Factional leaders of the troubled All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, are currently pulling their political triggers at each other following the latest judgment of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the status of the party on the forthcoming general elections.
APC has been suffering from a severe internal bleeding since the outcome of her parallel congresses in the big oil and gas state in Southern Nigeria. The congresses produced two gubernatorial candidates, Senator Magnus Abe and Pastor Tonye Cole.
The factional leaders are locked in a supremacy contest as the court ruling was silent on which of the congresses is to be recognised as authentic and legal.
INEC seems to be in a dilemma as to which camp to recognise as the gubernatorial flag bearer of APC: Abe or Cole. The electoral body had the previous Wednesday published the final list of candidates for the elections with neither of the contending forces.
But in a seeming dramatic turn on Monday, the court ordered INEC to stay execution on its decision that Rivers APC candidates will not be part of the general elections. The court’s decision has attracted divergent reactions from the various interest groups within the party in the state.
Senator Abe, an Ogoni who is locked in an energy-sapping political battle with Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, observed that the ruling of the Court of Appeal granting stay of execution to enable the APC appear on the ballot box in Rivers did not restore the name of anyone but merely gave a stay to enable the party prepare for the forthcoming general elections.
Abe who spoke through his media aide, Parry Saroh Benson, claimed that the court did not order INEC to restore names of candidates for the 2019 Governorship, state House of Assembly and National Assembly elections, insisting that it has always been of his view that what is required in Rivers AP is a dispassionate review of the issues in contention so that a clear and definite decision can be made on those to fly the flag of the party in the forthcoming elections.
According to him, “the facts are simple and sacred. A faction of the party led by the Minister of Transportation and the DG of the Presidential Campaign conducted congresses and indirect primaries in clear and open violation of the orders of a court of competent jurisdiction. This was done in the full glare of the entire country”.
He explained that the issue was taken up to the Supreme Court, and the court in its wisdom held that having disobeyed the court so openly they were not entitled to any relief from the courts. “This position was clearly set out in Ibrahim Umar & Ors Vs. APC as reported in Part 1650, 18. Nigerian weekly law reports at page 139.”
Continuing, he said all the actions based on that illegality was voided and remained void. “The judgment that is now being stayed was based in part on that position of the Supreme Court”. However, he stated, “what Nigerians are witnessing now is a desperate attempt to reverse the law to get the President to raise the hand of candidates that the law has said does not exist. The President’s decision to abide strictly to the correct legal position is the reason for the current pressure on the Judiciary”.
“The main issue that must now agitate the minds of Nigerians is the position of the Supreme Court on the matter moving forward. Will the Supreme Court turn around to tell Nigerians that its former position on the consequences of disobedience to the orders of the courts no longer holds? Or can the court of appeal now overturn an existing judgment of the Supreme Court? He questioned.
“The indirect primaries did not hold by law, but the APC conducted a valid, and lawful direct primaries that clearly puts the APC on the ballot without legal entanglements. Let me assure all lovers of justice that a change of the judges does not automatically translate into a change of the law. Therefore, we should all remain calm. The struggle for justice in the party will continue until victory is achieved”, he said.
For the Cole Campaign Organisation, the court ruling is a welcomed development. Their Spokesman, Ogbonna Nwuke, ‘’the court in its wisdom stayed the execution of the judgment of the Federal High Court which had stood between the APC and its right to participate in the forthcoming general elections in Rivers.”
Their testimony goes thus: ‘’Recall that Governor Nyesom Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party had dragged the Gubernatorial Candidate of the APC, Pastor Tonye Cole and other candidates of the party to the Federal High Court.
“In what was obviously an attempt to deny the Rivers people of their right to choose in an election year, the PDP and its leadership in the most bizarre manner moved to forclose the participation of the APC in the electoral process.
“We are therefore elated by the ruling of the Court of Appeal which has responsibly removed all legal incumberances that were hindering the progress of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State
“A statement by the decision of the Court of Appeal has proved beyond reasonable doubt that justice can only be delayed, but not denied. It has similarly justified the legal axiom which says that those who come to equity must do so with clean hands.
“We wish to place on record that the Candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Pastor Tonye Cole who invested so much hope in the judiciary does not consider the pronouncement of the Court of Appeal as a victory only for the APC.
“Our position is that the landmark decision which opens the way for the APC to participate in the electoral process is an act of God, a victory both for democracy, the people and the judiciary.
“The judiciary in any democracy is the last hope of the common man. What has happened in our case is evidence of the fact that despite the turbulence that the institution is facing at this time, ordinary Nigerians still stand a fair chance of securing justice.
We must not fail to appreciate the political sagacity of our Gubernatorial Candidate, Pastor Tonye Cole who attended court most of the time and inspired members of the party by his conduct and humility.
“In so doing, Cole has demonstrated that he is a leader who can be trusted; a dependable leader who has the capacity to lead in times of peace and times of great adversity.
“While we urge our teeming supporters to gird their loins for the good fight that is ahead, it is our prayer that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would do the needful by reinstating the names of candidates of the APC on the list of those who have been cleared for the elections.
“Similarly, it is our considered opinion that INEC would take steps to provide a level playing field by giving the APC a fair chance to campaign, given the time lost as a result of the actions of persons who have proved to be interlopers.
“The APC in Rivers State has been a victim of a conspiracy of the worst kind. By the grace of God, the evil plans of those behind the plot has collapsed.
“It is our thinking that as an unbiased umpire, INEC would take necessary steps to bridge the gap between the APC and other parties which have been on the campaign trail.
“Finally, we wish to thank our members for their patience and commitment. They have exhibited qualities that we are proud of in spite of acts of provocation. We also want to commend the judiciary for dispensing justice without fear or favour.
“The Rivers people will never forget the courage displayed by their Lordships led by Justice Ali Gumel, who despite pressure brought by the actions of our adversaries, have ruled dispassionately in favour of the law.”