Wike’s lucky charm suffers a cruel blow … as Awara’s hope rises
The order was totally unexpected, at least from the perspective of many in Rivers State used to the notion of Governor Wike's invincibility in judicial matters. But the ruling against the governor which spread like bushfire Friday turned out to be a real blow. It was the first time in many months that Wike who had inspired several court victories would have his back to the wall. The Court of Apeal in its ruling set aside an earlier decision which said Awara had abandoned his petition, and resolved to send the matter back to the tribunal for retrial. The panel of five, unanimous in its decision, said Awara did not err in law when he chose to regularise and separate the suit. Turning to the second appeal raised by Awara, pertaining to the consent judgment and preliminary objections by the respondents, the appeal panel also disagreed with the decision of the tribunal.
The upper court ruled that the tribunal erred in its decision, insisting the ruling of the Supreme Court in Umar and 22 others bore no relationship with the case before it. It was game over for Wike, at least for now, and evidence that another tortuous legal journey is about to begin. “What the Appeal Court has done is to give impetus to the point we were trying to make at the Tribunal that they refused to listen to us", David Adegbe, Awara's lawyer stressed shortly after the ruling.
“What they have said is that for all it is worth that by the Law now, you cannot dismiss any petition. Any petition should be heard fully", the lawyer further explained. In Port Harcourt, as the news spread, the development was greeted by mixed reactions. While some, especially Kula indigenes, their Kalabari brothers and other riverine people hailed the decision, others sympathetic to Governor Wike looked on in unbelief. Among APC members who had toiled to give Awara a berth at Government House, particularly after their candidates were all disqualified, there were quiet chuckles. Sources close to Government House Port Harcourt, expressed deep shock. A well placed source remarked, "We had thought this matter was over and dusted with. I can tell you our people are studying the grounds of the Court of Appeal ruling. I think Wike will definitely appeal the decision."
Until that happens, the election tribunal would be standing by to commence a retrial. Recall that H.A. Bello had stepped into the case, claiming that he had a brief from the AAC to represent the party and its candidate. Surprisingly, rather than deciding the issue of a lawyer's legal brief with the man who had brought the matter, the tribunal sided with the party. Bello's entry into the matter simply put a spanner in the works, forcing Awara to seek redress at the Court of Appeal. The tribunal held that Awara was deemed in law to have abandoned his petition and subsequently struck it out. With the ruling by the Court of Appeal, hope has been rekindled among many Rivers people who believe INEC may have had a hand in frustrating the outcome of the last governorship election.
INEC'S lawyer assured after the ruling that the commission would abide by the decision of the Court of Appeal. There were however no responses from lawyers standing in for Governor Wike, the PDP and the AAC whose efforts to secure victory for their principals crashed like a pack of cards.
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