Witnesses of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, on Wednesday, told the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting Abuja that the April 11 governorship election held in the state was free, fair and devoid of violence.
Governor Wike opened his defence, on Wednesday, after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) closed its case on Tuesday in the petition brought before the tribunal by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, challenging Wike’s election as Rivers State governor on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
At the resumed hearing in the petition, Governor Wike, through his counsel, Okey Wali (SAN), led a total of seven witnesses in evidence, who corroborated the submissions of INEC that told the tribunal earlier that the Rivers State governorship election was peaceful, successful and devoid of any form of violence.
The witnesses, most of whom were retired civil servants who voted during the election, told the three-member panel of the tribunal that election materials arrived at their various polling units in good times and that card readers and voter registers were used for accreditation of voters for the election.
The witnesses, cutting across various local government areas of Rivers State, told the tribunal that the election, as conducted by INEC, was devoid of any form of violence, intimidation and that it (election) was peaceful and no diversion of ballot papers and snatching of ballot papers as alleged by the petitioners.
It will be recalled that INEC, in its efforts to prove to the tribunal that it conducted a free and fair election in Rivers State, called a total of 16 witnesses and said it was satisfied with the weight of the evidence given by the witnesses before the tribunal.
Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), representing the electoral empire, told the three-member panel that INEC does not intend calling more witnesses and as such, applied to close its case.
His application to close INEC’s case was not opposed by counsel to the petitioners and the panel, led by Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, consequently adjourned till Wednesday for Wike to open his defence.
INEC had, on Monday, accused the Nigerian Army of lying on oath before the tribunal, saying that the army authorities, in a bid to discredit the outcome of the governorship election it conducted in Rivers State, sent soldiers that gave false evidence before the tribunal.
It will be recalled that sequel to an application by the petitioners, the tribunal subpoenaed the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General T.Y. Buratai, to produce some of the soldiers that were deployed to the state during the election, appear and testify before the court.
The soldiers, in their separate testimonies, told the tribunal that the election was marred by violence and sporadic gunshots, a situation they said scared voters away.
However, when the matter came up on Monday, INEC, through its lead counsel, produced eight witnesses, who debunked the evidence by the Nigerian Army, saying that the election was peaceful, successful and devoid of any form of violence.
The petitioners (APC and its governorship candidate) have closed their case after they called a total of 58 witnesses that testified that the election was marred by violence and widespread irregularities.
Further hearing of the petition continues before the tribunal.