·NBA president condemns arrest of lawyers working on APC filing, vows pursuit of sanctions against erring police officers
By Ignatius Chukwu
The architect and entrepreneur of global repute seems to have had it up to his chins in Rivers State type of politics. He suffered mass disqualification in 2019 from contesting and now that he managed to contest, he seems to face many landmines along the way.
The defeated governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, Tonye Cole, has vowed to remain in the state’s police headquarters until the confiscated files and petition materials assembled by his team of lawyers are released.
This is as the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has fired a scathing condemnation of the action of the Rivers State police command led by Okon Effiong for arresting lawyers working for the APC.
Cole who spoke to newsmen from the police headquarters Sunday morning said he would not go anywhere until the police freed the materials as they have managed to free the three lawyers and five secretariat workers arrested by the police Saturday, April 1, 2023.
The lawyers and administrative staff members working in a hotel in Port Harcourt to file petitions for aggrieved APC losers in the last elections in Rivers State were arrested Saturday morning but were only freed on the intervention of the Inspector General of Police. The documents they assembled to aid their filing on Monday are said to still be in detention.
The leadership of the APC in Rivers State also demanded to know what offence the party committed by lodging their lawyers in a hotel in the state capital preparing to file petitions against the outcome of the 2023 elections. News of the arrest shattered the oil region.
The lawyers were said to be putting together the petition with the support of the APC members and workers when they were arrested by the Police at a hotel near the state secretariat of the party at the GRA 1 in PH where they lodged.
The arrested lawyers who were practising in the Chambers of Tuduru Ede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) based in Rivers State, were identified as Jerry Aondo, Sobere Nelson PhD, and Odum Eyiba.
The SAN had confirmed the arrest of the lawyers to a radio station in Port Harcourt. The state publicity secretary of the APC, Darlington Nwauju, also confirmed this to newsmen.
It was gathered that the lawyers and other arrested APC members were first taken to the highly sophisticated but newly opened Police Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, Ogbunabali, Port Harcourt, after they were arrested.
They were later transferred to State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID).
It was learnt that items critical for the petitions they were preparing, including laptops, agents’ copies of form EC8M, Certified True Copies, CTC of INEC documents were also seized by the police operatives.
Nwauju said the party first received intelligence very late the previous night of a plot to arrest APC House of Assembly candidates who were bent on challenging the declaration of PDP candidates as winners of the March 18th INEC supervised coronation in Rivers State.
“We issued a statement immediately to alert the public. Later at dawn, another information now came confirming that there was an unnecessary and illegal operation carried out against the APC’s team of lawyers who were collating the declared results (form EC8A) at a hotel few metres away from our state secretariat. All five support-staff and three lawyers were arrested and taken to the C4i Intelligence Surveillance Unit and later transferred to the SCID, together with laptops used for the typing and processing of documents for the Elections Petitions Tribunal (EPT).”
He raised questions: “What we have been asking as a party is; what law has been breached by the assemblage of lawyers to file an election petition? Since when has it become crime to query the process that led to the return of any candidate in an election?
“What law was broken by lodging lawyers some of who are not based in PH in a hotel accommodation? Now, as at 8pm this evening, those arrested have been released but our documents which are at the heart of the arrest in the first place, are still in the hands of the Police. We fear those documents are compromised between last night and today. This is our story.”
All initial efforts to get response from the Rivers State police commissioner, Okon Effiong, failed, but the police later Saturday night said they received intelligence that the men were printing INEC fake results. Effiong said they had taken the documents to INEC ICT experts to identify but did not say the outcome of that effort.
APC raised alarm, wondering why the materials that would indict the INEC and other parties were being handed over to the same INEC to stay with.
They have asked to know what electoral law the lawyers breached and whether by seizing the documents gathered for the filing, if the police was working for the winners whose victories were to be challenged at the tribunal?
Newsmen also wanted to clear with the Rivers police command if the documents gathered for filing were safe in the custody of the police or if the police intended to help the APC to file the petitions.
Meanwhile, the NBA has screamed over the arrest of its members doing their job.
The president, Yakubu Chonoko Maikyau, said the news hit them hard. He described the development as unfortunate and disturbing.
The association thus strongly condemned what it called the unwarranted arrest and detention of its members and rejected a situation where the instrumentality of the police is apparently being used to harass and intimidate lawyers is a direct afront to the rule of law and democracy.
Maikyau said: “I reached out to the IG and the Rivers CP and they have assured that they would release them. We will ensure that any person including police officers found complicit in the events leading to the arrest are sanctioned.”