Rivers: Implications of court judgment barring APC candidates

The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, State, under the headship of Justice Kolawole Omotosho had on Monday delivered a judgment barring the All Progressives Congress () from fielding Senator Magnus Abe and Prince Tonye Cole as governorship candidates and indeed all other candidates in the upcoming general elections. -Pascal Aigbogun writes on issues arising from the judgment.

The unsettling judgment

The court also declared the direct and indirect primaries conducted by the party as null, void and of no judicial consequence. Justice Kolawole added that both factions of the All Progressive Congress, () “conducted the indirect and direct primaries in utter disregard for the pending suit before Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the State High Court”.

He said that “the judgment that nullified the primaries of the had not yet been set aside by an appellate court, hence that judgment remains valid”. He also instructed the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to delete the names from their ballot papers in the next general elections. In other words, the would have no candidate in all levels of the election except the presidential election.

Mixed reactions

Since the delivery of the very sensitive judgment on Monday, political stakeholders in and out of the State have been talking and weighing their options. As expected, the candidates on the losing end of the judgment would likely pursue the matter to as far as the Supreme Court. However, they would be racing against time in view of the fact the elections itself is less than 40 days away.  Though the gubernatorial election is scheduled for March 2, but if they are to through the necessary legal processes and hurdles it would seem their ambitions may just have ended.

Not so the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) who the judgment seems to inadvertently favour. The ruling party at the state level predictably hailed the decision of the court as an impressive one. In his reaction to the judgment, the All Progressives Party (APC) National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said that the party would make her position on the issue known to all Nigerians very soon.

However, analysts are divided on the likely outcome or implications of the judgment on the 2019 elections in particular and its effects on the future political dynamics of the state in general. On the one hand, the Peoples Democratic Party’s supporters view the judgment as one which improves their candidates’ chances at the polls in March, thereby getting their principal, Governor Nyesom Wike, closer to a second tenure almost on a platter of gold.

The judgment further gives credence to their claims that the opposition in the State is run according to the whims and caprices of the immediate past governor and current Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, who is said to be hell bent on imposing his stooge, Tonye Cole as the party flag bearer. Although he had been in the same boat with Senator Magnus Abe, but Amaechi choose not to sail with the Senator in that regard despite the fact Abe appears to the more popular candidate of the two in the estimation of the party faithful.

One recalls that he had equally allegedly imposed Representative Dakuku Peterside in the 2015 contest against Nyesom Wike who went on to defeat Peterside almost with relative ease.

If the claim that the APC does not command reasonable clout in the state has any amount of truth in it, then the opposition, All Progressives Congress, (APC) has got a huge work to do in the State in terms of covering up the obvious cracks in their party walls as well as mobilizing their fan base towards the next general elections and after wards.

Evidence of lack of internal democracy

Although this judgment can be said to be a direct consequence of the lack of internal democracy within the ranks and leadership of the All Progressive Peoples Party (APC) in State, it actually serves as an ill-wind that blows no one any good.

It reduces the level of quality contest in the gubernatorial race and indirectly robs Rivers people of the chance to get their contestants to engage in real intellectual engagements just weeks before the elections. It is difficult to decipher how all these will end but it also sets a negative political precedence for the future.

High Court ruling

Recall that when a High Court in Port Harcourt on October 10 sacked the Amaechi faction chaired by Ojukaye Flag-Amachree and nullified all the primaries it had conducted, the Magnus Abe faction had beaten its chest and applauded the judgment.  

The expectation of that judgment unfolding in its favour was the overriding motivation for the parallel direct primaries which produced Abe as Rivers APC standard bearer for the 2019 Rivers governorship election against Tonye Cole produced by the Amaechi faction.

Recall that one outstanding comment of the latest judgment was the APC- Amaechi-led faction deliberate dismissal of an initial ruling ordering that the congresses be put on hold pending the determination of a suit in that regard.

But soon after the October 10 ruling and considering its far-reaching implications, the Amaechi camp, which had ignored previous related court orders sought by the Abe camp, acknowledged that, “our legal team is already finalising paperwork to appeal today’s judgment and stay of execution”, its Spokesman Chris Finebone, said.

Also, Finebone believes the Ojukaye-led faction “is further protected by the Perpetual Injunction granted by Abuja High Court 14 presided over by Justice A. O. Musa on September 4, 2018 which granted a Perpetual Injunction restraining the APC and the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole from” removing the Ojukaye committee and actions it has taken since its emergence.  

Abe reacts

On the Supreme Court Judgment which voided the congresses of the APC, he said going against a subsisting court order was clear senselessness.

“I am sure that you have all heard of the historic decision of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which affirmed the position of the High Court of Rivers State that the action of the party excluding members of this party from the process and depriving them of the constitutional right was wrong; and to do so in the face of a clear order of a court of competent jurisdiction is nothing but senselessness.

“And so for anybody to continue to parade themselves either as a candidate of the APC arising from a process that has clearly been voided by the Court is nothing but political rascality of the highest order.

“And I think it is time for right thinking members and leaders of this party to put this whole thing to an end and put the party in a frame to begin our hard-work towards the realization of our dream of taking over Rivers State.

“Luckily the party conducted proper primaries here in Rivers State in the form of the direct primaries. And I believe that the proper thing to do is to do the right thing since the other primary was done in clear violation of an existing order of a Court of Competent Jurisdiction”.

That was then, not anymore.

Now, neither the Amaechi nor the Abe-led factions can be said to have a foot hold on the APC in Rivers State as far as the forthcoming general elections are concern.

On a conclusive note, the interpretation of Monday’s judgment will predictably be largely based on the ideological or political disposition of the interpreter but one thing is clear. It is the fact that all is not well with a state where gubernatorial litigations is on the top burner of discussions instead of  issues that has to do with how the move the state from where she is now to her rightful place in the near future.

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