By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has opposed request by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Dakuku Peterside, to be allowed to inspect the electoral materials that were used for the April 11 governorship poll in the state.
Wike, through a counter motion he filed before the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal currently sitting in Abuja, maintained that allowing the petitioners to have access to the sensitive materials could expose citizens of the state to immense danger.
He begged the tribunal not to allow the petitioners to go near to any of the Smart Card Reader Machines that were deployed to River State by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for the purpose of the April 11 governorship election in the state, or have access to the voters’ register in a manner that would allow them to make copies and store their contents electronically.
He argued that allowing the petitioners to do so could compromise the secrecy of the ballot.
It was his contention that it could pose security concerns as the materials sought to be inspected by the petitioners contained “highly sensitive security information containing the biometric data of all registered voters in Nigeria.”
Consequently, Wike through his lead counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, urged the tribunal to set aside the ex- parte order for the inspection of the electoral materials, particularly the voters’ register and the card reader machines.
His counter-motion against the APC and Peterside was dated June 16, 2015.
It will be recalled that the APC and Peterside had on May 3, gone before the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the governorship election that which was declared in favour of Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Joined as respondents in the petition were INEC, Wike and the PDP.
Aside APC and Peterside, four other governorship aspirants in the state that also went before the tribunal to challenge the declaration of Governor Wike as the winner of the election are Mr. Charles Harry of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Tonye Princewill of the Labour Party , Kemka Elenwo of KOWA Party and Minaibim Harry of the Social Democratic Party.
They are separately praying the tribunal to nullify Wike’s victory on the premise that the election was not only fraught with manifest irregularities, but was conducted with total disregard to relevant provisions of the Electoral Act.
The Justice Muazu Pindiga-led tribunal had on June 11, 2015 granted an ex parte order permitting the petitioners to personally or through their lawyers or forensic experts inspect the electoral materials used for the poll.
Governors of the PDP had earlier demanded the relocation of both the Rivers State Tribunal and that of Akwa Ibom State to their original base.
Meanwhile, both Wike and INEC had separately challenged the competence of all the petitions as well as the jurisdiction of the tribunal to conduct the proceeding outside Rivers State where the election took place.
INEC queried the legality of the tribunal which it argued ought to have in line with section 285(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, sit in Rivers State.
The electoral body, through its team of lawyers led by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, while challenging the competence of the petitions, INEC, insisted that by virtue of section 285(2) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), under which the tribunal was established, “a tribunal sitting in Abuja cannot qualify as a tribunal established in Rivers State.”
It asked the tribunal to strike out the APC petition on the ground that some of the persons it alleged masterminded the rigging of election in Rivers State, among whom included wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, were not joined as parties to the suit.
According to INEC, “The 2nd respondent (Wike), was not wrongfully declared the winner of the aforementioned election but on the contrary, was duly declared elected and returned as the candidate who won the governorship election in Rivers State.
“The declaration and return of the 2nd respondent is not wrongful, invalid, null and void in any manner whatsoever, as the election was duly conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act and the Guidelines for the election.
“1st respondent did not collude and/or connive with the 2nd and 3rd respondents for the purpose of illegally returning the 2nd respondent at the election. 1st respondent did not appoint 3rd respondent’s (PDP) members and officials to act as the 1st respondent’s agents, as the ad hoc officers who served in the conduct of the election were objectively retained after the respective positions were amply advertised with the necessary qualifications which do not include membership of a political party duly disclosed.
“1st respondent avers that the names of persons who contested as candidates and the parties which sponsored them at the election are as shown in the Form EC8E which is the summary of the result of the election declared by the Constituency Officer after the collation of all the votes validly scored by the candidates at the election.
“The 1st respondent was not partisan and remained neutral at all times material in the conduct of the election.
“1st respondent contends that the declared results represents the lawful and valid votes cast in the governorship election in Rivers state and that the petitioners are wrong in contending to the contrary.
“Election was duly commenced, concluded in all the polling units in Rivers state in which the Forms EC8As were dully filled, subsequently collated at the respective Ward Collation Centres and thereafter at all the Local Government Collation Centres as well as at the Constituency Collation Centre.
“In those polling units, there were due accreditation, voting, sorting of votes, counting of votes, collation of votes, announcement of votes cast. The petitioners are put to the strictest proof to establish that the results on which the 2nd respondent was declared duly elected which results are clothed with the presumption of regularity, were not regularly produced.
“In all the polling units in which results were duly returned, the election was not marred by irregularities, violence, chaos, acts of corrupt practices perpetrated by anybody and there was no predetermined intention to return as duly elected a candidate who did not score the majority of lawful votes and who did not satisfy the constitutional requirements”, it added.
Besides, INEC dared the petitioners to adduce prove that Wike was not duly elected by majority or highest number of lawful votes cast at the election, as well as adduce proof that the election was invalidated by reason of substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, Manual for Election Official 2015, and the 2015 Guidelines of the INEC. The election was not invalidated by reason of corrupt practices.
“It is not correct as alleged by the petitioners that for Rivers State, not more that 292, 878 voters were accredited for the election by the use of Card Reader Machines. Votes on which the 2nd respondent was declared duly elected emanated from votes duly cast at the polling units by duly registered voters who were duly accredited upon presentation of their voter cards in compliance with the Electoral Act and the Guidelines for the election.
“Though there were few and negligible cancellations, the election was not marred by violence, corrupt practices and irregularities. There were no multiple thumb-printing of ballot papers, stuffing of ballot boxes, over voting, inflation of results, over balloting, thuggery and violent attacks which, neither as alleged nor at all, marred the result of the election or created atmosphere inimical to the conduct of credible election,” it added.