By Stephen Ubanna
Hopes of the All Progressive Progress, APC, fielding Tonye Cole , a Lagos based businessman , allegedly elected by a faction loyal to Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and minister of transportation on the March 2, 2019, governorship election in Rivers state appear to have been dashed. This s may have left the coast clear for Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers state, who is seeking re-election on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, on the March 2, 2019, election, to be returned to Creek House unchalleged.
This is because the Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the PortHarcourt based High Court barring the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from fielding any APC governorship Candidate in the March 2, 2019 , election. The apex Court had based on its decision on the facts before it in a suit filed by 22 aggrieved party members loyal to Magnus Abe, a former Secretary to the state government and a Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria, who incidentally was one of the party governorship Candidates during the aborted primaries .
The aggrieved party members were not happy with Amaechi, regarded as the godfather of the APC, in the state, for manipulating the election process which produced Cole, as the alleged party Candidate.A party source told Value News that there was tension in Cole and Abe’s Camp as the apex Court on Monday, February 4, 2019, reserved ruling whether on whether the appeal filed by the Amaechi faction of the APC was valid. Recall that the Court had last December adjourned sitting on the case till March 8, for judgment on the former governor’s suit.
Mahmood Yakubu, a professor and Chairman, INEC, may have provided ammunition for Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed , the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to bring the case forward for hearing by setting up a 5-man panel to look into the matter. The panel headed by Mohammed Dattijo, a Justice of the Supreme Court had sat on Friday ,February 8, 2019 to give ruling on the vexed issue.
The assurance given by the minister initially to the party supporters may have encouraged the Opobo-Nkro, APC, Candidate , that there is still hope, of the apex Court looking into their appeal to validate the party list for the general election.
The Appeal Court ruling on the matter in Kano, may have brought false hope to Cole’s Camp as they went about jubilating: ”We are back”. The Cole Camp may have told Wike, the PDP, governor of the state, to be ready to fight out with the party on the ballot box.
The party optimism was based on the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari would use his Executive powers to influence the decision of the Court but were disappointed that he could not do it because of the case hanging on Walter Kanu Onnoghen, the suspended CJN, on allegations of Corruption.
An angry Lanre Issa- Onilu, National Publicity Secretary of the party, who could not hide his feelings over the apex Court judgment may have spoken the mind of Adams Oshiomhole, the party Chairman, when he said, ” it is not the kind of judgment we had looked forward to get based on the facts that we are aware of”, noting that the party’s legal department were looking into it to see” what other means that may be legal to pursue the case”. The party claimed that it did the right thing within the confines of its Constitution to conduct the primaries in the state and therefore should be allowed by INEC, to field Candidate in the March 2, 2019 , governorship election.
In a voice laden with emotions, he said, ”I don’t know why it appears the APC should be the only party that should be subjected to this kind of scrutiny from INEC’. He believes that the electoral umpire was acting out a script to frustrate the party . He has his reason.
According to him, ”it is the same APC that PDP has continued to raise flags as being the party that wants to rig election that are now working in cahoots with the Commission”, noting that ”if there is any party that should not have been allowed to field governorship Candidate in the state by INEC, it should be PDP ”.
Many believe that Amaechi, the minister of Transportation should be blamed for the APC woes in the state for spearheading an indirect party primaries in order to impose Cole, the oil magnate , on the party . The presentation of Prince Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and the party lawyer , at the apex Court speaks volume. Fagbemi had pleaded with the Court to clear the legal impediments against the faction loyal to the minister and allow his list of Candidates which had contained Cole’s name to contest the 2019 general elections.
He was said to have presented a very powerful argument to support his claim but was rejected by the panel which confirmed the May 18, 2018, High Court ruling. The Court ruling may have demystified Amaechi high flying in the society that he is a feather weight before the law. The landmark judgment by the Dattijo panel on the APC Rivers was a warning to politicians who may want to run to the Court to file petition after the Presidential , National Assembly, governorship or the state Assembly elections, that the Judiciary may no longer be taken for granted.
While swearing in the 250 members who would handle petitions arising from the various elections, Mohammed, the acting CJN, was said to have charged them to” abide by the Oath of which they took” , noting that the Oath was a solemn appeal to the Almighty God”. The acting CJN may have sent a clear -cut message to the tribunal members to shun monetary inducements from the politicians to avoid dragging the name of the judiciary back to the mud.
Appealing to the judicial officers to” protect and uphold the integrity of the judicial arm of government”, he urged them to see their” appointment to serve on the election petition tribunals as a call to greater service to the nation”. The politicians have been the one accused of corrupting the Judges over the years.