Keeping to its promise to adduce rasons for affirming the election of Nyesom Wike, electipn in Rivers State, the Supreme Court on Friday said the decision was informed by the petitioners’ inability at the tribunal to prove their case of malpractices and non-compliance as required.
The Chief Justices of Nigeria, Justice Mohammad Mahmud, who presided, held that the Governorship Electoral Petition Tribunal that handled the case deviated from INEC guideline on the use of card readers for the election.
The Chief Justice also held that the Tribunal also denied Wike fair hearing. The Justice said: “While the court commends the introduction of card readers, the innovation, however, cannot supersede the voters register.”
A seven-man panel of the court, led by Justice Mohammed, held that the election petitions Tribunal and Court of Appeal, which earlier voided the election, were wrong to have based their decisions on the petitioners claim that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials’ failed to adhere to the commission’s manual, guidelines and directives on the exclusive use of the card reader for accreditation and the hearsay evidence presented by the petitioners. The court held that his evidence of the INEC staff could not take the place of testimonies of voters.
“We however discovered that under cross examination witness did not state whether he personally witnessed any violence at any polling unit, thereby making his evidence hearsay. “The laws do not give room for arbitrary nullification of an election. A petitioner has to prove that there was substantial non-compliance in all polling units, this we did not see,’’
The court reiterated its position that card reader was not a sufficient replacement for manual accreditation. It further held non-compliance with INEC’s manual and guidelines by its officials in the conduct of election was not a sufficient ground to void the election.
“The extant laws of the Federation provides for the use of voters register but the card reader irrespective of its importance does not have a place in any extant law of the land. “Hence it said that the tribunal was wrong to base it judgment on non-compliance with the use of card readers,’’ Mahmud noted,
On the issue of allegation of violence and irregularities during the election, Mahmud held that Dakuku Peterside, candidate of the All Progtessives Congress in that election, failed to prove the allegations.
“The APC and its candidate, Dakuku Peterside, were not able to prove the allegations beyond reasonable doubt because they failed to bring witnesses from all the polling units to substantiate the claims.
“For Peterside to prove non-accreditation, he ought to have tendered the voters register and then demonstrate it before the open court.
“We have aligned ourselves with the provision of the law that recognizes the voters register as key element to conduct any elections,’’ he said.
Mahmud, therefore, said the voter register could not be jettisoned for the card reader because it had a place in law while the card reader did not.
According to him, the tribunal and the lower court were unduly swayed by INEC’s directive on card reader usage during the election. While noting that INEC had empower to make subsidiary regulations regarding conduct of election, Mahmud held that the regulations must not go contrary to constitutional provisions.