A group of legal practitioners operating under the aegis of Public Interest Lawyers League, PILL, has condemned what it described as the intimidation, coercion and compromise of witnesses involved in the Rivers State Governorship Election tribunal.
In a press statement issued in Abuja and signed by Barristers Abdul Mahmud and Matthew Zibril, President and Executive Director, respectively, they said the tribunal has lately witnessed “a rash of gestapo measures that are unmistakably aimed at not only interfering with the proceedings of the Tribunal.”
They said they have been closely monitoring the proceedings and related occurrences, of the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja and noted 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 Port Harcourt 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 Services (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 pretext 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 Lawyers 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 is that 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 was curiously relocated from Port Harcourt 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 (INEC) in Port Harcourt 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.

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