By Egufe Yafugborhi
Since April 2018 when the battle shifted from mere media quarrel to the courts, judgements in the legal tussle between Rivers state All Progressives Congress, APC, faction loyal to Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and that led by Sen Magnus Abe had often been delivered in some ambiguity.
Such development had allowed conflicting interpretations of the court pronouncements as it suits each party. However when Justice Kolawole Omotosho of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ruled on two of the multiple cases over the internal party crisis in Rivers, the judge gave no room for ambiguity.
In his judgement, Omotosho ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to remove all candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Rivers from the 2019 general elections.
The judge issued the Mandatory Injunction to INEC following a suit by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, praying the court not to recognize any candidate of the APC in the state, just as he ordered APC not to recognise, sponsor, nominate candidates or canvas for vote for any position in Rivers in respect of the coming general elections.
The judge, who relied on earlier ruling and orders of Justice Chiwendu Nworgu of the Rivers State High Court, maintained that the APC acted in disobedience of court orders and therefore cannot benefit from same.
He cleared the argument as to whether another political party has the legal right to interfere into another party’s internal affairs as he held that the newly expanded locus as amended in Electoral Act allows one political party to challenge affairs of another, if it senses error or illegality.
Same court, same day refused, in separate rulings, to grant the application by parallel governorship flag-bearer, Sen Magnus Abe and 43 candidates of Peter Odike led faction of Rivers APC seeking to be declared authentic candidates in the state.
The plaintiffs, the judge ruled, could not prove that the direct primaries in which they emerged candidates were monitored and supervised by the National Executive Council of APC, adding that they did not participate in valid primaries, so they cannot be considered.
He then issued a restraining order asking INEC not to recognise the candidates of the APC in the state for the 2019 general elections until the ruling of the court is set aside by a higher court of competent jurisdiction.
APC factions lick wounds, pass blame
The governorship candidate recognised by the national body of the APC Tonye Cole, blamed Abe and his allies for the current quagmire the party has found itself, just as they also fingered the PDP for meddling in the affairs of the APC. Abe, in turn, blamed “those who brought Cole in to be candidate through an illegal process”
Cole, responding through Ogbonna Nwuke, Spokesman of the Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation, said, “On the matter before the Court by Abe and 43 others, it is clear from the ruling that Abe and his supporters have no locus. It is now obvious that the fight is between the APC and the PDP.
We will not give up in our sincere fight to secure justice on behalf of ourselves and the people of Rivers who are solidly in search of a transparent and accountable system that is responsive.”
For Abe, the party would not have been caught in this confusion if the national body had listened to the cries of aggrieved voice, and not “flowed with the illegality that was being perpetrated in the state” when the issue of exclusion was taken to court beginning with the congresses which produced the currently sacked Ojukaye Flag Amachree led state executives.
He said, “I didn’t create the problems Cole has. His problem was created by those who brought him. We went to court because clearly from the onset what the other faction was doing was putting them in direct confrontation with the Nigerian judicial system.
“Because of the powerful interest of some individuals the party at the last minute decided to ignore that reality and flowed with the illegality being perpetrated in the state.
“What they are just doing now is to punish all members of the APC in Rivers because they feel people acted against the powers that be, but these were innocent members of the party who were simply fighting their right to participate in a process guaranteed by the party.
“At any point in time that right could have been respected. Even when the court made that order initially, it was trying to tell the party to resolve that issue of exclusion, but people went on national television to say those orders must not be obeyed. That is what they are still doing till now.”
Meanwhile, the national body of the party has said, just like INEC, that it was studying the latest judgement and would come up with a stand at the end of the day, but many are wondering how much time the party has to wriggle out of this mess towards the fast approaching elections.
Onyekachi Ubani, one time 2nd Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, noted that for such a time sensitive case, unless the divided Rivers APC house resolves the differences and revert to the court with a clear candidate, the party stands to lose out on the 2019 elections.
“The court said both gubernatorial candidates were products of illegitimacy, produced when there were pending matters in court. The party further came to the court and now opened up all the allegations and said everything about us is illegitimate. And this actually was what the court hung on to make the pronouncements.”
Saturday Vanguard also learnt that should the party fail to resolve the differences and goes into the elections disqualified, both factions have also decided to execute their Plan B. According to an APC chieftain on Amaechi’s faction, “it is obvious that Abe is working to support Wike. He wants to scatter the APC, but even Wike won’t make Abe governor. Everybody knows.”
