In the heart of Nigeria’s political landscape, a significant legal battle has been unfolding. The Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, seated in the nation’s capital, Abuja, has recently reserved its judgment on a high-stakes petition brought forth by the Accord Party (AP) and its candidate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs. This petition aims to challenge the outcome of the gubernatorial contest that took place in Rivers State on March 18.
The Electoral Showdown
The gubernatorial election in Rivers State witnessed intense competition among various candidates, with Governor Siminalayi Fubara of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerging as the victor, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC declared that Governor Fubara garnered a total of 302,614 votes, securing his position as the winner of the election. However, this declaration was met with fierce resistance from the Accord Party and Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who vehemently asserted that the election results did not reflect the true will of the people.
Allegations of Irregularities
Central to the Accord Party’s petition is the claim that the PDP candidate, Governor Fubara, was not legitimately elected with a majority of lawful votes cast during the election. The petitioners argue that the entire electoral process was marred by irregularities and was not conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of both the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and the Electoral Act of 2022.
During the proceedings, counsel to the petitioners, Mr. A. J. Owonikoko, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), maintained that INEC’s return of Governor Fubara as the winner of the election was unlawful, pointing to a breach of section 130 of the Electoral Act, 2022. Owonikoko argued that, to make a lawful return of any candidate in a governorship election, INEC must produce valid entries in its Form EC 40(G)2 and sign the same.
The significance of Form EC 40(G)2 cannot be overstated, as it stipulates the total number of units where votes were cast and not cast. Owonikoko asserted that the absence of this crucial document cast doubt on the validity of the election outcome. He contended that if the document were produced, the burden of proof requested by the Respondents would become unnecessary.
Furthermore, Owonikoko accused INEC of intentionally concealing Form EC 40(G)2, alleging that it was a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that votes were improperly credited to Governor Fubara. As a remedy, he urged the tribunal to nullify INEC’s declaration of Governor Fubara as the winner of the election.
Calls for a Fresh Election
In addition to seeking the nullification of the election results, the petitioners pressed for further action. They called upon the court to order INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Governor Fubara and, in turn, to call for a fresh governorship election in Rivers State.
Counterarguments and Defense
As the legal battle unfolded, the counsel for Governor Fubara, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, vehemently defended the legitimacy of the election. Ukala argued that the petitioners had failed to establish their allegations through credible evidence. He asserted that the petitioners had not met the burden of proof imposed by the law.
The Respondents, including INEC, echoed these sentiments, contending that the petitioners had failed to provide a clear connection between the documentary evidence they presented and specific complaints of non-compliance. Mr. Steve Adehi, SAN, representing INEC, emphasized that the petitioners had not convincingly demonstrated that the Rivers State governorship election had not been conducted in strict compliance with the relevant laws.
Awaiting the Tribunal’s Verdict
After hearing arguments and counterarguments from all parties involved, the tribunal made a significant decision—it would communicate the judgment date to the concerned parties. The entire nation, and particularly the people of Rivers State, now await this crucial judgment that will determine the fate of the gubernatorial election and its implications for the future of the state.
In conclusion, the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal has reserved its judgment on a contentious case that has captured the nation’s attention. The outcome of this legal battle has the potential to reshape the political landscape in Rivers State and influence future elections. As we await the tribunal’s verdict, the stakes remain high, and the eyes of the nation are firmly fixed on this unfolding drama.