On Monday, January 7, 2019, the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt delivered two separate judgements ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to recognise candidates from any of the factions of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State in the forthcoming general elections.
The court presided over by Hon. Justice Kolawole Omotosho also granted a mandatory order on INEC to remove APC candidates from the ballot papers and other electoral materials for the 2019 general elections in the state.
The two judgements followed two separate suits filed by the senator representing Rivers South-East district in the National Assembly, Magnus Ngei Abe and 42 others as well as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Considering the fact that the two judgements came barely four weeks to the general elections, many people are of the view that it may be the end of the road for the APC in Rivers State, which has so far being a formidable opposition to the ruling PDP in the state.
However, the APC, which said the trial court missed the mark in some of its decisions, disclosed that it will appeal the judgments of the Federal High Court.
Publicity Secretary of the Hon. Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led faction of the party, Chris Finebone, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt immediately after the judgments, said: “We have just received excerpts of the judgements delivered by Hon. Justice Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt in two separate suits.
“One was filed by Senator Magnus Abe and 49 others seeking the court to declare them candidates of the APC in 2019 general elections in Rivers State, and another filed by the PDP seeking the court to declare that the APC has no candidates for the election. We strongly feel that the Trial Court missed the mark in some of its decisions.”
On the outcome of one of the suits instituted by Abe, the statement said, with the judgements, the senator and others are now convinced that they were not candidates of the party.
It reads in part: “Firstly, we totally agree with the Court that Senator Magnus Abe and the 48 other members of the party who claimed to have emerged through an alleged direct primary election, were not and therefore could not be declared candidates of the APC in the 2019 general elections in Rivers State.
“This was because the National Body of the APC never authorised or conducted the alleged direct primary as required by its constitution and guidelines neither did INEC monitor same.
“However, we do not agree with the Court that the Davies Ibiamu Ikanya and Peter Odike- led Executive Committee of the Party in Rivers State was still subsisting. The APC has the powers to dissolve its Executive Committee and that power was exercised on 21st of May, 2018.
“The APC having dissolved that Exco, it ceased to exist and could not be resurrected, even if the Court finds, albeit wrongly, that there was no valid Congress to replace the dissolved Exco.
“We know, as it is the law in Nigeria today, that APC as a political party has the absolute powers to schedule, reschedule or even cancel any of its congresses. The party effectively terminated the ward, LGA and State Congresses of 5th, 12th and 19th May 2018 respectively. The APC Primary Election based on the unchallenged results and outcome of subsequent APC Congresses were lawful and valid.
“The PDP brought a suit seeking the court to declare that the candidates of the APC were not validly nominated. The Trial Court agreed with that position and made Order in that regard. With all due respect to the Court, we totally disagree with its reasoning
“As the laws remain today, the issue of nomination of candidates of a political party remains the exclusive right and preserve of that political party, and any dispute arising thereto also remains within that political party and its aggrieved members.
“Under the Electoral Act 2010, a third party (PDP) can only challenge the nomination of the APC candidates as prescribed in Section 31(5) & (6), or challenge the return of APC candidates in accordance with Section 138(1) of the Electoral Act.
“Nothing more imaginary can fit into the contemplation of the Nigerian Electoral laws.
The PDP’s case did not satisfy any of these conditions or circumstances.”
“It is on this note that we strongly believe that APC will get victory in the superior court. We have accordingly instructed our lawyers to review the case and file the appeals immediately, in order not to temper or jeopardize with the already existing legal rights of our candidates before INEC.
“We therefore call on all members of the APC in Rivers State to remain calm, focussed, undaunted and go about their electioneering business with equanimity. We believe that at the end victory will be served.”
Also, the embattled governorship candidate of APC in the state, Pastor Tonye Cole believes that candidates of the party whose names were submitted to INEC were not giving up despite the judgements of the Federal High Court.
Cole, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt Wednesday by the spokesman of Tonye Cole Campaign Organization (TCCO), Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke, said the party will challenge the two judgements in the Court of Appeal.
The statement reads in part: “Today, Monday 7th January, 2019 the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt delivered a ruling in respect of the matter brought before it by Senator Magnus Abe and others.
“The Federal High Court also ruled on Monday on the matter filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which sought a declaration that the APC has no candidates.