Another APC chieftain loyal to Sen Abe said, “We understand Amaechi’s Plan B is to shift attention to Dumo Lulu Briggs under Accord Party and use federal might to muscle Dumo in as governor should he fail to vacate the court’s disqualification of Cole. We are watching. We will see how that will fly.”
Incidentally Dumo Lulu Briggs who defected from the APC to pick the Accord Party’s guber ticket after Amaechi anointed Cole ahead of the contentious APC primaries is now also facing a challenge by another claimant to Accord Party guber ticket seeking to disqualify Dumo.
Why won’t we (PDP) meddle -Wike
Many people have described the vested interest of incumbent governor Wike and the Rivers PDP in the APC crisis as petty meddlesomeness but Wike maintained that the PDP has every right to meddle.
He said, “We are an interested party. We went to court merely for interpretation of relevant sections of the Electoral Act, whether APC is entitled to nominate candidates without having valid lawful primaries. I have never spoken with Magnus Abe. The last time I met with him was when the President commissioned the airport. Am I the one who told the Minister of Transportation to deny his members access to forms to contest ward congresses? I have no business with Abe”
“The issues have gone beyond the internal affairs of the APC. We are not talking about candidates of APC, but compliance with the law. APC has not complied with the law. Can they still participate in the election? A political party can challenge INEC on compliance with the provisions of the law.
“INEC now has different interpretations of judgments depending on where it is coming from. When court nullified Rivers APC primaries, a lawyer of one of the factions wrote INEC not to recognize any candidate because of the judgment.
“INEC wrote to APC notifying them of outcome of that judgment. INEC merely said they were in receipt of the letter requesting that INEC should obey. In the case of PDP, INEC wrote to PDP in Ogun State, where Buruji dragged the party to court, telling them they will comply.
“When there is a judgment against PDP, there is immediate enforcement. When it concerns APC, INEC says they are studying the judgment. In the case of Ogun State PDP, INEC quickly obeyed the judgment”.
“All of us know that APC does not want elections in Rivers State. They want to bring security to overrun the state like Ekiti. But we will resist them.”
Onyekachi Ubani, one time 2nd Vice President, Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, however said, “I don’t see what PDP is doing in the matter. If a party is having internal crisis and you see another party coming in to interfere, it would be looked as an interloper and would even be accused of fueling the crisis.
According to Onyekachi Ubani, “If the party (APC) had been proactive, the crisis would have been resolved internally outside the courts. They allowed it to fester. So if they now agree amongst themselves without anyone challenging, without anyone quoting the law, of course INEC would be bound to listen to the political party. The easiest way out again is that they can appeal and have the appeal court refer this matter to the Supreme Court to conclude this matter expeditiously to have this matter determined before the elections.
“But we must understand that it is the party that actually submits the candidates name. INEC is waiting, if there is no crisis in the party, they will adopt anybody whose name has been submitted by the party.
“But as long as a party goes to court, INEC would wait for the final decision. Even as it is now, INEC may not remove anyone that is there till Supreme Court finally makes a pronouncement because somebody’s name is already there.
Abe, Cole not shifting grounds
Amidst all the sentiments, cautions and appeals to both parties to resolve the matter amicably through alternative dispute resolution, neither Abe nor Cole has agreed to shift ground, with each party vowing to let the court have the final say.
candidates who came from this primary (indirect) are the right candidates, but I believe it would be resolved. Magnus Abe should just come and stand with me, and together we will beat Wike to this race”
While Abe has not advanced any new ground in support of his application that was rejected by the High Court to declared the party’s candidate, Cole still has the yet unresolved issue of representation when the matter at the Rivers state High Court was first decided by Justice Worgu.
Achinike Wobodo, lawyer and member of the Ameachi’s faction, explainined that “Umar and 18 others went to court to say we want to be elected party officials and we have not been allowed the opportunity to be elected.
“When the matter was filed, the Plaintiff served the processes on a Legal Adviser of the party who had long been suspended. That person never brought it to the attention of anybody. The matter was already ripe for hearing by the time the party became aware.
The party (APC) quickly sent a lawyer who went to court to represent the APC. The court did not resolve the issue of representation when it came up and said you are not before us. If at the end of the day after the matter has gone to Supreme Court, it concludes that the federal high court was not wrong that APC had no candidate, even if APC wins the election, those votes would be declared void.
“Supreme Court has held that in a couple of cases. We (Cole and candidates under his faction) will run the election believing that we have not been removed but bearing in mind that we have a serious challenge to tackle”, Nwobodo argued