P/HARCOURT – There was disquiet in the camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers state shortly after Justice Kolawole Omotosho of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, delivered the January 7 judgment that may possibly nail the fate of the party in the 2019 general elections.
Barring any last minute maneuvering by the leadership of the party, APC may likely not field any candidate for any elective position in the election. It presupposes therefore that the ruling party may automatically lose two states: Rivers and Zamfara, even before the first ballot is cast in the elections.
The Federal High Court’s judgment was a fallout of self-ego and stock-piled hatred between the two major gladiators who hold sway in the Rivers politics on the platform of APC. These two: Senator Magnus Abe and transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi were once the best of political allies who commanded thousands of die-hard followers ready to stake their lives for them any day, any time. It is no more so any more.
The crisis in the APC today started way back in 2015 when the then governor of the state, now minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi gave everybody in the party even those were not members the false impression that Senator Magnus Abe from Ogoni extraction would succeed him as the next governor of Rivers state.
The unhealthy political rivalry between the duo would not have deteriorated this bad and almost irredeemable if Amaechi, derogatorily described by some aggrieved members of the party as an “emperor of Rivers APC or the lion of Niger Delta politics, had made it succinctly clear from the outset in 2015 that he would not support an Ogoni as his successor.
Alas! Amaechi’s statements at the time and even his body language were pointers to that fact that Senator Abe was well positioned to earn the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2015 general elections even after making a positive promise to that effect.
Applying his position as the then governor, Amaechi reached out to major stakeholders from Ogoni, including traditional rulers and vowed to them that he would work out modalities for the realization of Ogoni governor after him. This was a soothing balm good enough to give the Ogonis some sense of belonging in the political affairs of the state.
Though one of the major ethnic nationalities and the most economically viable, Ogoni which comprises of Kana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme (KAGOTE) local government areas has never produced a governor since the creation of Rivers state in 1967.
Among the three Senatorial Districts in the state, Rivers East and Rivers West have both produced governors interchangeably. But Rivers South East, represented by Senator Abe at the Upper Chamber has not produced a governor. The highest political position they have ever attained is secretary to the state government, SSG, a position Abe attained under Amaechi;s government before he proceeded to the Senate also under Amaechi.
Senator Magnus Abe has always been Amaechi;s man Friday. He constituted Amaechi’s political bulwark force in the time of the formers administrative turbulence as governor. He received “rubber bullet” in defence of his boss. He did all to convince his master that his (Abe’s) loyalty was not in doubt and expected to be compensated with the governorship ticket. It was a dream which would later become a stillbirth.
It would be remembered that in the 7th National Assembly, Abe, it was who manipulated the federal lawmakers to temporarily take over the Rivers state House of Assembly to forestall the possibility of six members of the House from impeaching Amaechi as governor.
Not willing to betray his boss, Abe objected to pressure and allure of defecting to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after Amaechi decamped in November 5, 2014, to the APC with his commissioners, aides and a regiment of those who got political appointments in his administration. He was also assured that the South East Senatorial District will be reserved for him.
Senator Abe declined and quietly turned down all the political overtures from the PDP which was then in-charge at the centre. As this panned out, while Abe was working immensely to consolidate Amaechi’s political root in the state, Amaechi was, covertly, plotting to thwart Abe’s chances of becoming the APC governorship ticket in Rivers State.
APC In The Trenches
According to stakeholders, the major problem with the Rivers State APC is Amaechi’s unwillingness to see Senator Abe emerge as the governor of the state under the aegis of the APC. Consequently, all members of the party who are sympathetic to Abe’s travails in Amaechi’s political empire are equally treated by Amaechi and his supporters as political enemies.
The impasse in which the Rivers State APC currently finds itself is self-inflicted. To stop Abe from having access to delegates that will vote for him during the governorship primary, Amaechi hijacked electoral materials meant for congresses in August 2017. He allegedly cornered the party officials from Abuja who were detailed to conduct the congresses at Novotel Hotel located along Ken Saro-Wiwa, formerly known as Stadium Road.
Amaechi adopted the same method in May 2018. This time, all applicants who paid the required fee at the designated banks and secured their tellers were denied the requisite forms that would enable them participate in the ward, local and state congresses. Furious about this unhealthy development, 23 of the applicants approached the Rivers State High Court, on Friday, May 4. They wondered how the congresses could go ahead when they haven’t been given the forms they paid for.
The minister’s camp still went ahead with the ward congress. An announcement was made on local radio stations at about 1pm, on the day of the election asking those who had paid to come to the venue of the ward congress and participate upon presentation of their tellers. The applicants rejected the announcement, claiming the process was already flawed.
On Friday, May 11, the 23 aggrieved applicants among thousands of others secured a court injunction from a Rivers State High Court, restraining the APC from conducting the local government and state congresses. The Court further said that the outcome of the flawed Saturday, May 5, ward congress was unknown to law, Amaechi’s group, privies and agents having been properly served.
Determined to have the congresses conducted even while there was a subsisting matter in court, Amaechi’s group went to the Court of Appeal to set aside the existing injunction and conducted ward, local government and state congresses on May 19, May 20 and 21, respectively.
