APM Candidate Wonne Afronelly Decries Injustice, Unfair Petition Dismissal Over Ballot Logo Omission


Wonne Afronelly, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) candidate for the Ikwerre/Emohua Federal Constituency, has lamented the unjust dismissal of her petition by the election petition tribunal, challenging the omission of her party's logo on the ballot papers during the election held on Saturday, February 25, 2023.

Affidavit of WONNE Afronelly change of counsel
Affidavit of WONNE Afronelly change of counsel

The election petition tribunal case, referenced as EPT/RV/HR/17/2023, was held at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja.

Wonne stated that despite her diligent efforts to seek legal recourse for the blatant electoral irregularities, the tribunal proceeded to nullify her petition. She said the tribunal cited the new electoral law, which removes the non-inclusion of logos from its jurisdiction. She stated also that under the Electoral Act, 2022, a party can be excluded from the ballot, and there will be no cause of action against the exclusion at the election petition tribunal.

According to her, “it is imperative to note that the Electoral Act of 2010 (now repealed) had four grounds for questioning an election. The fourth ground was that the petitioner or its candidate was validly nominated but unlawfully excluded from the election. In the new Electoral Act 2022, the fourth ground of “unlawful exclusion” has been excluded. That simply means, “Unlawful exclusion’’ is no more a ground for questioning an election in Nigeria.”

“The tribunal also declared that only the High Court possesses the authority to oversee such cases, effectively denying my rights to fair and just adjudication. This verdict is not just biased; it is also unjust and a betrayal of the democratic ideals we hold dearly as a nation. We must stand against those who seek to subvert the rule of law for their own gain," she said.

Wonne vehemently maintains that her petition should have been dismissed without subjecting her to the strenuous pre-hearing processes and cross-examinations. This would have been a better option, Since she had notified her lead counsel Bar Ekwu that Unlawful Exclusion of Party Logo is no longer a ground for Election Petition Tribunal.

However, the state party chairman, Mr. Eleazar Okwukwu Didia, and Bar Ekwu insisted that they wanted to handle all party candidate matters. They claimed to have evidence that would disqualify the announced winner in her constituency, FC/324/RV, and believed that it would be best to put all the prayers into one petition to the tribunal.

Nevertheless, this turned out to be a costly decision, as she was required to pay a one million security cost for the case, which she would not have had to pay if she had taken up the case herself within the allotted timeframe.

Despite her initial fears, the tribunal's decision to strike out the defendants' pre-election challenge and to allow the case to be heard helped to reassure her.

In a stunning revelation, Wonne disclosed that her lawyer had earlier withdrawn the case without her consent, purportedly after receiving monetary inducements from the Rivers State People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and their legal counsel. She stated that her new legal representation returned the case to the tribunal, thereby uncovering the egregious manipulation before the tribunal dismissed the case.

With Confidence Lere in Abuja
Wonne Afronelly with Confidence Lere in Abuja

Afronelly posing with Umar Abbakar in Abuja June, 2023.
Wonne Afronelly posing with Umar Abbakar in Abuja June, 2023.

“I need to state clearly that my previous counsel, Bar. Innocent Umeoha Ekwu, Bar. Kere, Confidence Kere and others handling the case had reached out to me to negotiate a settlement with my opponent, but I outrightly refused and instructed otherwise (that I would prefer to get to the end of the process until judgment) via a text message. But to my greatest surprise, a few days later, I received a call from the Tribunal. I was informed that my former counsel had filed an application for the withdrawal of my petition, EPT/RV/HR/17/2023.

Motion for withdrawal signed by Confidence Lere for Ekwu and Co Law Firm
Motion for withdrawal signed by Confidence Lere for Ekwu and Co Law Firm

“I was also served a copy of the affidavit in support of my withdrawal, signed by a supposed clerk of Barr. Ekwu and Co. Law Firm. This affidavit was all lies, as no clerk had contacted me prior to when Barr. Ekwu himself called me and sent messages requesting my account number to make a transfer of a certain sum of millions of naira as agreed during his purported negotiation with my opponent.

Affidavit of Clerk of Ekwu and Co Law Firm in support of withdrawal
Affidavit of Clerk of Ekwu and Co Law Firm in support of withdrawal

With Innocent Ekwu in Abuja
Wonne Afronelly with Innocent Ekwu in Abuja

“I was fortunate to find a willing firm, Velma Solicitors, who fought the tribunal relentlessly to insist that my petition can only be withdrawn with my outright consent and not otherwise, and since we had filed a counter affidavit within the time allowed, the case must be allowed to continue as I preferred.

“The head of Panel 4 handling my case reluctantly accepted the argument of Bar Ashaolu David Abiola of VELMA Solicitors and later gave the unfavorable judgment with a huge lacuna, referring us back to the Federal High Court even when they knew that process was already statute barred!.

“This is, of course, in addition to the stress I had to go through sourcing funds to pay a security cost of one million naira before my petition could be accepted by the tribunal.

“Most importantly, I am very grateful for the experience I got during the period, especially meeting unique personalities like the secretary to the tribunal, Mr. Umar Abbakar, Mr. Wale Adegbei, and other members of the Rivers State Election Petition Tribunal. God bless everyone who encouraged me during these times.

“It is my prayer that young people in Nigeria continue to strive for excellence, fairness, and justice, as injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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