Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, yesterday took a clear lead in the state’s governorship contest as collation of results of the poll held on March 9 resumed with the governor winning 13 of the 15 local governments of the state declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But INEC announced a couple of weeks ago that it would resume the exercise yesterday, stating that it had results of 17 local governments ready for collation, while it might hold supplementary election in six other local councils on April 13.
Yesterday’s exercise, which continues today, was boosted by the ruling of the Federal High
Court, sitting in Abuja that dismissed a suit filed by the African Action Congress (AAC) seeking to stop INEC from tallying the results of the poll.
Wike’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) quickly hailed the court’s verdict.
The results released by INEC yesterday showed that Wike won 13 of the 15 LGAs, polling 426,279 votes ahead of Mr. Biokpomabo Awara of the AAC, who garnered 129,855 votes, leaving a margin of 296,424.
The AAC had the backing of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that missed out on the ballot because of internal fights that resulted in multiple court judgments that excluded it from the contest.
Although security was tight at the state headquarters of INEC along Aba Road, Port Harcourt, the military was conspicuously absent in the security architecture.
At the commencement of collation, the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Edo, River and Bayelsa, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, said the commission was committed to ensuring a smooth and transparent process.
She recalled that security issues led to the suspension of the process in the state and said the commission was poised to bring the process to a logical end.
The State Returning Officer, Professor Teddy Adias, who coordinated the collation exercise, gave the assurance that INEC would be as fast as possible to see a successful completion of the election processes.
In the results so far collated, the PDP won in Ikwerre Local Government Area, the home of Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, where Governor Nyesom Wike polled 14,938 to beat Amaechi’s adopted candidate, AAC’s Biokpomabo Awara, who got 5,660 votes.
Wike also won in Port Harcourt, Andoni, Eleme, Opobo/Nkoro, Bonny, Okrika, and Omuma Local Government Areas.Others won by Wike are Tai, Ahoada East, Emohua, Etche and Ogba-Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Areas.
The AAC won in Oyigbo and Akuku-Toru Local Government Areas.
Adias announced the continuation of the collation process today.
Reacting to the collation exercise, state Secretary of AAC and agent for the collation of governorship results for the party, Mr. Nenye Kocha, described the collation process as transparent even though the party was not comfortable with the figures.
He said: “Things are now unveiling. We have been in the dark over what has been happening even when we had thought that we were leading.
“In terms of transparency, the exercise is transparent. But the figures are not what we were expecting.
“As a party, we are going to review the gamut of all that had happened within the period and take a decision. The governorship candidate will also review the situation and take a stand.”
The agent of the PDP and former Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr. Austin Opara, also commended the process as transparent and expressed happiness with the outcome so far.
Okpara said his party is coasting home peacefully, adding that security agencies and INEC had demonstrated professionalism in their jobs.
He said: “For very obvious reasons, it has been very peaceful. The trouble makers are not here. We are coasting home to victory and we will establish a new Rivers State.
“This will also end the anxiety that our people have been made to go through. We need to apologise to Rivers people for the stress they have been put through by a group of people who mismanaged their affairs and are looking for who to blame.”
Some groups of protesters had defied the state government’s ban on protests and marched in the morning through some parts of the metropolis to protest the collation of results by INEC.
The groups, United Niger Deltans for Buhari (UNDB) and Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisation in Rivers State had marched in protest against the collation of the results of the governorship and state assembly elections in the state.
The two groups moved from Air Force Junction on Aba Road through Rumuola to Agip Junction in Port Harcourt but the protest came to an abrupt stop when they clashed with another group opposed to their protest.
What started as a peaceful protest turned bloody around Hotel Presidential-Birabi area of GRA, Port Harcourt, with stones, bottles and later gun freely used.
The timely intervention of the police, however, quelled the situation and restored the peace of the metropolis.
One of the leaders of the protest, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, blamed the state government for the clash.
Sara-Igbe stated that the groups had obtained police permit before embarking on the protest, adding that the government could not use the police to enforce its order.
He said: “We obtained police clearance for the protest and police gave us go ahead order. Some boys were hired to disrupt the protest. They came and shot into the crowd. The government does not have respect for human lives.
