AN END MUST BE PUT TO THE GROSS IMPUNITY, POLITICAL SEGREGATION, EXECUTIVE RASCALITY, TRENCHANT DISREGARD FOR THE RULE OF LAW, SUPPRESSION OF THE RIGHTS OF CITIZENS OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AND SUBVERSION OF JUSTICE BY THE GOVERNOR OF RIVERS STATE AND THE PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC PARTY.*
Text of a Press Conference on Monday, January 11, 2021 by Chairmen of 22 Local Government Councils in Rivers State and Appellants at the Court of Appeal challenging the nullification of their election by the Federal High Court on July 9, 2015 and removal from office by Governor Nyesom Wike.*
*Gentlemen of the Press,*
This Press Conference is called to draw the attention of the Government and good people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, patriotic sons and daughters of Rivers State in particular, the Nigeria Police and other security agencies to the grave impunity and suppression of our rights as free citizens of Rivers State by the Governor, his Peoples Democratic Party and the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission. This disrespect for the rule of law and subversion of our rights as set down in the facts below has gone on for far too long and if left unchecked, is capable of provoking responses that could occasion a breakdown of law and order with very dire consequences for public peace in Rivers State. The media is invited to witness the gross violation of our rights under the Constitution of this great nation by a Government and political party that are too intoxicated with transient power to understand that our Constitution provides for multiparty democracy and the choice to belong to the All Progressives Congress or any other political party does not break any law to warrant detrimental consequences.
Conscious of your function as the Fourth Estate of the Realm under the same Constitution, it is our fervent prayer and hope that you will henceforth interrogate these issues and give it the attention and widest publicity possible in a manner that holds Governor Nyesom Wike, his appointees and agencies of the Rivers State Government accountable. We believe that as society’s watchdog, your roles and vigilance will avert the unrelenting predilection to subjugate our rights or those of other Rivers people in furtherance of some narrow, selfish and discriminatory political agenda. This is your obligation and sole duty under Section 22 of the Constitution and we urge you to discharge same fully to foster peace built on justice and the respect for the rights of all citizens in the State, regardless of their political affiliations.
*THE CRUX OF THE MATTER*
1. Gentlemen of the Press, before you this day are Chairmen and Councillors of 22 Local Government Councils in Rivers State who were duly elected by Rivers people in an election conducted in 302 Wards by the *Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission (RSIEC)* on May 23, 2015 in exercise of her powers under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) and in accordance and full compliance with the provisions of the *Rivers State Local Government Law, No. 2 of 2012.* However, election did not hold in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA at the time in question since the tenure of the Council under the leadership of Hon. Austin Ahiamadu was yet to elapse.
2. Contrary to the deliberate falsehoods, innuendo and propaganda dished out by the PDP and idle political opponents to delegitimize our election and mislead the unwary, there was no legal encumbrance to the holding of same. One of such bare-faced lies is that which claims that the Government of Rivers State under The Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi caused an amendment of the Law to shorten the number of days in the *NOTICE OF POLL* published by the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission under Prof. Augustine Ahiauzu to conduct an election to enable the outgoing Governor rail-road us into office. Nothing can be further from the truth! There was no abridgment of time in the *NOTICE OF POLL* for the May 23, 2015 local Government Elections since the Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission Law upon which our election held in 2015 was never amended; the last amended being in 2012 and same was used in the conduct of the 2012 Council polls in ONELGA. Let us place it on record that the only amendment to the electoral laws of Rivers State thereafter was in 2018 via an executive Bill from *Emmanuel Chinwewo Aguma,* the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice appointed by Nyesom Wike.
3. Pursuant to our successful election as aforementioned, we were inaugurated on Monday, May 25, 2015 as Executive Chairmen of our respective Councils by the Governor of Rivers State, at the time The Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON, and in turn administered the official Oaths on our respective Vice Chairmen. We had also inaugurated the Councils in accordance with the law and began the full businesses of Council before a judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on July 9, 2015 at the instance of the suit *Peoples Democratic Party v. Independent National Electoral Commission and 4 Ors (FHC/PH/CS/84/2015)* nullified the election that brought us to office.
