Public Interest Lawyers League Media Statement
Posted: 30/Jul/2015

Emerging Scenarios in Election Petitions Tribunals: Intimidation, Coercion, and Compromise of Vital Witness in Rivers State Governorship Election Petition

Public interest lawyer’s league has been closely monitoring the proceedings, and related occurrences, of the rivers state governorship election petition tribunal sitting in Abuja, hundreds of kilometers away from portharcourt, the capital of rivers state. While the petitioner and respondents, through their attorneys are slugging it out at the tribunal, there have been certain hideous occurrences, outside of the court room, that portend clear and present danger to the ends of justice in the election dispute.

This month, July 2015 has witnessed a rash of gestapo measures that are unmistakably aimed at not only interfering with the proceedings of the tribunal, but ultimately defeating the ends of justice. We have it on good authority that the department of state services (DSS) has invited from portharcourt to abuja key officials of the independent national electoral commission, which is a respondent to the election petition. The invited INEC officials include the state resident electoral commissioner, dame Gesila Khan; Director of operations, Administrative secretary, and legal adviser. Some of the officials have been detained beyond the constitutional limits, with no charges preferred against them.

While we cannot pretend to teach the security agencies their job, it must trouble all lovers of democracy and due process that it is in middle of the hearing of an election petition that vital witnesses are being intimidated by DSS. The governorship elections were conducted about three months ago, and none of the electoral officers in rivers state were intimidated until now that the petition is being heard. This is a clear case of witness tampering. It is unacceptable. Who knows when the tribunal members may themselves become guests of DSS?

Already, the new administration at the federal level is taking recourse to incipient dictatorship that is reminiscent of draconian military regimes during which the much-dreaded state security (detention of persons) decree No.2 of 1984 was used to deny personal liberties, muzzle the media and invariably occasion the death of some detainees who were held over lengthy periods without trial.
Discerning Nigerians are not fooled by the way and manner the department of state service (also known as state security services) is striking fear into all persons. This the DSS has done by placing under house arrest the immediate past National security adviser, col sambo Dasuki rtd, whose international passport was also seized. There is also the case of Mr gordon obuah, erstwhile chief security officer to immediate past president goodluck jonathan. Obuah was arrested and locked up in solitary confinement in a dungeon at the DSS headquarters in abuja, on the pretest that he was being debriefed. It took spirited cries as to the true state of obuah's well being before the DSS reluctantly released him.

Public interest lawyer’s league believes very strongly that the above incidents are intended to strike fear into and overawe the citizenry, so that the DSS creates the omnipotent impression that if it could arrest and detain some of the closest and powerful aides of the former president, who isn’t hat official that cannot be intimidated?

That in our view is the script being played out by the DSS in inviting for questioning --- and, we dare say, intimidation and coercion--- persons who are vital witnesses in the rivers state governorship election petition.

As lawyers, we are gravely concerned that the DSS has taken the step of inviting, arresting, and detaining key witnesses in the rivers state governorship election petition, even when the tribunal, which has curiously relocated from portharcourt to abuja, has not issued any warrant of arrest of the aforesaid persons and officials
We are aware that one of the parties to the rivers state governorship election petition had been grumbling that officials of the independent national electoral commission in portharcourt was not co-operating with the party's lawyers over the inspection of election materials.

We are also aware that security operatives who covered the governorship elections ab initio are being coerced to alter their original security reports. This is all the more curious, as one of the parties to the petition has made it known that it would rely on security reports in aid of its cause.

Public Interest lawyer’s league has genuine cause for concern, because the instances of targeted intimidation of tribunal witnesses, which instances are listed above, are consistent with a pattern to frustrate the ends of justice.

We note that some governorship election petitions have been struck out, without the respective tribunals going into full trial, having dispensed with pre trial issues. This was the case with the petitions filed by the governorship candidates of the people’s Democratic Party in lagos and imo. Yet, in the particular case of rivers, and akwa ibom, the tribunals have opted to go into the merits of the petitions, the fate of the pretrial matters notwithstanding. It should be noted that in these cases of the tribunals going full blast into trial, the respondents are PDP candidates, who were returned as winners of the elections in rivers and akwa ibom.

Human interest lawyers leagues wishes to state unequivocally that the circumstances under which a person may be denied his/her personal liberites are clearly spelt out in chapter IV of the 1999 constitution (as amended). It is not up to the DSS, or any other body for that matter, to pick and choose which provisions of the constitution they would obey.
A change of government via the ballot box does not in any way amount to a change or suspension of the supreme law of the land, which is the constitution. We should also stress that all other laws, including that establishing DSS, cannot supersede the provisions of the Nigerian constitution.

Public interest lawyer’s league demands that all forms of subtle and not-so-subtle acts of coercion and intimidating of vital witnesses in the rivers state governorship election petition cease forthwith. Those who have usually jubilated upon winning their election petitions praised the rule of law as a critical element underpinning our democracy.
Without the rule of law, there is no democracy. Nigeria Bade farewell long ago to Decree No.2 and the antics of its enforcers. Once again, we reiterate that the ongoing intimidation of witnesses must stop. 

We insist that justice must prevail.
BARR. Abdul Mahmud (President)
Matthew Zibril (Executive Director)