Rivers state Governor, Nyesom Wike Friday solidified his election as the duly elected governor of the state as the Supreme Court upheld two appeals he against the decisions of the Court of Appeal, uptuning the dismissal of a petition filed by the African Action Congress (AAC) and its candidate in the last governorship election, Awara Biokpomabo Festus.
In two unanimous judgments on Friday, a seven-man panel of the court upheld the two appeals by Wike on the grounds that they were meritorious. The appeals were marked: SC/1111/2019 and SC/1112/2019.
Justice Ejembi Eko wrote and delivered the lead judgments in both appeals, which the other six members of the panel agreed with.
The appeals were against the decisions of the Court of Appeal, reversing two decisions of the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal.
The tribunal had rejected the application by a lawyer engaged by Festus to amend his processes and file additional ones, on the grounds that the lawyer had been debriefed by the the AAC, which earlier engaged him (the lawyer) to prosecute the petition jointly filed by the party and its candidate.
The AAC subsequently withdrew from further prosecuting the petition, following which the tribunal proceeded to dismiss it on the grounds that it was deemed abandoned, the petitioners having failed to file a valid notice of pre-hearing session.
On 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 hear the petition to conclusion, and therefore wrongly declined jurisdiction.
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 ot 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 (EA), which regulates the proceedings of the tribunal.
He faulted the Appeal Court’s position that the tribunal should have heard the petition it deemed abandoned to conclusion rather than dismissing 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 are 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 and restored the decision of the tribunal, dismissing the petition on the grounds that it was deemed abandoned because there was no valid pre-hearing session application as required under Paragraph 18(4) of EA.
Justice Eko said, as agreed by parties, the other two appeals, marked: SC 1119/2019 and SC1122/2019 shall abide by the judgment in SC1112/2019.
Other members of the panel that heard the appeals and agreed with the lead judgment by Justice Eko are Justices Olabode Rodes-Vivoor, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Okoro, Chima Nweze, Amiru Sanusi and Uwani Musa Abba-Aji.