· Lawyers released, documents allegedly still with the Rivers police command
· APC fears documents have been compromised
By Ignatius Chukwu
The lawyers and administrative staff members working in a hotel in Port Harcourt to file petitions for aggrieved losers in the last elections in Rivers State who were arrested Friday evening may have been released the next day, but the documents they assembled to aid their filing on Monday are said to still be in detention.
The leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State thus wants 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 broke Saturday morning that the lawyers and some members of the APC working on the petition the party intended to file at Election Petition Tribunal on the March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections in Rivers state were arrested by the police in Port Harcourt.
The lawyers were said to be putting together the petition with the support of the APC members 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.
Newsmen were unable to ascertain the reason for their arrest.
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 EC8 m, 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 efforts to get response from the Rivers State police commissioner, Okon Effiong, have not fetched any fruits, but newsmen have asked to know what electoral law the lawyers breached and whether by seizing the documents gathered for the filing, is the police working for the winners whose victories are 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.
No response had emerged from the police as at the time of filing this report.