The supreme court on Friday explained why it declared Nyesom Wike, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on April 11, 2015, governorship election in Rivers state, as the duly elected governor of the state.
The court held that the judgment of the appeal court affirming the judgment of the election petition tribunal sacking Wike was a nullity because the governor did not get a fair hearing as the facts he presented were not considered by the tribunal. It said the tribunal was improperly constituted, explaining that Suleiman Ambursa, chairman of the tribunal, passed judgment in error because he did not sit on the initial hearing of the case.
Ambursa replaced Mu’azu Pindiga, who was removed in the middle of the hearing of the Rivers governorship election petitions. It held that Dakuku Peterside, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the governorship poll and respondent in the appeal, was unable to prove that an election did not take place in Rivers state on April 11. The supreme court explained that the burden of proof was on Peterside to prove that the election was marred by wanton violence and that it did not take place. The court had upturned the judgment of both the election petitions tribunal and the appeal court nullifying his victory at April 11, 2015, poll.
In October 2015, the Rivers state governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja nullified Wike’s election, and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a fresh poll. On behalf of the three-man panel, Suleiman Ambursa, the chairman, said Wike was not duly elected governor of Rivers state, adding that the election was flawed based on evidence presented to it. The tribunal held that the testimonies of Wike’s witnesses were weak, and as such could not prove the governor’s case beyond reasonable doubt. It also held that Wike’s witnesses made contradictory statements, further complicating the defendant’s case. It dismissed the governor’s petition over the power of the tribunal to entertain the case.
Wike appealed the judgment, but he lost again two months later, when the appeal court unanimously dismissed all the seven issues he raised, and upheld the decision of the tribunal on the conduct of a fresh governorship election in the state. He had asked the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the tribunal, arguing that the lower court failed to consider the evidence – that a proper election took place in Rivers state on April 11 – tendered before it.
On January 27, when the supreme court sat over the case, Wike emerged winner for the first – and most important – time. In a lead judgment by Justice Kekere-Ekun, the Court unanimously validated his election on the grounds that he won with the lawfully valid votes. However, the panel, led by Justice Mahmoud Mohammed, chief justice of Nigeria, did not explain the reasons for its judgment. Instead, it said they would be given on February 12.