4. We respectfully invite you to note that the claim by the Rivers PDP that our election was nullified because RSIEC conducted same on May 23, 2015 in contravention of an Order of the Federal High Court is another strand in a huge tissue of lies. Same is deliberate falsehood mischievously engineered to cast shadows on the legality of our election. We insist that *NO ORDER* was made by Justice Akanbi to stop the Local Government elections of May 23, 2015 when he adjourned hearing of the matter *sine die* on April 29, 2015 upon learned Counsel to RSIEC, B. E. I. Nwafor (SAN), informing the court that an appeal had been lodged at the Court of Appeal to stop it from hearing the matter. Unless the PDP is misleading herself to think that the Ex-parte application the court heard on April 22, 2015 but never granted and directed as follows: *“The Respondents be and are hereby ordered to appear in this Court on Wednesday the 29th of April 2015 to show cause why the order sought (i.e. Prayer 5) shall not be made or granted”* was an Order to stop the elections. The PDP cannot dispute this indelible fact in the records of the Federal High Court in *FHC/PH/CS/84/2015.*
5. The Chancery of the judicial coup against the election of May 23, 2015 and ambush on justice to justify our unlawful removal from office was the law firm of Emmanuel Chinwewo Aguma, Esq. (as he then was). Gentlemen of the Press, a mutiny was hatched by the PDP ab initio to shoot down our election in 2015 and that party, through her lawyer, spared nothing, including blatant falsehoods, to achieve her selfish goals. For the avoidance of doubt, the PDP targeted the election of May 23, 2015, which she decided to boycott, essentially on this prayer that was hinged on the lie about breach of the days of *Notice of Poll* from an amendment to the RSIEC Law:
“AN ORDER restraining the 1st Defendant, its servants, privies or agents from releasing to the 2nd and 3rd Defendants that part of the National Register of Voters containing a register of voters in Rivers State, namely the official register of voters certified by the 1st Defendant, for use by the 2nd and 3rd Defendants to unlawfully conduct Local Government Elections in Rivers State scheduled to hold on or before May 29, 2015 until the 2nd and 3rd Defendants publish the requisite Notice of election to the Plaintiff that is in conformity with section 30 of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.”
6. The point has been made that no such amendment was contemplated to the Electoral laws of the State let alone made in furtherance of the processes leading to that election. No Order from that Prayer was also made restraining INEC howsoever on the question of release of the Voters’ Register. Certain grand falsehoods by the PDP that are now taken for granted were cooked and served from the chancery of the plot to disallow the 2015 Council polls. These must be dealt with to eliminate the perception of Appellants as contemnors who deserve no justice. The PDP have hung on her impunity and these lies to undo us for so long in this case because the facts are swept under the carpet and kept away from media scrutiny.
7. The subsequent filing of a Notice of Withdrawal of the appeal by RSIEC for the Stay of Proceedings at the Federal High Court in *FHC/PH/CS/84/2015* after Wike took over was simply a case of Emmanuel Chinwewo Aguma continuing the execution of his brief as private Counsel to the PDP from the desk of the Attorney-General. Recall that the Federal High Court adjourned *sine die* to wait for the Court of Appeal to resume sitting in October 2015 on the application filed by Counsel to RSIEC. The surreptitious execution of change of Counsel to RSIEC from the person of B. E. I. Nwafor (SAN) days after his appointment was not the law in operation *per se.* A lawyer whose brief has been enlarged by the powers of the Office of the Attorney-General of Rivers State was working for his clients. No wonder once he was appointed, the law offices of E. C. Aguma, Esq., was on the 4th of June, 2015 served a Notice of Withdrawal of the Appeal by RSIEC (2nd Defendant in FHC/PH/CS/84/2015) endorsed by the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice. Armed with the Notice of Withdrawal of the Appeal lodged by the 2nd and 3rd Defendants, the political shenanigans to truncate the cause of justice on this appeal had been effectively commissioned in the hands of the lawyer to the PDP. Come the 5th of June, 2015, Emmanuel Chinwewo Aguma’s law firm wrote to the presiding Judge of the Federal High Court to inform him of the withdrawal of the appeal. This, in effect, cleared the coast for relisting the matter and rendered the return date of October 12, 2015 at the Court of Appeal merely academic.
8. Gentlemen of the Press, coming from the position of Counsel to the PDP who filed the Originating Summons in *FHC/PH/CS/84/2015,* the political appointee of the Governor in the Office of Chief Law Officer of the State was acting SWIFTLY in the interest of the PDP. Aguma was the same Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice who before his unfortunate transition initiated and maintained the judicial siege on our appeal. However, this is a partisan Agenda and the Respondents have returned to their well-choreographed games on this appeal, even in his absence.
9. Regardless of the facts in the preceding paragraphs and the judgment by Justice Akanbi on July 9, 2015 after refusing to hear our application for joinder before him contrary to standard practice in our jurisdiction, we vacated the Councils without incident as responsible and law-abiding Rivers men and women. No Journalist reported any resistance howsoever to the taking over of our offices by Caretaker Chairmen appointed and sworn to office same July 9, 2015 by Governor Wike. You will recall that even officers and men of the Rivers State Command of the Nigeria Police who took positions at the Councils to prevent the resumption of the Chairmen of those unconstitutional Caretaker Committees withdrew to allow them access to the councils on July 10, 2015. Note moreover that even though at the time of our removal, our great party (the APC) was in charge of the reins of power at the level of the Federal Government, we chose the path of constitutionalism as honourable men and women in reaction to our unlawful removal. We never resorted to self-help in seeking redress to the anomalies orchestrated by Wike and his political party.
