The Rivers State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja, has turned down request to dismiss the petition brought by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Dr. Dakuku Peterside seeking to nullify the election Governor Nyesom Wike of PDP.
In a ruling on Monday , the Justice Muazu Pindiga-led tribunal held that the APC and its governorship candidate in the state, properly convoked a pre-hearing session on their case against Wike and PDP.
The tribunal said it was not persuaded by contention of both the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and Wike that the failure of the petitioners to pay a mandatory N100 fee for the convocation of the pre-hearing session, rendered their substantive petition liable for dismissal.
INEC had through its lawyer Mr. K.O.C. Njemanze, SAN, sought the dismissal of the petition as having been abandoned in consequence of non compliance with the provision of paragraph 18(1) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
INEC’s motion dated July 27, was filed pursuant to section 6(6) (a) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, and paragraphs 18(1) (3) and (47) of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
The electoral body insisted that there was no evidence that the petitioners paid the necessary fees before they applied to the Secretary of the tribunal to issue them Form TF007, which will okay pre-hearing on the petition. Similarly, Wike, through his lawyer Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, relied on the case of Ihedioha vs Okorocha and argued that the failure of the petitioners to properly apply for the pre-hearing session rendered the case before the tribunal liable to be dismissed.
Wike argued that the Imo State Governorship Elections Petition Tribunal had in a ruling it delivered on July 22, held that the failure of Ihedioha to pay the N100 filing fee in respect of an application for pre-hearing was fatal to his petition against Okorocha. The PDP which is the 3rd Respondent in the matter also aligned with INEC and Wike in asking the tribunal to dismiss the petition.
However, in its ruling, the tribunal upheld the argument of counsel to the petitioners, Chief Akinlolu Olujunmi, SAN, who had urged the panel not to allow the respondents to rely on technicalities to defeat the essence of justice in the electoral dispute.
Besides, the panel stressed that the letter the petitioners served on the Secretary to the tribunal on June 23, which requested for the issuance of Form TF007, did not qualify as a filed document as envisaged by paragraph 37 of the Electoral Act.
The tribunal argued in its ruling: “It is clear that there is no imposition of any fee for the kick-starting of a pre-hearing session and the application for issuance of pre-hearing form does not involve any filing fee. “Form TF007 and TF008 are not documents filed as envisaged by paragraph 37 of the First Schedule to the Electoral Act.
“If a pre-hearing session has began as in the instant case, the way it was kick-started? is no longer of any moment whatsoever. We hold that there was no defect in the pre-hearing kick-started by the petitioners. The applications by the Respondents are hereby discountenanced and dismissed,” the tribunal ruled.
By Olisemeka Obeche