I had the privilege of covering the legal dispute between the defeated Rivers APC Governorship Candidate, Mr Dakuku Peterside and Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike from the Election Tribunal through to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court experience was spiritual in nature. It was the manifestation of the best of the Nigerian Judiciary.
At stake that fateful January 27, 2016 were the rule of law, democracy and the right of the people to choose who would lead them. The eyes of the entire nation were on the Supreme Court. Every single Nigerian wanted to know if the Justices of the Supreme Court would stand up for democracy and the people.
Nigerians had every reason to be apprehensive. The APC Government became unreasonably desperate to illegally snatch Rivers State. Therefore, they adopted several unconstitutional methods to ensure that they got victory in the course of the judicial process.
For the first time in the history of electoral disputes, soldiers, DSS and mobile policemen were drafted by the Security High Command to assist the APC via false testimonies at the Election Tribunal.
This was the beginning of a well oiled onslaught to ensure the derailment of the Rivers people’s mandate. As such, soldiers, mobile policemen and DSS operatives who were nowhere near the polling units were used to pursue an agenda to miscarry justice.
To prove that this was a deliberate plot against Rivers State, when Governor Wike and PDP subpoenaed the security agents who directly provided security for the voting process, the Security High Command took illegal steps to arrest them at the venue of the Rivers State Election Tribunal.
From the very beginning, the Rivers APC knew they had no case against the duly elected Governor of Rivers State. Therefore, they relied on illegal means, propaganda and political incitement to sell their agenda to the unsuspecting public.
For the avoidance of doubt, Governor Wike got a state-wide mandate from the good people of Rivers State.
Governor Wike garnered N1,029,102 votes representing 87.77 per cent to emerge as winner of the April 11, 2015 governorship election. The defeated All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Dakuku Adol Peterside, came second with N124,896, while candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Prince Tonye Princewill, came third with N10,142 votes.
The good people of Rivers State made their preference, crystal clear. They wanted PDP. They preferred Governor Wike. Even though the APC had the constitutional right to challenge the victory in court, they had no case. For a party that claimed that no election took place, it was shocking that they had no voters as witnesses from polling units across the state to support their claim. Instead, they relied on security agents arranged by the APC national leadership to assist them in perverting the course of justice.
Counsel to Governor Wike, Emmanuel Ukala (SAN) had this to say about the Rivers APC rigmarole.
“You can see that based on the evidence that they called, we had no reason whatsoever to bother to put in any witness. In a whole state, they called only three voters, in respect of which the decisions of the Supreme Court have always said that you must call one voter from every polling unit. There are 5972 polling units and points in Rivers State. They called only three voters and from three different local government areas for that matter. How could they ever dream to have started to prove their case?”
Governor Wike lost at the tribunal and the Appeal Court. The circumstances are well known to Nigerians. The conflicting judgments that emanated from these two courts in cases with similar facts are also well known. Needless to dwell on them at this point!
Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court brought to bear the tenets of the Constitution on the entire process. It stamped the authority of the law, declaring that the laws of the land must be followed, irrespective of the political circumstances in the country. The Supreme Court was consistent all through, applying the same legal principles on all governorship cases. There was no conflicting judgment.
Two set of major elections have been conducted in Rivers State since the Supreme Court’s confirmation of Governor Wike’s election. Despite the massive deployment of soldiers, policemen and other security agencies to help APC manipulate the March 19 and December 10, 2016 rerun elections, PDP emerged victorious.
The Rivers people staked their lives as security agencies shot at them. They insisted that they will stand by Governor Wike, their elected governor. They refused to be intimidated by guns and fighter helicopters.
The veracity of the Supreme Court judgment can be situated in the general acceptance of the PDP in the last two rerun elections. If the APC had emerged victorious, it would have been safe to declare that the party was cheated. However, the turn of events have vindicated the Supreme Court. It has shown that they delivered a just judgment.
The Supreme Court’s seven-man panel headed by the Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmood Mohammed with Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs, Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-kun, Syvester Ngbuta , John Inyang Okoro and Amiru Sanusi as co-panelists deserve the respect and commendation of Nigerians for rising in defence of democracy and the Constitution. They exhibited rare courage by refusing to be intimidated.
According to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Emmanuel Aguma, the Supreme Court judgment stopped manipulative politicians from destroying the very fabric of the nation’s democracy.
He said: “What the judgment of the Supreme Court that affirmed the electoral victory of Governor Wike on the 27th of January, 2016, did was to take back from manipulative politicians, their nefarious powers and affirm that through the judicial system, people can actually get justice, because both the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the tribunal in that particular case , which I followed were to say the least, perverse and were devoid of any legal principles. They upturned existing principles on their head.
Another lawyer, Emma Okah had this to say of the 2016 Supreme Court on Rivers State Governorship Election: “And today, we can only say thank you to the Supreme Court, thank you for the judicial arm of government, thank you for saving Nigeria and thank you again for restoring confidence in our judicial system”.
According to Shedrach Akolokwu; “by that decision of the Supreme Court, sovereignty belongs to the people. No one man can claim to be the coastline of sovereignty in a democracy. Democracy acknowledges the people as custodians of sovereignty.
“The judgement of the Supreme Court on the 27th of January, 2016 was a milestone decision which showed that democracy is superior to any other system of government and that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as variously amended acknowledged that all public institutions, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive should acknowledge, should realize that the people have the final say in whatever concerns them.”
Barrister George Ariolu said: “To tell you that the judgement was apt, you could see the jubilation the day that judgement was pronounced. There was jubilation all over. If it were to be an aberration, you would have also seen the reaction. So, that is to tell you, that the Supreme Court in course of carrying her duty, did what was right and then the people in turn rejoiced because they confirmed their mandate to who they gave it.”
Today more than ever, Nigeria needs a fearless judiciary to survive the persecution and fraudulent attack at the soul of democracy by the APC. The validation of Governor Wike’s election was the beginning of the struggle to save Nigeria from shameless political robbers.
The anniversary of this judgment is a wake up call to all Nigerians to take back their country from political criminals masquerading as change agents. The January 27, 2016 judgment is a statement reminding Nigerians that they cannot stand aloof and allow societal cheats deep in crime deliberately rape all our revered institutions to death. We must urgently take back governance to rebuild our judiciary, legislature, police, Army, DSS, Navy and other state institutions bastardised by the APC for selfish reasons.
Rivers State has taken the lead. They withstood the terror of the Federal Forces in defence of democracy. They stood up to the bully. They rejected all forms of manipulations and protected their mandate. Other Nigerians must emulate this virtue and take back Nigeria.
It is no longer fashionable to keep quiet while the devastation of this country and her institutions continue. That judgement of January 27, 2016 reinforced the need for a virile and independent judiciary.
As Rivers people and other well-meaning Nigerians celebrate the judgement of the Supreme Court that affirmed the electoral victory of Governor Wike, we must stand up to defend democracy, which the forces of evil seek to destroy. It is only by defending democracy that we would have successfully vindicated the Supreme Court.
Nwakaudu is Special Assistant to Governor Nyesom Wike on Electronic Media.