10. We the civilized path in the circumstance by filing an application in *Hon. Augustine P. Ngo & 22 Ors v. Peoples Democratic Party & 4 Ors (CA/PH/338/2016)* seeking leave to appeal the judgment of the Federal High Court. Once the Court of Appeal granted our prayers on the 20th of June 2016, the Governor of Rivers State and his PDP caused RSIEC under Justice Chukuneye Uriri to file interlocutory appeals at the Supreme Court challenging the decision and for stay proceedings on the substantive appeal. We had, and still have, no objection to the exercise of their rights to ventilate whatever disagreements or grievances they had with the ruling. Our grouse stems from subsequent facts which have betrayed their real intention. The PDP Governor of Rivers State and his agents see the Councils as a bounty and are determined to frustrate the hearing and determination of our appeal as required by law and the Constitution.
11. We may not delve into the merits or otherwise of our appeal save to state salient facts that have occurred across time during the proceedings since same is still pending before the respected learned Justices of the Court of Appeal and was adjourned to February 1st 2021 on the date of the last court sitting on the 19th of October, 2020. However, because the PDP and her agents who plotted our ouster are desperate to proceed with their impunity, subjugate our rights, politicize issues and undermine justice on this appeal, we are under a moral and civic obligation to lay bare the facts constituting hindrances to the determination of this appeal. Nothing makes that duty more sacred and expedient than the decision of the PDP-led Government of Rivers State to hold another Council election this year in utter contempt of and clear disregard for the Judiciary. Ironically, the new RSIEC Board preparing to conduct another Local Government election is chaired by Justice George Omereji who is sufficiently aware of this matter long before taking the baton from his brother and fellow retired Justice of the High Court of Rivers State.
12. Gentlemen of the Press, we invite you to note that the interlocutory applications made at the Supreme Court by RSIEC and the PDP in *Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission & Anor v. Hon. Augustine P. Ngo & 22 Ors (SC.536/2016) and Rivers State Independent Electoral Commission v. Hon. Augustine P. Ngo (SC.910/2017)* respectively to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal on June 20, 2016 and to Stay proceedings were a mere ruse concocted to buy time and waste judicial resources. The journey to the Supreme Court was designed to hold down the Court of Appeal to suffocate justice and no more. Note particularly, that whereas as Respondents before the Supreme Court we were diligent at all material times with our defences, the Appellants/Applicants simply ran down the clock doing no positive thing. The records of the apex court between February 1, 2017; April 5, 2017; May 11, 2017; December 18, 2018 and January 23, 2019 bear eloquent testimony to the slothfulness of the RSIEC and PDP on their own appeal.
13. However, when it became convenient for the PDP to exercise her well documented impunity, she ignored the Judiciary and directed her ward (RSIEC) to conduct the 2018 Council polls which action tampered gravely with the Res after successfully freezing the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal in over two years with a rash of frivolous Motions. Believing that the mission to seal our fate was accomplished, both Appellants/Applicants withdrew their Motions on December 18, 2018 and January 23, 2019 respectively and same were struck out. It should be noted that in dismissing the interlocutory appeals, the Supreme Court awarded cost of One Million Naira (N1,000,000) in favour of each set of Respondents which the Appellants have failed to pay to this day. The three sets of Respondents namely, the 1st to 23rd, 25th and 26th Respondents, are still waiting for the PDP to obey that simple Order.
14. Sadly, the same Respondents in *CA/PH/338/2016* who are calling for another Council election in April in continuation of their grave contempt of the Judiciary (in this case, the Justices of the Court of Appeal) had resumed flexing their political muscles to further stall the determination of our appeal since Chief S. T. Hon (SAN), Counsel to the Appellants, wrote on the 15th of July 2019 to the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division for the relisting of this appeal, Fire outbreaks that affect the Court of Appeal building renovated by Wike in 2017 after our appeal was frozen only on and a few hours to our appeal has become the new fad to truncate proceedings. If that is not the case, senior Counsel to the PDP (1st Respondent) would file Motions or amended briefs and add the DSS, a party that has been expunged from the records of the Honourable Court since on the 6th of November 2017. Meanwhile, Counsel to the Appellants has since the 3rd of December 2019 moved the Motion to regularize our Reply Briefs to the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents Brief of Arguments. Again, five other dates have come and gone on the 22nd of January; 24th February; 24th June; 13th July and October 2020 respectively with the Respondents playing their games and making no recognizable judicial effort towards concluding the appeal. This is happening to the consternation of the Appellants in an era cases involving the APC in Rivers State and arising from intra-party disputes receive and continue to receive jet speed judicial attention and resolution. We have been at this same spot while dozens of cases including but not limited to *Ibrahim Umah and 22 Ors v. All Progressives Congress (BHC/78/2018), Rt. Hon. Igo Aguma v. All Progressives Congress (PHC/4355/2019), Hon. Golden Ngozi Chioma v. Senator (Chief) Andrew Uchendu & Ors (PHC/362/2020)* have been determined.
