Tribunal Sacks PDP Senator In Rivers

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The two-time Senator representing Rivers East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator George Thompson Sekibo, of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from Ogu/Bolo Local Government, was today sacked by the Election Petitions Tribunal. It only sat within three weeks of hearing the petition.

The tribunal has therefore ordered INEC to conduct a rerun within 90 days.

The three-member tribunal, headed by Justice Veronica Umeh, and sitting at the Rivers State High Court Complex, Port Harcourt, unanimously nullified the returning senator’s election.

Hearing on the petition commencing on October 4 this year.

The sack of Sekibo followed a petition filed by Mr. Leslie Chizi Michaels-Atata and his political party, the Action Alliance (AA), against their exclusion by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) during the April 9 National Assembly election, in spite of the order of the Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja.

The Federal High Court, Abuja’s order on April 7, was duly served on INEC, directing the electoral commission to include Michaels-Atata’s name and his party’s symbol and logo on the ballot papers, but this was ignored.

Michaels-Atata, while speaking with reporters after the judgment was delivered, said the officials of the electoral commission, who refused to obey the court order, were products of infamous Prof. Maurice Iwu’s INEC and must be sacked by Prof. Attahiru Jega, to serve as a deterrent to others.

The AA senatorial candidate, who hails from Emohua, headquarters of Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers state, said the judgment clearly showed that there is hope for the commonman and that the era of doing things with impunity had ended.

The petition of April 27, 2011, election was filed at the tribunal the following day.

Delivering the judgment, Umeh said: “Ignoring the April 7 order of the Federal High Court by INEC, is an abuse of court process.Nothing can be more devastating than to exclude a candidate, duly nominated by his political party, from an election.

“The petitioner has cause to complain of unlawful exclusion from the April 9 election. The order of the Federal High Court, Abuja was served on INEC on April 8. There is no evidence of appeal. So, the order is yet to be vacated. INEC is under obligation to comply with the order.

“This is a case of barbaric conduct and glaring disrespect of court order. This must be condemned, if we are not to say goodbye to the rule of law. Ignoring orders of courts with ignominy is condemnable.

“The disobedience by INEC, of the order of the Federal High Court, Abuja, gave the petitioners (Michaels-Atata and AA) the locus standi. The wrong must be remedied.

The conduct of the officials of INEC in this matter leaves little to be desired.

“INEC was duty bound to have obeyed the court order and to postpone the election or appeal the judgment and get the order vacated, which the electoral commission did not do. Excluding a candidate is very sensitive and volatile and can lead to a breach of the peace.

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“The petitioner has proved his valid nomination by his party and unlawful exclusion by INEC. The return of the 6th respondent (Sekibo) as the duly-elected candidate for the Rivers East Senatorial district on April 9, 2011 is hereby nullified, in the interest of justice and a rerun election is hereby ordered.

”“INEC is hereby ordered to include in the rerun election, the names, symbol and logo of the petitioners (Michaels-Atata and AA) respectively.”

In his response in court, immediately after the judgment was delivered, the lead counsel to the petitioners, Mr. Lex Legia, described the judgment as a welcome development and a rich addition to Nigeria’s jurisprudence.

Legia said by the judgment, the fearless members of the tribunal had shown that the court is the last hope of the common man, stressing that his clients believe in the court process, without taking the law into their own hands.

Sekibo’s lead counsel, Mr. Tonye Ibisiki, in his response, described the judges’ pronouncements as “particularly thought-provoking,” while urging the tribunal to make the judgment available as soon as possible, in order to advise his client appropriately.

Ibisiki later hinted that the judgment would go on appeal.

The lead counsel to INEC and its officials, Mr. Ferdinand Orbih, SAN, who was represented by Mrs. Sophia Igbanor, declined to comment on the judgment,saying petitioners, in their grounds, stated that they were validly nominated, but unlawfully excluded from the polls.

She described the election as invalid, by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended.

Michaels-Atata and AA also described the election as unlawful, null and void, for being in violation of the order of the FHC, Abuja, made on April 7 and duly served on April 8, and that Sekibo was not duly elected and not duly returned.

On the reliefs sought, the petitioners prayed the tribunal to declare as valid and subsisting, the order of the FHC, Abuja, as at April 9, 2011, when the senatorial election was conducted and that the poll was in violation of the court order.

They also sought a declaration that the petitioners were validly nominated, but unlawfully excluded from the poll and that the election is invalid, null and void, by reason of non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, still in force.

The petitioners further prayed the tribunal to declare that Sekibo was neither duly elected nor returned and the election should be nullified, with by-election or fresh election ordered, while the certificate of return issued by INEC should be either withdrawn or cancelled.

All these prayers were granted by the tribunal.

By Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt

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