The Rivers State governorship election held on April 11, 2015 was a sham and mockery of democracy, the Independent National Electoral Commission told the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja on Friday.
The commission said the poll was marred with violence and all kinds of malpractices.
INEC is the first respondent to the petition filed by the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
Other respondents are Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party, whose declaration as the winner of the poll, is being challenged by the petitioners.
INEC’s representative, Charles Okoye, who heads the Election and Party Monitoring Department of the commission in Rivers State, appeared before the Justice Mohammed Ambrosa-led tribunal on Friday on subpoena, testifying that the election was conducted in an atmosphere of warfare and “militant terrorism.”
The witness, who said he monitored the April 11 election alongside three national commissioners, also told the tribunal that the poll was characterised by large scale violence.
Okoye, who was led in evidence by the petitioners’ lawyer, Chief Akin Olujinmi, said apart from sending various teams to 19 local government areas of the state, he, along with three national commissioners of the commission, visited eight local government areas on the day of the election.
The report of the monitoring exercise, which Okoye said was co-signed by him and the three other national commissioners, was tendered and admitted by the tribunal as Exhibit A2.
The counsel for the respondents comprising INEC, Wike and PDP, said they would object to the report at the stage of final addresses because it was not front-loaded with the petition.
Okoye debunked allegation by INEC’s lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, during cross-examination that the report of the monitoring exercise was his private document.
When challenged by the INEC lawyer that he did not witness any scenario where snatching of electoral materials took place, the witness said, “In Khana, seven officers returned to the INEC office to report that their electoral materials had been hijacked.”
During cross-examination by PDP’s lawyer, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe, the witness alleged that the security officers deployed for election duties were compromised because “militants seized a number of local government areas and the security officers moved away without confronting them.”
The witness also debunked the allegation by Ukala that he by-passed the state Resident Electoral Commission to submit his report to the national office of INEC because it was cooked up.
Meanwhile, five army officers had appeared before the tribunal on the strength of a subpoena on the Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, had attested to the fact that there was widespread snatching of electoral materials in the five local governments they patrolled.
Okoye, with two operatives of the Department of State Services, who also testified that election did not hold in parts of the state which they patrolled on April 11, brought to 42 the number of witnesses so far called by the petitioners to prove their case.
Before Okoye went deeply into his testimony on Friday, INEC’s lawyer, Ikpeazu led the lawyers to the two other respondents –Ukala (for Wike) and Adedipe (for PDP) – to oppose the witness giving oral evidence.
Ikpeazu, whose opposition was dismissed by the tribunal, had argued that he was not aware that the witness was coming to testify and that an electoral officer or any officer of the commission was duty bound to defend an election petition.
The lawyer said in any situation where there was reason for the officer not to defend, then the officer shall seek a written consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
But the tribunal dismissed Ikpeazu’s objection.