15. Whereas Counsel to the Appellants had written to the Registrar of the Supreme Court on the 18th of July, 2019 to apply transmission of the Court of Appeal file back to Port Harcourt to re-commence hearing on the appeal, the politically jaundiced Respondents have continued to throw spanners in the wheels of justice. The PDP and RSIEC work in cahoots to subvert the rule of law and legal due process on this appeal with all impunity and recklessness.
16. Gentlemen of the Press, in addition to the extremely provocative plot to deny us the fruits of our electoral and judicial labour by those pretending to be entitled to conduct or contest Local Government elections in Rivers State after bringing ours down, the same theatrics deployed to abort the hearing of our appeal was unleashed for very sinister reasons. For the avoidance of doubt, the stalling of this appeal since 2016 is orchestrated by Governor Wike and his agents to obstruct justice and forever shield the fact that we were removed from office as Council Chairmen only because we belong to a different political party. A Governor and political party whose idea of politics is strange and anachronistic in the main remain a threat to democracy and the rule of law.
17. Out of the abundance of caution, we call on the new political leadership of RSIEC under Justice Omereji to note that they would be held accountable for whatever decisions they have taken or may take in furtherance of holding another Council election before this appeal is disposed of. As a jurist himself, Omereji ought to know and not be reminded that such is deleterious insofar as the decision of the Supreme Court in Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 621 stands. The Supreme Court was emphatic in that decision and particularly at page 636 thus:
“In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the Court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the State, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course… The court expect the utmost respect of the law from the government which rules by the law”.
18. Ironically, the PDP that relied on this same authority in her Petition dated June 26, 2015 to the Chairman of the National Judicial Council in reaction to our Petition where we expressed discomfort with the handling of our interest in FHC/PH/CS/84/2015 is the same party led on our appeal by very senior lawyers like Donald Denwigwe (SAN), the Honourable Attorney-General of Rivers State through Echezona Etiaba (SAN), that is proceeding in a manner suggesting that the Court of Appeal is too inconsequential to warrant waiting for the determination of this appeal.
19. On the phalanx of members of the APC in Rivers State making a declaration of intention to contest for positions at the 2021 Council polls. As you are sufficiently aware, the leadership of our great party (Rivers APC) under the Barr. Isaac Abbot Ogbobula Caretaker Committee has proclaimed the non-participation of the party in the scheduled Council elections. That declaration was made in good faith and in the interest of the party. We stand by it, noting that no sane man can dwell in approbation and reprobation at the same time. Those working in collaboration with the PDP and are exuding Dutch courage thinking they can fly the APC flag at the proposed election whilst the appeal in CA/PH/338/2016 is yet to be determined are not on the same page with the party. Those who intend to do so now but have not given reasons for not running for Council offices in 2018 are on a frolic of their own and never acting in the interest of our party. Consequently, we leave them in the hands of the party leadership to invoke appropriate disciplinary sanctions for this clear anti-party behaviour.
20. Finally, we have laboured very hard to continue on the path of patience with the Judiciary as law-abiding citizens of the Republic. Our faith in the Judiciary (the Courts) as the last hope of the common man remains unshakable because we are pursuing a good cause. We have restrained ourselves, the Vice Chairmen and Councillors behind us and millions of Rivers people who expressed faith through the ballot in our capacity to serve them. We have maintained calmness and encouraged our supporters to also keep faith in the face of grave violations of our rights by fellow citizens since 2015. However, since the mighty and powerful in the Government of Rivers State and her agencies insist on undermining the rule of law, let them be reminded in the words of *Steven Douglas* in a debate with *Abraham Lincoln: “The civilized world has always held that when a race of men have shown themselves to be so degraded by Ignorance, superstitions, cruelty and by Barbarism as to be utterly incapable of governing themselves, they must in the nature of things be governed by others by such laws as are deemed to be applicable to their conditions.”* As Nigerians entitled to rights and protection of same by the institutions of our country, we advise those who are too degraded by their ignorance to know that the power they hold a superstitious belief would remain forever in their hands is transient, to thread with caution. The resort to self-help to suppress our rights such as we have seen on account of political differences is Barbarism and proof that those in authority are incapable of governing us. Lett the nation be put on notice that we would take no responsibility for any backlash that may arise from the continued resort to impunity by the 1st, 3rd and 4th Respondents in particular as touching on the Res of our pending appeal. Before it is too late, let the rule of law prevail over the rule of the thumb and self-help.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Gentlemen of the Press, we thank you for your patience.