The All Progressives Congress (APC) and its Rivers State governorship candidate in the April 11, 2015 election, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, have accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of frustrating their bid to inspect the electoral materials used for the controversy-ridden poll.
Peterside and APC on May 3, 2015, filed their petition before the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja to challenge the election of the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Nyesom Wike.
The tribunal chaired by Justice Muazu Pindiga 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.
However, on Monday, the tribunal entertained parties’ argument on an application by Wike asking to set aside the order granted the petitoners on June 11.
The petitioners’ lawyer Akin Olujinmi (SAN) told the tribunal that INEC continued to refuse his clients’ agents to inspect the election materials, a manifestation of an alliance between INEC, Wike and PDP to frustrate the hearing of the petition.
But INEC, Wike and PDP, while justifying the refusal of the electoral umpire to allow the petitioners to inspect the electoral materials, argued that it would be wrong to allow the inspection when Wike’s applications challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction and the propriety of the June 11 order, were pending.
Olujinmi, in a counter-argument to Wike’s application, urged the tribunal to among others, dismiss the application on the grounds that the order allowing the inspection of the electoral materials was not directed at the governor, but at INEC.
He said, “We have shown that INEC has not objected to the tribunal’s order and today, they have confessed before the tribunal that they disobeyed the order for inspection because the 2nd respondent (Wike) filed a motion seeking to set aside the order.
“Even though the order for inspection was obtained and directed at INEC, but INEC has not formally complained to the tribunal in regard to that order. But they chose, on their own, to decide not to obey the order. This again, shows the shenanigan underlying this application to set aside the order for inspection.
“It is designed to legalise the conspiracy between the 1st and 2nd respondents (INEC and Wike) to frustrate the tribunal’s order. The law is that if the court is told that the order it made is being disparaged, dishonoured, disobeyed and disrespected, the court has a duty to take firm and decisive steps to ensure the order is obeyed.”
He also said Governor Wike’s opposition to the tribunal’s order was fraught with contradictions as he, in one breath, argued that the order for the inspection poses threat to national security, on the other hand, he urged the tribunal to allow his agents to participate in the inspection.
Olujinmi urged the tribunal to disregard Wike’s prayers on the grounds that it acted within its powers under Section 151 of the Electoral Act, which empowered it to order INEC to allow any party to election petition to inspect materials used during the election being challenged.
He also faulted the argument by Wike’s lawyer, Emmanuel Ukala (SAN) that the order was made while the tribunal had yet to determine whether or not it possessed the jurisdiction to sit in Abuja.
Ukala had, while arguing his client’s application, stressed the need for the tribunal to set aside the order for inspection. He argued that it ought not to be granted ex-parte and that it was made by the tribunal without jurisdiction.
He contended that the tribunal could not be moved to exercise its powers under Section 151 of the Electoral Act through ex-parte application, when such application must be made on notice so that the other party could be heard.
Ukala argued that the tribunal had the power to set aside the order it made in error without according his client the right to a fair hearing.
He argued that his client had raised the issue of jurisdiction and challenged the competence of the petition in his reply to the petition filed before the tribunal on June 4.
Lawyers to the PDP and INEC, I.A Adedipe (SAN) and Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) supported Wike’s lawyer’s position, with Ikpeazu insisting that INEC refrained from obeying the June11 order because of Wike’s pending applications. He said the commission was reluctant not to foist a state of helplessness on the tribunal.