July 2, 2022

Kamarudeen Ogundele and Success Nwogu

The Supreme Court has upheld two appeals filed by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, against the decisions of the Court of Appeal, which upturned the dismissal of a petition filed by the African Action Congress and its governorship candidate, Awara Festus.

The seven-man panel, in the judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, affirmed the decisions of the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal which earlier dismissed the petition.

The tribunal rejected the application by a lawyer engaged by Festus to amend his processes and file additional ones in a petition jointly filed with the AAC.

Following the withdrawal of the AAC from the petition, the tribunal said it was deemed abandoned.

On the appeal by Festus, the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, reversed both decisions of the trial tribunal and held among others, that the dismissal of the petition was wrong.

The Appeal Court also held that the tribunal ought to have heard the petition to the end.

Justice Eko, in the first judgment on the appeal marked SC/1111/2019, held that the lawyer was wrong to have attempted to change the original case by seeking to amend processes even when he was out of time.

In the second judgment, in the appeal marked SC/1112/2019, Justice Eko held that the tribunal was right to have dismissed the petition pursuant to Section 285(8) of the Constitution, on the grounds that there was no valid application filed for pre-hearing session, as required under Paragraph 18(4) of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act regulating the proceedings of the tribunal.

He faulted the Appeal Court’s position that the tribunal should have heard the petition it deemed abandoned to the end rather than to dismiss it at the preliminary stage.

“I hold the view that Section 285 of the Constitution and Paragraph18 of the 1st Schedule to the Electoral Act are merely procedural, and meant to regulate the proceedings of the tribunal. They do not confer any right on any party to a petition.

“The interpretation given to section 285 by the lower court is not correct. It serves no utilitarian purpose to hear an abandoned petition to a logical conclusion.

“The proceeding to hear further proceedings in an abandoned petition is tantamount to flogging a dead horse and engaging in an academic exercise, which a court does not do,” Justice Eko said.

He proceeded to set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal.

Justices Olabode Rodes-Vivoor, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Okoro, Chima Nweze, Amiru Sanusi and Uwani Musa Abba-Aji all agreed.

Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party described the Supreme Court’s judgment as the final triumph of justice and the will of the people of over anti-democratic forces seeking to forceful take over the state.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, also said the judgment strengthened the confidence of the people on the integrity of the Supreme Court and its readiness to correct any miscarriage of justice at lower stages of the nation’s justice system, particularly electoral cases.