice has been done in the petition and thanked his legal team for their commitment.
Lead counsel to Wike’s legal team, Ahmed Raji (SAN), the victory at the tribunal came from God, who he said has brought the state thus far, saying that from the very beginning, God showed his hand in favour of Rivers State.
Raji stated that God crowned the efforts of the legal team with success, pointing out that the judgement is a judicial confirmation of the votes of Rivers’ people.
Also, Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), in his reaction said, Wike is a winner anytime stressing that what God has done, nobody can change it.
But, on his part, the AAC governorship candidate, Awara, who expressed happiness that his petition has been heard, vowed to pursue his matter in a higher court.
Awara, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, the state capital, said: “I appreciate God Almighty for the privilege He granted my petition to be heard. I believe that the judgement of the Tribunal is for my good.
“With much happiness and joy, I bring you good and encouraging massage that will strengthen you the more knowing that all is still well with respect to our fight for liberation and justice in Rivers State.
“Just yesterday, the 5th of October, 2019, the election petition tribunal sitting in Port Harcourt dismissed my petition challenging the declaration of Governor Wike as the duely elected governor of Rivers State.
“In the wisdom of the panel, they didn’t see any merit in my petition, hence it was dismissed.
“The same panel sat and dismissed my petition without hearing it and I appeal to the Court of Appeal which ordered that the matter should be heard on its merit and we came back to the tribunal for hearing.
“The way and manner the tribunal conducted itself from the beginning, shows bias which I have consistently complained about.
“My happiness is that my petition has been heard and judgement given whether right or wrong. It is now time to test the decision of the tribunal on appeal. Don’t forget, the decision of the tribunal was reversed at the Appeal which gave rise to hearing my petition.
“I am aware, that there was anguish expression yesterday in the entire Rivers State because of the decision of the tribunal, except for the mini get together in Rivers State Government House.
“This has shown that Rivers people are really behind me and I have no reason to let them down.
“After due consultations with relevant stakeholders, we have come to a conclusion, that I should appeal the judgement of the tribunal which was marred with irregularities.
“I promise never to betray Rivers people despite huge monetary advances towards me, which same was done to my former running mate, who could not stand the test of time.
“I have fought a good fight of faith and will continue to fight till justice is done. I hereby, urge all Rivers people to be peaceful and calm as justice will not only be done but will be seen to have been done and we will rejoice together.
“God willing, we shall get justice at the Court of Appeal and together, we shall be happier,” he said.