“Our boys, after they shot at us, thank God nobody died, came out to challenge the boys but I stopped them. They have shown that they are killers.”
Court Dismisses AAC’s Suit Seeking Fresh Election in Rivers
Meanwhile, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday dismissed the suit filed by the AAC seeking for a fresh election for the governorship and House of Assembly in the state.
Justice Ekwo dismissed the suit on the grounds that it is not a pre-election matter and as such the court lacks the jurisdiction to entertain it.
The AAC had in their originating summons prayed the court to stop INEC from resuming, collating and concluding the March 9 election results in Rivers State and from declaring any person or group as winners of the poll.
The plaintiffs further urged the court to order a fresh election since according to them the widespread violence that characterised the election had affected the credibility of the polls.
But delivering the judgment of the court on the preliminary objection filed by the 2nd defendant, Justice Ekwo held that the matter, being a post-election case ought to be heard solely by an election petition tribunal and not the Federal High Court or any other court.
He said though the matter brought before the court concerns the credibility of the March 9 governorship and House of Assembly election which was marred by violence and other issues, but for the fact that election has been held, jurisdiction has shifted from the Federal High Court to the tribunal.
Justice Ekwo held that the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs are post election reliefs and since election matters are statutory, the Federal High Court cannot grant them.
“Once election has been held any dispute arising from the election are matters for the tribunal,” he held.
Justice Ekwo subsequently declined jurisdiction and ordered the dismissal of the case for want of jurisdiction.
He added that since the preliminary objection of the 2nd defendant succeeds and is hereby upheld it would be pointless to go into the main suit.
The AAC had asked the court to stop INEC from proceeding with the collation, conclusion and announcement of results in the March 9, governorship and House of Assembly election in Rivers State pending the determination of their suit.
The party alongside Mr. Biokpomabo Awara and Mr. Ben-Gurion Peter, citing widespread violence and other electoral malpractices, called for the cancellation of the Rivers polls and a fresh one is conducted instead.
Respondents in the suits were INEC and PDP.
The electoral body had last month suspended the electoral process after some military personnel and armed men invaded its collation center in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
After it suspended the process, INEC then constituted a fact finding committee to look into the issue and advise accordingly.
Following the report of the fact-finding committee, INEC then announced that it would resume collation of the results in Rivers State, adding that it has in its custody results already collated and announced from 17 local governments areas.
This prompted the plaintiffs to approach the court for an order to stop INEC from resuming collation of the election results.
The plaintiffs had in their originating summons prayed the court to stop INEC from resuming, collating and concluding the March 9 election results in Rivers State and from declaring any person or group as winners of the poll.
The plaintiffs specifically applied for an order compelling the electoral body to maintain the inconclusiveness of the election as announced earlier.
PDP Hails Court Decision on Tally
The PDP hailed the Federal High Court for saving the country’s democratic process by throwing out the suit it said was instituted by anti-democratic forces allegedly working for the APC, in its plot to scuttle the collation of the results of the election.
The party in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said that the sweeping victory being recorded by Wike, even in areas hitherto considered as opposition fortresses, clearly exposes the reason behind APC’s desperation to scuttle the collation process.
The main opposition party described the ruling as well as the on-going collation as the triumph of the will of the people of Rivers State, who freely gave their mandate to the PDP and its candidate, Wike.
Ologbondiyan said, “Moreover, the court ruling rekindles the hope by Nigerians on the capacity of the judiciary to uphold the will of the people, particularly, in the overall quest by Nigerians to reclaim the Presidential mandate, which they freely gave to the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, at the February 23, 2019 presidential polls.”
It stressed that it has a water-tight case against the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, for which majority of Nigerians, across the board, are in high spirit that the stolen mandate would be recovered at the tribunal.
The party therefore directed its members and supporters in Rivers State to continue to be at alert to forestall any attempt by anti-democratic forces, working for the APC, to disrupt the exercise.
The PDP called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that nothing encumbers the conclusion of the collation process and announcement of Wike as the rightful winner of the Rivers governorship election.