TOPE FAYEHUN writes on the continued crisis rocking the Ondo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), particularly, in the wake of the recent pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the outcome of the September 3, 2016 governorship primary election of the party, which threw up Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and which is being contested by Segun Abraham
The dust raised by the outcome of the September 3, 2016 governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, is yet to settle, as an appeal filed by the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, against the order of the Federal High Court, Abuja which granted permission to Segun Abraham, an aspirant in the primary election, to serve the court processes on the governor through substituted means, was dismissed.
Abraham, first runner-up in the September 2016, governorship primary of the party, had approached a Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge the election of Governor Akeredolu as the candidate of the APC in the last governorship election.
Prior to the judgement, the leadership of the party, including Akeredolu, had been pretending that all was well with the party, when Akeredolu said that the presence of the “peace maker,” apparently referring to the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was not needed in the state.
The governor had said during a media chat in Akure, as part of activities to mark his first year in office, that “there is stability in Ondo State, we don’t have problems. Some people may claim there is problem in the APC in Ondo State. But there is no problem. I am sure that the peacemaker, Bola Tinubu, will have no reason to come here, because we are at peace with ourselves. We have a party. We have a chairman and the party is being run very well. We welcome people.
“The party is growing and it is growing in a manner that all of us are happy about it that we have a solid party on ground. So, when there is no problem, you don’t need a peace maker so that he will not come and create problem. We don’t need the peace maker. We are saying that we are at peace with one another. Let us run the party the way we have been running it.”
But the recent development has renewed hostility between the two factions of the party in the state.
Abraham, who had earlier congratulated Akeredolu after he was declared the winner of the primary with a promise to support his governorship bid, later made a U-turn, alleging some discrepancies in the process of the exercise and consequently filed a petition before the Election Appeal Committee, calling for the outright cancellation of the election.
In upholding Akeredolu’s election, the National Working Committee (NWC) struck out the report of the Appeal Committee, which had earlier recommended the cancellation of the September 3, 2016 primary election.
The party’s apex decision making organ averred that the Appeal Committee’s report was prejudicial and largely perfunctory, as its decision was based on unsubstantiated allegations and spurious claims of electoral manipulations.
And Abraham, not satisfied with the NWC’s decision, approached a Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge the election of Akeredolu as the candidate of the APC in the November 26, 2016 governorship election in the state.
In his pre-election suit, the litigant, Abraham, prayed the court to sack Akeredolu on the ground that he was not validly nominated to participate in the poll.
Abraham insisted that the primary election which produced Akeredolu as the APC flag bearer was fraught with irregularities as affirmed by an investigative committee of the party, which also recommended a repeat of the exercise.
The Federal High Court gave an order that granted Abraham permission to serve court processes on Akeredolu through substituted means, a decision affirmed by the Appeal Court, when Akeredolu appealed the decision of the lower court.
Not satisfied with the decision of the Appeal Court, Akeredolu approached the Supreme Court to challenge the order granted by the two lower courts. He prayed the apex court to set-aside the July 2017 judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
But the apex court, in a unanimous judgment by a five-man panel of justices, on the appeal marked: SC/698?2017, held that Akeredolu’s contention that the suit ought to have been served on him personally, lacked merit.
Justice John Okoro, in the lead judgment, but read by Justice Ejembi Eko, upheld the earlier decision of the Court of Appeal and awarded N500,000 cost against Akeredolu, in favour of Abraham.
Reactions from both camps
As the news of the Supreme Court ruling gets to the state, a group within the party, Abraham Support Group (ASG) asked Akeredolu to toe the path of nobility and resign honourably before he is disgraced out of office.
The group, which rolled out the drums to celebrate the verdict, alleged marginalisation due to the posture of the “winner takes all” of the governor and his group, and described the Supreme Court verdict as a “victory for democracy.”
A statement issued and signed by Mr. Kunle Eko Davies, the Director-General of the ASG, stated, “The Olusegun Abraham Campaign Organisation receives the Supreme Court judgement of March 23, 2018 with utmost respect for judiciary in Nigeria.
