Justice Gabriel Kolawole of a Federal High Court, Abuja, Tuesday, ruled that investigation panel constituted by the Inspector General of Police to probe the violence that marred the the legislative rerun elections in Rivers State on December 10, 1016, was illegal.
In a judgment that lasted more than two hours Tuesday afternoon, the Judge said the panel was constituted in illegality and to allow it to stand will be an error.
The Judge, however, refused to quash the report of the panel as sought by the plaintiffs on the grounds that the report was not before him and he could not, therefore, take action on what was not before him.
He added that the report of the panel, if it contained useful information, could be useful if turned over to a proper body under the law.
He further stated that the other prayers sought by the plaintiffs were “ungrantable” since the reliefs the prayers sought had been overtaken by events as the panel had already submitted its report to the Attorney-General.
The Inspector General of Police (IG), Ibrahim Idris,had set up the panel to investigate the complaints, allegations, petitions of crimes and various acts of criminality during the re-run elections in January 2017.
The IGP had argued that, “Even though a combined team of the army, police and other security personnel were on ground during the election, criminal elements committed many crimes and unleashed violence on unarmed voters and electoral officers.”
Two policemen were beheaded by a criminal gang. Based on complaints received from several members of the public, coupled with the crimes committed in the presence of security personnel, hence the need for special investigation panel of the police to investigate the killings and other electoral offences which occurred during the rerun elections, the IGP said.
But Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, in a motion ex-parte had argued through his counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), that the panel was biased in composition and working toward a pre-determined end.
He therefore urged the court for an order of injunction restraining the IGP, Department of State Services (DSS) and a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Damian Okoro, who were defendants in the motion, or their agents from enforcing or executing the matters contained in the letter written to Governor by the IGP.
In the said letter titled: ‘Investigation into Allegations of Crimes Committed During the Last Rerun Elections in Rivers State,” the IGP had stated that the, “purview of the investigation will cover allegations of bribes taken, several brazen murder incidents (including that of serving police officers), reports of gross human rights abuses, acts of sabotage/terrorism, kidnapping for ransom and ballot box snatching, all of which were perpetrated in connivance with several federal and state civil servants as well as highly placed politicians within and outside the state.”
The letter also requested the Governor to furnish the Police Investigative Team with all necessary information and exhibits that may assist them in their investigation.
Arguing the motion, Ozekhome said the action of the police to constitute a panel to investigate the crisis that trailed the rerun elections in the state was illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and null and void.
The suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/13/2017, the plaintiffs, Wike and the State Attorney-General as plaintiffs, said was unconstitutional.
He also said that it would be in the interest of justice for the court to set aside the IGP’s letter to the Governor and direct the police boss to await the outcome of the commission of inquiry set up by the Governor.
The motion was supported by an affidavit which averred that security personnel, mainly the police and the army orchestrated the violence that marred the re-run election in the state.
The affidavit which was deposed to by Harrison Obi, of Ozekhome’s chambers, also claimed that the actions of the security personnel were caught on video and presented to Nigerians and the whole world by various reputable television stations.
He averred that after the election, Governor Wike set up a commission of inquiry to look into the immediate and remote causes of the evidence that trailed the conduct of the elections, with a view to avoiding similar occurrence in subsequent elections and punishing the perpetrators of the act.
The commission of inquiry, he said was set up under the Commission of Inquiry Law, Cap 30, Laws of Rivers State, which only Governor Wike, as the Chief Security Officer of the state is legally empowered to constitute.
According to Ozekhome, the terms of reference of the panel of investigation set up by the police clearly suggest that the goal of the intended investigation was already pre-determined and biased or likely to be biased against Wike, having regard to the numerous conclusions already reached in the said letter.
Ozekhome argued further that the intention of the Police is to produce a predetermined damning report against Wike through the medium of the Commission of Inquiry, adding that, “the defendants are working from the answer to the question with the predetermined objective of convicting the 2nd plaintiffs (Wike)”.
In agreement with the plaintiffs, Justice Kolawole said the Governor being the Chief Security Officer of the State ought to be involved in matters that concern his state, he therefore aligned himself with the argument of counsel to the plaintiffs that the panel “was illegal, unlawful, unconstitutional and null and void.”
By this judgment the trial of some staff of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) based on the report of the investigation panel is standing on a shaking ground.