The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the decision of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, in relocating the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal to Abuja on the grounds of alleged insecurity in the state.
The tribunal which sat in Abuja, had last Saturday nullified the April 11 governorship election which produced Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh election within 90 days.
At the outset, Wike had challenged the tribunal’s jurisdiction to sit outside Rivers State.
It dismissed his objection and a further appeal to the Court of Appeal was also dismissed. He subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court.
Ruling on the appeal Tuesday, a full panel of the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.
Reading the lead judgment, Justice Amiru Sanusi held that evidence abound that there were security challenges prevailing in the state as at the time the panel was constituted.
He further held that the court could not be bound by its earlier decision in Chief James Ibori’s case, which was cited by the appellant.
The court further noted that it was not the President of the Court of Appeal that relocated the court in Ibori’s case and that there were no security challenges then.
Justice Sanusi held: “But in this case, it was the President of the Court of Appeal who relocated the tribunal to Abuja because of insecurity. It was this situation that demanded for a doctrine of necessity which made the President of the Court to relocate the tribunal to Abuja to protect the lives of members of the panel.
“I agree with the lower court that the PCA is right in relocating the panel to Abuja.
“On the whole, I hold that the tribunal is properly constituted by the President of the Court of Appeal even without consultation with the Chief Judge of Rivers State or the President of the Customary Court.
“Even though, as at then, there was no Chief Judge, and there was no President of the Customary Court. The consultation here is not as to the venue of the sitting but to get judges in Rivers State that will be part of the various election petitions.
“It is necessary to protect members of the panel from the theatre of war to where their lives will be secured.
“The President of the Court of Appeal has the power and has judiciously utilised her power.
“The panel is properly constituted and it is not bereft of jurisdiction to hear the petition of the of the petitioner. The appeal lacks merit and it is hereby dismissed.”
Reacting, the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) hailed the court’s verdict. The state Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Chris FineBone, in a statement in Port Harcourt, commended the ruling of the Supreme Court for affirming that the tribunal’s sitting was moved to Abuja because of insecurity.
“As a party, the APC is grateful that all seven eminent jurists of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that there was sufficient violence before, during and after the elections to justify the relocation of the tribunal to Abuja,” APC said.
It also commended the reason for the relocation of the tribunal to Abuja, which was to safeguard the lives of the tribunal chairman, members and witnesses, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
The statement said the party was happy with the observation of the court that Rivers State was “a theatre of war’’ and as such, the protection of lives of members of the panel and interested parties was paramount.
The APC also noted with satisfaction that the justices once again re-affirmed that they were always ready to dispense justice without fear or favour.
“The significance of all seven eminent justices of the Supreme Court speaking in one voice in today’s judgment is that the faith, hope and confidence of the ordinary Nigerian to get justice is assured in the Nigerian judicial system,” it said.
However, the state chapter of the PDP has called for calm among its members and supporters in the light of unfavourable verdicts at various election petition tribunals.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt yesterday, the state Chairman of the PDP, Felix Obuah, said: “Despite the obvious gang up against the party, Governor Wike and the state lawmakers by the enemies of progress, there is no cause for alarm.”
He called on members of the party and Rivers people to remain resolute, assuring them that Wike, the party and all the PDP lawmakers would be victorious at the end of the day.
He said: “The party is halfway through what seemingly were challenges orchestrated by enemies of the state because of our resources which they want to continue to loot to develop their own states, leaving Rivers people and the state in a state of underdevelopment and disrepair as witnessed under Mr. Rotimi Amaechi’s administration.
“But we can now see light at the end of the tunnel and are therefore not perturbed. We are sure of victory.”
The state party chairman assured the people that Rivers resources would be used to develop the state, stating that Wike was poised to put smiles back on the faces of Rivers people.
According to him, “The same judiciary and its judges, magistrates and judiciary workers Amaechi subjected to untold hardship and frustration for over one year are still the same people he has run to for assistance in his new plot to institutionalise another round of illegality in the state.”
He described the development as ironic and shameful, adding: “There is no way he (Amaechi) will succeed in rubbishing the eminent jurists that are in charge of the nation’s temple of justice in his renewed politics of calumny.”
Also, the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, said yesterday that neither him nor any member of the assembly was sacked by Monday’s verdict of the Election Petitions Tribunal.
Ibani was reacting to the verdict of the state House of Assembly tribunal, which nullified the elections of the speaker and 19 other lawmakers of the state assembly.
Addressing journalists at the assembly complex in Port Harcourt, Ibani, who represents Andoni constituency, said the tribunal gave a judgment in its opinion and ordered a re-run within 90 days.
He said: “I heard over the news that the speaker and 20 others have been sacked by the election tribunal. No member, not even the speaker has been sacked.
“The lower tribunal gave a judgment in their opinion. In their judgment held that there should be a rerun within 90days.
“The Rt. Hon. Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani was not sacked by any election petition tribunal and none of the members was sacked by the election petition tribunal. I am still the Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly and the members still remain members of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
“The whole world knows that elections were conducted in the state on April 11. The whole world knows as well that INEC prepared for the elections for a long period.
“And because we have faith in the judiciary system and we have faith in the judges and justices we have in Nigeria, we believe that our case will not be different.”
Igbani disclosed that the lawmakers had directed their counsel to appeal the matter, expressing optimism in the credibility of the judiciary to deliver unbiased verdicts.
“We have strong faith in the Nigerian state and its judicial system. We believe, as legislators, that conscience not placed on the canvass of justice is unconscionable.
“We believe that the same principles in law should be applied in all circumstances.
“The judicial procedure given the Nigerian system is such that when the lower tribunal gives its judgment, you have the right to appeal, and that we have done. We have directed our lawyers to file notices of appeal. That we have done,” he stated.
Fielding questions from journalists, the speaker expressed displeasure that different principles by the courts were being applied to different people even in similar circumstances.
“We believe that if a particular principle was applied in some situations in the North or West, it should also apply in the South-south. If Ambode’s election (governor of Lagos State) was affirmed because it had nothing to do with malfunctioning card readers, why should Wike’s case be different.
“Justice is one element that keeps the faith of the people of a nation. It is my plea that wherever we find ourselves as people of Nigeria, the Nigerian state should give us justice,” he pleaded.