However, on Thursday, October 30, the High Court in Port Harcourt nullified the ward, local government and state congresses, stating that the process that produced the candidates was illegal in law and as such the outcome was thoroughly flawed.
Not happy with the setting aside of the restraining order of the High Court by the Court of Appeal on whose strength the Amaechi group conducted the May 19, 20 and 21 ward, local government and state congresses, the 23 aggrieved aspirants approached the Supreme Court for an interpretation of the judicial reasoning of the Court of Appeal on the order granted by the lower court.
The Supreme Court in its judgment on October 22, last year affirmed the position of the lower court and set aside the order of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court maintained that the ward, local government and state congresses conducted on May 19, 20 and 21 were act of illegality.
The state Chairman of the Rivers State Chapter of the APC, Ojukaiye Flag-Amachree, initially said he remained the authentic chairman of the party in Rivers State. He even added that he had earlier secured a perpetual injunction from an Abuja high court restraining the national chairman of the APC from dissolving his state executive.
A few days later, National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, told journalists in Abuja that from the first page to the last page of the Supreme Court judgement, the Justices frowned at the procedure with which the ward, local government and state congresses were conducted. “Therefore, the APC will conduct fresh ward local government and state congresses in Rivers State.”
Amaechi’s group has appealed the judgment of the lower court which was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Because the appeal by the Amaechi group is subsisting at the Court of Appeal, the name of Tonye Dele Cole and Chief Victor Giadom who emerged as governorship and deputy governorship candidates at the primary conducted by the American group have been submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC.)
Knowing full well that the judgment of the Court of Appeal will make a loud pronouncement on the legality or otherwise of their candidature, Tonye Dele Cole and his running mate has asked the Court of Appeal to allow them join the subsisting appeal.
Giving this unfortunate scenario the Rivers State APC found itself, Senator Magnus Abe and the other candidates who emerged through direct primary conducted by the Prince Peter Odike state executive which is the only Rivers State administrative organ recognized by law have all approached a federal high court, seeking for an order of Mandamus, asking the national chairman of the APC to submit their names to INEC; and for INEC to receive, accept and publish their names on the strength of the High Court and Supreme Court judgments.
It is expected that either the Amaechi group or the Abe group will still head to the Supreme Court on a final judicial pronouncement on whether a process that is defective in law can produce an outcome that is legally acceptable before the law as one cannot build something on nothing.
Another argument is that of indirect and direct primary. Abe’s, group claims the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the APC ordered that Rivers State APC should conduct direct primary because of the rash of court cases. Amaechi’s group maintain that the APC National Working Committee (NWC) directed that Rivers State should choose it’s candidates for elective positions through indirect primary.
Instructively, in Senator Ahmed Makarfi versus Senator Ali Modu-Sherrif, the apex court ruled that the NEC is superior to the NWC. Again, some argue that Amaechi’s indirect primary was observed by INEC officials. Some people in the pro-Abe’s group also claim that the direct primary was also observed by INEC officials and security agencies.
And that since there were no ward, local government and state congresses in the state, party members after being duly verified with their party identity cards voted for candidates of their choice. The pro-Abe group claim that all procedure were carefully documented.
Barrister Onyekachi Ubani, 2nd Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA said even after the court judgment Amaechi went on to conduct primaries with the status quo that the court did not recognise. The primaries were products of illegitimacy. They allowed the matter to fester. The only window they have to stand a chance in the election is, “If the Appeal Court references the case to Supreme Court, it can be resolved before the elections”, he said.
Abe on his own argued that Amaechi has put his faction of the party in direct confrontation with the judiciary. “The best thing is for us to go to the court of Appeal. INEC has no option than to make substitution according to the judgment of the court”, he said.
According to the Senator, “the process that produced Mr. Cole was faulty from the beginning. The problem was created for Cole by those who brought him”, Abe said, adding that the only legal and proper primary that was conducted in Rivers state is the direct primary. “This is not because I was involved. We should put our ego and personal interest aside”.
Federal High Court Judgment
More like laying all grievances to rest, at least, for the moment, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on Monday 7, 2019 in its ruling restrained INEC from recognising any candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC ) for the 2019 General elections in Rivers State . It also nullified all nominations of the APC in Rivers State for the forthcoming elections in 2019.
The court ruled specifically that the APC cannot participate in the Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly elections during the 2019 polls in Rivers State.
Justice Kolawole Omotosho in his judgment in the suit filed by Senator Magnus Abe and others versus Rivers APC and others declared the APC for failing to respect the law must bear the consequences of her disobedience of the law.
Justice Omotosho stated that the Direct and indirect primaries of the Rivers State APC were illegal, null and void. The court further declared that both the Direct and indirect primaries were held during the pendancy of the suit at the Rivers State High Court.
This presupposes that should the status quo remains the way it is right now, then, like Zamfara state, APC would not have any candidate in the forthcoming election. This will leave the political space for Governor Nyesom Wike of the PDP and Dumo Lulu Briggs of the Accord party as the only strong contenders to slug it at the governorship polls in March.