Thursday’s ruling by Justice Lambo Akanbi, nullifying the May 23rd Local Government election in Rivers State may remain a subject of political discourse both in and outside Rivers State, reports Peterclaver Egbochue
The affected parties in the Local Government Council dissolution order Justice Lambo Akanbi, have given different interpretations to the ruling. While the Rivers State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), described it as evidence that the judiciary is and remains the last hope of the common man in deed, its All Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart argues that the ruling was simply a travesty of justice.
However, a new twist has been added to the tussle of who occupies the 22 local government secretariats in Rivers state following a judgment by the National Industrial Court, sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa state capital to reinstate the All Progressives Congress LG chairmen sacked by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt in Rivers state. The National Industrial Court ordered the reinstatement of the elected 22 local Government and ordered the Inspector General of Police to provide security for the chairmen to get back their position.
The case was then adjourned till October 5, 2015. The Federal High Court in Rivers State had on Thursday dismissed the 22 local government council chairmen in the state. The local government chairmen were fired because their election contravened a court order, which had earlier been issued restraining it, Justice Akanbi, the presiding judge had said. But in its protest, the APC, said it was saddened that despite his earlier ruling to stand down the matter until the appeal questioning the jurisdiction of his court was determined by the Appeal Court from October 12, Justice Akanbi handed out ruling on a matter that was awaiting a decision of the Appeal Court.
The party in a statement said, “Without any hearing notice to parties except, perhaps, to the PDP, Justice Akanbi presiding over Federal High Court 1 in Port Harcourt commenced sitting this morning and quickly handed down a ruling in respect of a matter between PDP and other parties including the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC), voiding the election of 22 Local Council Chairmen and Councilors in Rivers State, claiming he had earlier ordered that the elections should not hold. However, that position by Justice Akanbi is far from what transpired in the matter.
“The truth of the matter remains that there is a pending appeal on the substantive case in which same Justice Akanbi on the 29th of April gave as reason for adjourning the matter sine die until the appeal is dispensed with beginning from 12th October. How come Justice Akanbi decided to bring forward the matter without even serving hearing notices to the parties? Why does Justice Akanbi want to ambush and foist on the Court of Appeal a situation of hopelessness? What business does Justice Akanbi have in reopening the matter other than fragrant display of judicial rascality?
“It is important to reiterate here that APC applied to join in the matter which the Judge turned down and APC immediately proceeded to appeal that refusal to be joined and that appeal is also pending. Why has Justice Akanbi acted in a manner aimed at frustrating that appeal? “As a law-abiding party, the APC would like to appeal to the elected Chairmen, Councilors and its numerous members across Rivers State to disregard any ruling of any court other than that of the Court of Appeal which will sit on October 12, 2015 of which notice of hearing has been served on all parties. “Why did Justice Akanbi not wait for the Court of Appeal ruling on the APC application before proceeding with the matter?
Therefore, the APC will wait and abide by the decision of the Court of Appeal, in line with the earlier Order of Justice Akanbi himself that the matter can only be reopened after it has been dispensed with by the Court of Appeal which has already served all parties notice of hearing.” Expectedly, the PDP has described the ruling as a welcome development. Chairman of the Rivers State chapter of the party, Chief Felix Obuah, said by this impartial judgment, the Court had once more strengthened the confidence and trust of the people in the Nigerian judiciary as the last hope of the common man. Thanking God for vindicating the party’s position that there was no council election in the state, Obuah noted that the court victory was not only for the PDP but also the entire Rivers people who are the beneficiaries of the sanity and rules of law that had been ushered in by the council election nullification.
He however appealed for calm and co-operation from all, saying that the Nyesom Wike led-government is humane and capable of instituting a legacy that would serve the general good of all Rivers people being the Governor of Rivers State and not Governor of PDP. Meanwhile, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, had on Thursday night sworn in twenty two-caretaker committee Chairmen to replace the dissolved council executives.
The governor said he vowed to respect the rule of law when he assumed office on May 29, stressing that it was why he did not dissolve what he termed the illegality put in place by the outgone government. According to him, some state governors had gone ahead to dissolve local government councils when they came on board but he took time to allow due process. The governor said he did not dissolve the twenty-two local government areas, noting that it was the decision of the court. Governor Wike further reminded the caretaker committee chairmen that their appointment was not political patronage.
Lambo also dissolved the local government councils. But the now dissolved chairmen had vowed to resist the development, warning that they were ready to begin a regime of resistance to the state government. Speaking under the aegis of the All Local Government of Nigeria, (ALGON), the council chairmen claimed that the move by the governor to dissolve the local government councils was badly advised. The Chairman of Degema Local Government Area and ALGON’s Legal Adviser, Mr. Soboye Elai, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues on Thursday in Port Harcourt, said Wike could throw the state into another round of political crisis if he (Wike) went ahead to dissolve the council.
“ALGON shall resist any unconstitutional termination of the councils’ tenure. The consequences of such event occurring at this point in the history of our dear Rivers State are better imagined. “We are holding the briefing so that the world out there will be well informed about the issues and facts surrounding the sinister plot by the Government of Rivers State, under Wike, to plunge Rivers State into another round of avoidable crisis after the most mindless bloodletting this state had ever known in her 48-year history in the name of struggle to wrest transient political power.
“You will recall, gentlemen, that the Board of the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission, under the chairmanship of Prof. Augustine Ahiauzu, was sacked by the governor on Monday, June 8, 2015, after a rather hasty inquisition by the Rivers State House of Assembly adjudged the Commission’s leadership guilty of ‘official misconduct’ on the same day. “Recall also that the invitation to Golgotha for Prof. Ahiauzu’s board also resulted on the same day in the decapitation of the State Judicial Service Commission.
“While we are yet to come to terms with this legislative/executive adjudication of ‘official misconduct’ against these two executive bodies established under Section 197 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), it is the position of ALGON Rivers State (comprising 23 duly elected chairmen and 319 councilors of the local government councils) that these dissolutions were politically motivated and done in utmost bad faith. “These boards were sacked on the altar of expediency to serve narrow and pedestrian partisan interests and not any higher ideals for the good of the larger Rivers State.” He described the dissolution of RSIEC and RSJSC boards as a dress rehearsal to execute an agenda to sack elected local government councils without due recourse to the dictates of the law.
“Rivers ALGON is not being alarmist. We are putting Rivers people and the nation on red alert that the plot to undermine democratically elected Councils in Rivers State by the Wike Administration, even though in line with his character, will boomerang,” Since Thursday’s dissolution of the council areas, the police had taken over the entrance of the gates. But the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase, on Saturday evening, ordered the withdrawal of police from entrances into secretariats of the 23 local government areas in Rivers State.
Governor Wike, while alerting the people of the state to the action of the police, expressed worries that the law enforcement agency could act contrary to the decision of a court, which nullified the local council poll. However, in a news report monitored on a Port Harcourt-based radio station, on Sunday, the IGP said he directed his officers to take over the council secretariats in the state, oblivious of the court ruling.