“On the matter brought before the Court by Abe and others, our lawyers have briefed us that the direct and indirect primaries conducted by factions of the APC in Rivers State during the pendancy of the matter before Justice Chinwendu Nwogu have been set aside.
“The Court held that until a superior court of competent jurisdiction overturns the decision of Justice Chinwendu of the Rivers State High Court, it would be deemed under the law that the APC has no candidate(s).
“We are already in court challenging the judgment of Justice Chinwendu Nworgu of the Rivers State High Court
“On the matter brought by the PDP, we have learnt that the Federal Hight Court ordered INEC to remove the names of the APC candidates from anything to do with the forthcoming general elections in the State.
“Our position, after consultations with our lawyers, is that we shall challenge the order in an appellate court. Although we were not favoured by the decision, our faith in the country’s judicial system remains unshaken.
“We believe that we have sufficient grounds on which to appeal the decisions of the Federal High Court as well as the ruling of the Rivers State High Court.
“It is clear from the ruling that Abe and his supporters have no locus. It is our hope that they would return and join us. It is by now obvious to all that the fight is between the APC and the PDP. No use can be achieved by their continued appearance in court.
“While we urge our supporters to remain calm, we wish to emphasise that we will not give up in our sincere fight to secure justice on behalf of ourselves and the good people of Rivers State who are solidly in search of a transparent and accountable system that is responsive.
“Driven by our faith in God; strengthened by our believe in the sanctity of the judiciary, we believe that we are still on the right track in looking for remedies through the courts.
“We are acutely aware that those who are busy placing legal hurdles on the way know that the APC in Rivers State is poised to win the 2019 elections.
“What our opponents are doing in partnership with some members of the political wing in the judiciary is to dampen the believe of our teeming supporters in our ability to take them to the promised land.
“We assure Rivers people that we will not be deterred by the desperate efforts that are being made by our opponents to place impediments on our path. Our eyes are set on victory through the ballot box.”
To Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, he suspects that INEC may not obey the two judgements of the Federal High Court,cwhixh ordered it not to recognise candidates from any of the factions of the APC in the state.
Speaking during a function at Government House, Port Harcourt, Wike said: The governor said: “INEC has different interpretations of judgments depending on where it is coming from. When the court nullified the Rivers APC primaries, a lawyer of one of the factions wrote to INEC not to recognise any candidate because of the judgment.
“The 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”.
For Kingsley Wenenda Wali, Convener of Rivers Unity House (RUH), a good governance advocacy group within the APC, he believes that the APC has a good case and will participate in the 2019 general elections at the end of the day.
Wali said: “Legally speaking, we have a just case and we believe the Courts will finally do justice in our favour. Also, Tonye will be on the ballots despite the antics of the governor (Wike) and his cohorts in APC.
“And knowing what the dynamics are, we are optimistic Rivers electorate will vote for Tonye Cole.”
Also, a legal practitioner and chieftain of the APC, Princewill Dike, said the pronouncements of the Federal High Court that the APC does not have candidates in the 2019 elections in Rivers State, did not foreclose appeal.
Dike said: “The courts pronounced that APC Rivers didn’t have candidates for the 2019 general elections. Those pronouncements didn’t foreclose appeal. APC would avail the option of appeals up to the Supreme Court.
“However, it is instructive to note that the only way to remove a candidate whose name has been submitted by his party to INEC is if he withdraws his “candidature by notice in writing signed by him and delivered by himself to the political party that nominated him…”(Section 35 of EA,2010) or if the candidate dies (Section 36 of EA,2010).”
But, another legal practitioner and former Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt Branch, Angus Chukwuka, said no matter how one look at the two judgements, the implication is that the APC does not have candidates for elective offices for the elections in Rivers State.
Chukwuka, who described the judgments as victory for democracy, said it will send a signal to political stalwarts that the days of impunity against the judicial system is over.
He said: “The implication is that APC does not have any candidate for any of the elective offices for the February elections in Rivers State, given that INEC has been ordered not to accept any candidate presented by the APC for elections in Rivers State it follows that any party presented by the party to INEC would be rejected.
“But assuming that candidate is accepted , contests and wins he would be thrown out by the court in post election litigation. The judgment is a victory for democracy.
“It should send a signal to the political stalwarts that the days of impunity against the judicial system is over, at least for now. It is a break from the trend where judgment is for the ruling party or the Money bags.”
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