Rivers’ Tribunal Verdict Has Restored Confidence In Electoral Process, Says Peterside
What is your reaction to the nullification of governorship polls at the tribunal?
We went to court basically to obtain justice for thousands of Rivers people who were denied the opportunity to cast their vote on the April 11, 2015 and in memory of those who lost their lives trying to exercise their civil responsibility.
We specifically asked the court to order a fresh election because to the best of our knowledge there was no proper election in Rivers state. What the court has now acknowledged as a sham, a mockery to democracy is the very reason why we cried out. So, that is why we went to court.
The only way to rule over the people is to get their support and if you don’t get their support, you are traveling on a wild goose chase. That is exactly what has just happened to my friends in PDP who tried foist themselves on the people.
How do you react to the PDP and INEC arguments that election was held on April 2015?
Maybe those who are saying there was an election do not understand what we mean by the term election. Election is a process that involves accreditation, casting of vote, sorting out of the ballot papers, counting, announcing the result, recording the result sheet and transmitting the result.
I bet anybody, no such thing took place in Rivers State on the April 11, 2015. If indeed, very few areas in Eleme Local Government Area and some wards in Port Harcourt Local Government Area. Anybody who lives in Rivers, except the person is a foreigner, knows what happened and will agree that the tribunal could not have given a better verdict than what they did.
The PDP has maintained that non-use of the card readers cannot be basis for the cancellation of an election. Can you fault the assertion?
What the PDP in Rivers State is doing is simply mischief in interpreting a position of the law. In Lagos State, the Court of Appeal ruled that card reader is not one of the grounds identified by the Electoral Act as amended for cancellation of an election. That is the position of the Court of Appeal in Lagos. In our case, our position is not that the card reader is a ground, we are saying that if you don’t use the card reader for accreditation, complemented with the voters register, you have not complied with the Electoral Act and the regulation that govern that election. So, our case is that of non-compliance as a ground for cancellation of an election. They are two different things. In Lagos, the PDP said cancel the election on the non-use of card reader. In our case, we are saying that the election did not comply substantially with the provision of the Electoral Act and the regulation guiding that election. That is our case.
And that there is no other way you can participate in an election without accreditation. The way to do accreditation as provided for in the Electoral Act and supplementary legislation as represented in the INEC guideline for accreditation, is that when you present yourself at a polling booth, it is the card reader that will identify that this card is an INEC card, and then you proceed with another phase of the accreditation.
So, without the card reader and the voters register, you cannot be accredited. That is our position. The court agreed with us that the card reader is fundamental in the accreditation process and that if you are not accredited, you cannot vote. If you participate in an election without being accredited, to that extent, that your participation is null and void. The court agreed with us. The lawyers understand it, but for, the purposes of mischief, they are trying to impress their client by misinterpreting the position law.
The Electoral Act has set out grounds on which election can be nullified and there are four of them. Card reader is not one of them and we did not go to court saying card reader is one of our grounds. We said one of our grounds is non- compliant. The other ones are irregularity, violence and fraud.
Will APC insist that INEC enforce the use of card reader in the event of a rerun of election in the state?
It is not about APC, it is about INEC. APC is not the electoral body. Once the electoral body makes the rule, all of us are bound by the rules. If you don’t want to follow the rules, don’t participate in the elections. Whatever rules INEC makes concerning the rerun elections, you can be sure we will follow the rules strictly.
Are you not worried that Rivers state remains an epicentre of electoral fraud?
I cannot make such general statement. All I can say is that I witnessed the 2015 general election, namely the National Assembly, governorship to State House of Assembly elections in Rivers State. I can say that election in its proper sense did not take place in Rivers State, and that has been confirmed by international observers, local observers, the media and all those who participated in that process, and now it is being confirmed by the court. Now, if our friends in PDP allege that the judge in the governorship tribunal compromised, what of the other four panels that came up with the same verdict that there was no election in Rivers State? And so, it is clear to the whole world that the court confirmed what they already know that there was no election in Rivers State.
In your petition you claimed there was widespread violence on the election day, can you expatiate on it?
If you follow our lead evidence at the tribunal, virtually all the local government areas experienced burgeoning dimension of violence and the Supreme Court in its ruling on Tuesday in a preliminary issue raised by Nyesom Wike, ruled that there was no way they would have asked the tribunal to sit in Rivers state and that Rivers was a theatre of war. That is the position of the court. And the man who read the led judgment, Justice Sanusi, said Rivers experienced violence of unimaginable dimension, before the elections, during the elections, after the elections and there is no way the tribunal can sit in Rivers. That was the position of the Supreme Court. And so if you recall when we led evidence all the soldiers we brought recalled they encountered frightening dimension of violence in all the locations they served during the elections. The police and Department of State Security confirmed that.
Recalled also Professor Chidi Odinkalu, commission confirmed that we lost over 90 persons in course of the election. Recall that people were killed in Tai. Somebody was killed in Eleme, somebody was killed in Asari-Toru Local Government. The registration area centre in Asari-Toru was burnt down. The INEC office in Emohua was burnt down. There was maximum violence in Okrika. What else do we need to prove to the world? The European Union confirmed it. In Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area too, APC youth leader was killed in a frightening situation.
You alleged that the then PDP-led federal government visited Rivers with intimidation. Now, the table has turned, won’t APC resort to same desperate antics to unseat Governor Nyesom Wike?
You know our president is a man of rule of law. He is a man who believes in due process and is somebody who will not abuse state apparatus for political advantage and we have since taken a cue from him. Even his body language suggests you cannot abuse state apparatus under him and he is a beneficiary of a proper electoral process.
I can assure you that the APC will not attempt to abuse institutions of the state or use institutions of the state to force itself on the people. We have been out there in the field selling the change agenda to our people, that government should be about improving the lot of the people in every dimension, their social welfare, physical infrastructure, environment and all that makes life worth living.
The Rivers government and the PDP have described the nullification of the governorship and some House of Assembly polls as a judicial gang up. How true is this?
I have noticed that Governor Wike and his party have continued to attack the judiciary. It has now become a way of life for them. But this criticism is unwarranted and regrettable.
Recall that the same judiciary gave judgment against the APC in the National Assembly election and we were not quick to go and criticize them. The judiciary is a sacred and respectable institution, therefore any person or persons who openly criticize judges and their ruling, obviously has a sinister motive. The same tribunal that gave judgment to PDP in National Assembly election is the same tribunal that gave APC judgment in House of Assembly election. Then suddenly, Governor Wike jumps to his feet, criticizing the Supreme Court saying it has ganged up against Rivers state. The Court of Appeal, the tribunals have all ganged up against PDP in Rivers. In Delta, Gombe and several other places they gave ruling against APC. Now, what is special about one ruling against PDP in Rivers state in a case everybody knows of the bizarre violence and irregularities that characterized the elections?
Wike and Rivers PDP are living in the past and they should be reminded Nigeria of today is different from the Nigeria of yesterday. The Nigeria of today has no room for impunity and lawlessness. This is a country of civilized people where the rule of law is the pillar of democracy.
What is your reaction to the nullification of about 20 House of Assembly seats by the tribunal?
It simply vindicates our position that there were no proper elections in Rivers state on the April 11, 2015.
We are optimistic as a party that the remaining 11 seats that were not nullified as we approach the higher court, they will definitely nullify them and we will likely go for rerun in all constituencies in the State and the people of Rivers state will have the opportunity of choosing who they want to represent them in the House of Assembly.
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