The Rivers State Police Command has reacted to the arrest of three lawyers and five support staff handling the All Progressives Congress (APC) petition at the election tribunal billed to commence today.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt on Sunday by the Command, through its spokesperson, Grace Iringe-Koko said operatives of the Command received credible intelligence on March 31 at 11:20 p.m. about some lodgers that occupied three rooms in a popular hotel in the state and were seen with packages and printed documents suspected to be INEC documents, which raised suspicion.
Iringe-Koko explained that acting on the information, the police approached the court to obtain a search warrant, which they executed on April 1 at 7 a.m. In the process of the search, they arrested eight people and recovered several documents, laptops, and printers.
She said, “It is important to inform the public of what really happened. On March 31, at about 11.20 a.m., information was received that some lodgers occupying three rooms in a popular hotel were seen carrying packages in and out of the rooms and printing what seemed like INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) documents (including results). A video recording of the activities in one of the rooms was forwarded by the informant to the Police Commissioner.
The PPRO noted that the informant neither disclosed the identity of the lodgers nor who they were working for, adding that it was in the process of profiling the suspects that it was revealed that three of the arrested persons were lawyers.
Recall that the principal of the three lawyers, Tuduru Ede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on Saturday raised the alarm that his colleagues were picked up and taken to Ogbunabali Police Station without reason.
He said three lawyers who were filing the process and five support staff members who were typing the petition for the APC in Rivers State were arrested the previous night. He stated that the police made away with the duplicate copies of Form EC8A and other documents that they were using in filing the petition.
Also, the spokesperson noted that the APC State Chairman, Emeka Beke, and the party’s governorship candidate in the last election, Tonye Cole, showed up at the station to inform the police that lawyers were hired by the party to prepare their papers for filing at the election tribunal.
She equally confirmed that the President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Yakubu Maikyau, and the General Secretary, called the Commissioner of Police, Okon Effiong, had, according to her, assured the association that the lawyers would be released when they had finished making their statements.
She said the lawyers were promptly released on their own recognizance, while the other five were released to a reliable surety.
Consequently, Iringe-Koko said the command has requested the state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC to send his Commissioner for ICT to inspect and identify the documents, assuring that once that is done, the appropriate and professional thing will be done.
“Since the investigating team lacked the technical competence to establish the veracity of the suspected printed fake INEC documents, the state REC was requested to send the Commission’s ICT personnel to inspect and identify the documents.”
Meanwhile, the APC governorship candidate in the last election, Tonye Cole, in a video clip shared on his social media on Saturday night swore never to leave the State Criminal Investigative Department (SCID) until the police released seized documents, which, he claims, were important in filing his petition at the tribunal on Monday.
Beyond the assurance extracted from the Rivers Police Commissioner, NBA has vowed to take legal action against police officers, who arrested the three lawyers.
This was disclosed in a statement by its president, Yakubu Maikyau, on Sunday in Abuja.
The association warned that the use of police to arrest lawyers in the course of their duties to clients is an invitation to anarchy.
He said: “Situations, where the instrumentality of the police is apparently being used to harass and intimidate lawyers, are a direct affront to the rule of law and a threat to our democracy; they are an invitation to anarchy and chaos, as people would rather resort to self-help than approach the civil and constitutional means provided for the resolution of disputes.”