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Rivers Tribunal: More Drama, Confusion as Curtain Falls on Second Respondent

Tonye Amachree

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Tuesday October 6 came with high expectations at the Rivers State Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja. As early as 8 am, it was evident that Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike would make an appearance as a witness, judging by the crowd of his supporters and the large number of security officers at the court’s entrance. But shortly before the much touted appearance of the star witness, counsel to Wike, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN announced in a most dramatic manner, the conclusion on appearance of witnesses.  

There was nothing new about the drama that played out at the court premises following Wike’s surprising disappearance. In fact, drama has been a major staple on the diet of the tribunal, especially among witnesses of the respondents who employ all sorts of tricks: from blindness and inability to read, to uncooperative attitude and obstinacy, just to avoid reading documents and relevant materials concerning the controversial election.  

Now, Wike is on the spot and on the run as there are speculations that he changed his mind very late in the day to avoid the probing questions from the Chief Akin Olujimi-led star-studded team of lawyers on the other side. To many observers of the on-going developments in Rivers State governorship election, beating a retreat at the 11th hour, even after the much advertised appearance leaves huge credibility gap.

Others less charitable say Wike’s refusal to appear before the tribunal showed that the embattled governor definitely has things to hide. They described his attitude as cowardly and an action that should naturally worry Nigerians who are concerned with democracy and fair elections.

It will be recalled that on 16 September, 2015, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC appeared before the tribunal and told the judges that there was no election in Rivers State on 11 April 20015. According to Peterside, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC merely allocated votes to Wike and declared him winner.

Despite efforts by first and second defence witnesses to twist already known facts and figures about the election, Peterside and his lawyers still stand by their contention that indeed, election never took place in Rivers State on April 11. Sadly, Wike’s inability to appear before the tribunal on 6 September to defend himself and his case is a confirmation to the earlier claim made by Dr. Peterside and the APC.

Like change, truth is constant and with every passing day, facts about Rivers State election will continue to emerge from the actions and inactions even from the defence, like the absence of Wike at the tribunal on September 6.

But before winding down, witnesses of the first and second defence had unsettled the tribunal with fairy tales and acts that continue to reinforce known facts about the contentious April 11 election. For instance, Mr. Christopher Okugba Iyimogba, a former National Commissioner of INEC stumbled before the tribunal when he was confronted with the discrepancies in INEC documents EC8C(1) and EC8C.      

The former INEC National Commissioner also gave himself away when he feigned ignorance over the damning report of a team of three, himself inclusive, that the commission sent from Abuja to monitor Rivers State election. The absurdity of the commissioner’s evidence came to a peak when he refused to read or identify INEC’s documents because according to him, “I was not a returning officer”.

His refusal, no doubt, publicly diminished his status as a former INEC federal commissioner.  

However, the former national commissioner agreed that Charles Okoye, an INEC Staff who had told the same tribunal that election in Rivers State was militant terrorism and a mockery of democracy, was his guide. He also told the tribunal that the commission insisted on card reader and a postponement of election in a situation of failure. Yet, the election violated all the electoral regulations, including the use of the card reader.

Monday September 5 hosted another unusual witness, Chief Dr. Sonny W. Chinda, a traditional ruler and obstetrician gynaecologist who had given a highly questionable account until he came under Olujimi’s gruelling cross-examination.

The doctor had said earlier that he was apolitical but was rattled when he was told of his membership of Ikwerre Council of Chiefs and Elders, a group that was sympathetic to Chief Nyesom Wike during the election and his involvement in the activities of the Wike campaign organisation. He also agreed that he had contested for chairmanship of Port Harcourt Local Government on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP when he was provided with evidence.

Earlier, other witnesses, both first and second respondents had appeared uncooperative with their evidence. While some employed strategies like memory loss and refusal to read INEC documents, others denied infringement even in the face of overwhelming evidence, coupled with artificial blindness they contrived to make it impossible to read INEC documents.  

The tribunal however resumes Thursday 8 September with fears that the next set of witnesses may again be in the mould of the earlier ones.   


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