“The judgement, which is celebrated all over the world is a victory for democracy. We urge the people of Ondo State to remain calm, collected and continue to hope in God through the judiciary for the expected judgment in the case between Dr. Olusegun Abraham and Rotimi Akeredolu to determine the authentic flag bearer of the APC in the 2017 Ondo governorship election.
“We also want to correct the falsehood being peddled by the Akeredolu organisation that there is no case in the matter. The judgement by the Supreme Court showed that we have a good case and the frivolous attitude of Mr. Akeredolu and his cohorts will no longer be tolerated.
“Mr Akeredolu should toe the line of the noble and resign honourably before he is disgraced out of office. The perpetrated fraud that attended the party governorship primary is open and fresh in the memory of all and sundry.
“Once again, we felicitate with the good people of Ondo State and lovers of truth all over the world in an assured victory through the court.”
But in a swift reaction, Segun Ajiboye, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, described the judgment as a non-issue.
Ajiboye said, “The Ondo State governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has assured the people of the state that there is no cause for alarm over the Supreme Court ruling, which dismissed the appeal filed by him.
“He describes the ruling as a non-issue. The governor asks the peace-loving people to dismiss the ruling, adding that it is nothing to worry about and advised them to continue to support his administration in its determination to develop the state.
“What the Supreme Court ruled on was whether the service of the originating process on the APC secretariat in Abuja, instead of Governor Akeredolu, was right or not.
“At best, the ruling only succeeded in correcting Abraham to serve Akeredolu through substituted means in relation to the suit he (Abraham) filed.
“Governor Akeredolu, therefore, wants to state equivocally that there is no cause for alarm over the ruling delivered by the Supreme Court.”
Also, the state chapter of the APC, through its Director, Media and Publicity, Steve Otaloro, countered the group’s claim, saying Akeredolu remained Ondo governor.
According to Otaloro, the group, which he described as “political almajiris and confusionists,” misinterpreted the apex court’s verdict as “outright removal of Arakunrin Akeredolu from office and to be replaced with the applicant, Abraham.
He said, “We have read the verdict of the Supreme Court to allow the commencement of the hearing of a case filed by one of the aspirants who participated in the 2016 APC governorship primary in Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, on the outcome of the primary in the court of law.
“It’s unfortunate that this group of people decided to confuse members of our party and the good people of Ondo State that the ruling was in favour of their leader. Without prejudice to the judgement handed down by the Supreme Court, every member of the APC is convinced that the primary was free, fair and transparent.
“It is established that the authentic party register was used at the primary, which was adjudged free, fair and acceptable by the party which would still form the basis for the application of the plaintiff.
“However, we want to urge all members of our party and the good people of Ondo State to remain calm and refused to be confused on the court verdict, which is a mere permission to begin the hearing of the case itself.
“It is pertinent to let our members and people of Ondo State know that the governor is unperturbed, being a legal luminary who understands that the Supreme Court verdict only permits him to open up his defence and put the record straight.
“The veracity of the matter is largely on his (Akeredolu) side, considering the avalanche of evidence in his (Akeredolu) favour. Arakunrin Akeredolu’s character, popularity and conviction on the fair conduct of the primary prompted other contestants in the primary to congratulate him when he was declared winner.
“It is also clear that the apex court’s verdict is a sheer approval to commence hearing of a case that has not begun.
“Nevertheless, Abraham is currently alone on this legal journey as all other contestants in the primary have been working towards strengthening the party, while the national leadership of the party as well as our national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, are already working with Arakunrin Akeredolu and Ondo State chapter of our party for successful implementation of all his people-oriented programmes.
“Considering the current unity among members of the party, Abraham is standing alone in his illusion, trying to whip up a dead horse.”
However, watchers claim it is alleged that Akeredolu still holds grudge against those who preferred Abraham to his candidature during the last primaries and seems not ready to forgive them.
With the recent happenings, careful observers have noted that there are big egos to contain and big wars brewing among contending party leaders across the state.
The intervention of the National Reconciliation Committee headed by Asiwaju Tinubu, according to political watchers, is highly needed in the state.
If not, recent development and many others, are some of the signals that the ruling party is toeing the same destructive path that led to the downfall of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state; and one can safely say that the battle has just begun as the gladiators have returned to the trenches to outdo each other.