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Thursday, 17 December 2015

Wike Lost Again As Appeal Court Affirms His Sack

The Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja yesterday affirmed the judgment of the Rivers State governorship election tribunal, which voided the election of Governor Nyesom Wike. It ordered a fresh election.

In a unanimous judgment, a five-man panel of the court resolved the seven issues in the appeal by Wike and dismissed it. Justice M.B. Dogban-Mensem, who led the panel, read the lead judgment
The panel upheld the arguments by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Dakuku Peterside, that the appeal was without merit. Their legal team was led by former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Akin Olujinmi (SAN).
The appeal was against the October 24, 2015, judgment by the Rivers State governorship election petition tribunal, which sat in Abuja.
The court held that manual and election guidelines issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the conduct of the election, which include the use of card readers, was sacrosanct and must be strictly adhered to by electoral officers in the conduct of elections. It said a breach of the INEC manual and guidelines amounted to non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
In resolving the first and second issues, the court held that the tribunal did not violate Wike’s right to fair hearing as claimed by him; and that he was well served with the petition because the Sheriff and Civil Processes Act had no control over the service of processes in election cases.
The court, in resolving issues three and four held that the petitioners at the tribunal – APC and Peterside, possessed the locus standi to file the petition and that the tribunal had jurisdiction to hear the petition.
Wike had argued that the petitioners lacked the locus standi to approach the tribunal because they did not properly participate in the election, and did not qualify under section 137 of the Constitution to challenge the outcome of the election, because they did not provide INEC with sufficient notice of their primary.
The court held that it did not lie with Wike to complain on  an issue that affects INEC. It described Wike’s argument as “a classic case of a sympathiser weeping more than the bereaved.”
On Wike’s fourth complaint that non-compliance with election manual and guidelines by INEC did not form a ground for challenging the outcome of an election, the court held that INEC’s manual and guidelines had become part of the election regulations, which INEC officials “must strictly adhere to.”
The court, in resolving issue five, held that the tribunal was not perverse in its treatment and evaluation of evidence tendered by parties.
In resolving issue six, the court held that the Manual and Electoral Guideline issued by INEC for the conduct of the election were not illegal on the grounds that such guidelines and manual were issued by INEC pursuant to its constitutional powers.
Wike had, in issue six, argued that the tribunal was wrong to have relied on the card reader report to hold that the election did not comply with the Electoral Act. It rejected the appellant’s argument that the Manual and Guidelines issued for INEC officials in relation to the election conflicted with the Constitution and the Electoral Act as regard voting procedure.
“There is no conflict. They actually complement each other for INEC to conduct free and fair election. The use of card reader is an adjunct or pivot to the voter accreditation process. There is no electronic voting yet in Nigeria. Card reader is not electronic voting. It is to enhance accreditation to guarantee a credible voting process.
“I hold that the issuance of INEC manual and approved election guidelines is in line with Section 153 of the Electoral Act. It is for the purpose of giving effect to the principle of the Electoral Act – to ensure one man/woman, one vote. The use of card reader is not a violation of the Electoral Act, but complementary.
“The commission did not, at any moment, relax its guideline for the use of card reader in the April 11 governorship election. The failure to follow INEC manual and approved guidelines for the conduct of the election violated sections 49, 54, 58, 73 and 74 of the Electoral Act,” the court said.
It further held that the manual and approved guidelines for election made by INEC must be strictly followed by electoral officers.
“A violation shall amount to non-compliance with the Electoral Act. The INEC manual and electoral guidelines cannot be obeyed in breach of its provisions. The blatant disobedience and failure of INEC officers in Rivers State to obey INEC’s regulations and guidelines made pursuant to its enabling powers under the constitution did not invalidate the use of card reader in the conduct of election. Card reader has become part and parcel of the electoral process in the country,” the court held.
In resolving issue seven, the court held that from the totality of evidence by parties, the tribunal was not perverse in its findings and conclusion.
“It will be dangerous and  tantamount to setting a bad precedent to overlook the deliberate and brazen breach of INEC’s directives by its workers in Rivers State. It portends grave danger to the electoral process and democracy for INEC officials to act at variance and flout the lawful instructions of the electoral commission intended at ensuring free and fair election.
“The future of the electoral process and the conduct of election by INEC will be ridiculed with suspicion, if INEC officials are allowed to conduct the election by their whims and caprices and not in compliance with the Electoral Act, Manual for election and the approved guidelines and regulations by INEC pursuant to powers under the Constitution.
“INEC officials have the responsibility to comply strictly with INEC’s rules and regulations, which were made to ensure free, fair and credible election
“Having resolved all seven issues in this appeal against the appellant, I hold that the appeal is lacking in merit and the appeal is hereby dismissed,” the court said.
It consequently upheld the decision of the tribunal  to the effect that Wike was not validly elected in the governorship election in Rivers State on April 11, 2015, and that INEC should conduct a fresh election.
The court also found no merit in a similar appeal by the PDP and subsequently dismissed it.

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