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Confusion, conflicting interests trail Cross River North PDP Senatorial primary

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Ahead of October 31 earlier scheduled for the Cross River North Senatorial bye-election (before the indefinite postponement occasioned by the #ENDSARS protests), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had been caught in the conflicts of interests that have dotted the controversial Cross River North Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senatorial primary.

In the wake of the primary, there have been conflicting election results, reports and court rulings, fuelling speculations that the PDP may not have a candidate for the election.

There has been a build-up of tension between the two warring PDP factions in the state, with Governor Ben Ayade leading the home faction while the Abuja faction is backed by most National Assembly and founding members of the party. At the centre of the fierce battle is the party’s ticket for the postponed Senatorial bye-election to fill the vacant position created by the death of former occupant, Senator Stella Oko.

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However, the tension may not be unconnected with who gets what in 2023. There are wide speculations that Governor Ayade is the one ‘contesting’ the bye-election and not Odey, who is seen as a surrogate who would eventually pave the way for Ayade to return to the Senate in 2023 when he concludes his eight years in office. This is as Senator Gershom Bassey of the South Senatorial District is believed to be eying the governorship seat in 2023.

The party had organised its primary in Ogoja on September 5 where two candidates emerged. Party officials that came for the primary were divided. A faction, led by the chairman of the electoral panel, Olorogun Taleb Tebite declared the former Chairman of Cross River State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Dr. Stephen Odey winner. One of the INEC officials from Calabar, who observed the primary, Mr. Amula Timotheus, expressed satisfaction with the exercise, saying it was conducted in line with INEC’s guidelines.

On the other hand, a faction of PDP election panel endorsed the incumbent member representing Ogoja/Bekwara in the Federal House of Representatives, Mr. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe as winner. One of the officials, a senior staff of INEC, Mr. Modibbo Bello, sent from the INEC headquarters, Abuja, to monitor the primary, declared Jarigbe the winner.

Bello’s report stated that the process was interrupted by violence in the early stages and disagreement on the list of delegates to use while a faction, led by the PDP electoral panel chairman, Talib, insisted on using another that was different from the “authentic delegate list” as forwarded by the party to INEC following an order by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. Two members of the panel stood their grounds and conducted the election in compliance with PDP guidelines and the court judgment.

A top PDP stalwart, who pleaded anonymity, said, “INEC policy is that INEC headquarters, Abuja, must monitor and write the report on such primary, which it did by declaring that Jarigbe won. But INEC Calabar wrote its own report, insisting that Odey won. So, INEC is the one giving conflicting reports, because it is suspected that the electoral umpire may have soiled its hands. It is surprising that INEC that supervised one primary election would end up giving conflicting results.

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“The mischief here is that INEC Abuja eventually certified INEC Calabar’s report and that of Abuja for the same purpose thus creating deliberate confusion. The question now is, is INEC sincere and ready for a free and fair election as there are fears that it will dance naked and give it to the highest bidder except credible officials like the Akwa Ibom REC, Mr. Mike Igini, are brought in.

“The two federal agencies are just embarrassing the rule of law and justice by giving conflicting reports and orders. The PDP had actually forwarded Odey’s name on September 10 as the party’s candidate and INEC was to publish same and the names of other parties’ candidate on September 17, but on September 11, INEC got an order from the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, not to publish anything until issues in court were resolved. But Odey went to another Federal High Court in Calabar, which gave INEC an order to publish even when the substantive suit has not been determined. How are they portraying themselves before the public and the world?”

The top PDP stalwart expressed dissatisfaction with the conflicting orders from the courts saying, “the entire process is suspect and the National Judicial Commission (NJC) should look into it.”

Despite the tension, intrigues and confusion, INEC spokesman in Abuja, Mr. Festus Okoye, in a telephone interview with The Guardian, said, “We are prepared; we have a bye-election in 11 states of the federation and we are preparing for all of them at the same time.”

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On the issue of the controversial Cross River North PDP primary and the authentic candidate, Okoye requested for questions to be sent to him in a text message to enable him explain accordingly, which was promptly done and followed up with repeated calls and messages and reminders, but he had since not been forthcoming with answers.

However, INEC, in a letter dated October 7, 2020 and signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Rose Oriaran-Anthony, said the name of the PDP candidate was not published in its earlier list of candidates, dated September 16, 2020, because of court orders but “after the said letter, the Federal High Court, in Suit No: FHC/CA/CS/872020, granted an ex parte on September 28, 2020 wherein the commission was ordered to, with immediate effect, publish the name of the plaintiff/Applicant (Dr. Stephen Adi Odey) as the duly nominated candidate of the 2nd defendant (PDP) to contest the bye-election into Cross River North Senatorial District, scheduled to hold on October 31, 2020 pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.” The order was given by Justice Simon Amobeda.

However, on October 8, 2020, the matter came up at the Federal High Court, Calabar, with Justice Amobeda presiding over the motions and counter-motions from Counsel to Odey, Mr. E. L. Akpofure and Counsel to Jarigbe, Chief Ifedayo A. Adedipe trying to buttress their cases on the issue of joinder in the case instituted by Odey against INEC on non-inclusion of his name among the cleared list of candidates. But Jarigbe’s counsel also sought to be joined. However, the matter was adjourned to October 19 for argument and ruling.

Thus, on October 19, Adedipe had argued in court that his client needed to be joined in the matter because whatever the outcome, it will affect his client, saying, “they (Odey and others) filed a case here that they are the ones who should be the candidate and that INEC should publish their person’s name and we said since we are directly affected we want to join… but they are opposing it.”

However, Akpofure objected, saying, “he (Jarigbe) was not a necessary party and cannot come in because issues to be determined are within the purview of INEC. It is not in every situation that a joinder is allowed.”

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After an hour’s break, Justice Amobeda, ruled that “Honourable Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe is joined as a co-defendant in this suit, and the plaintiff amends the originating summon to reflect the name of Honourable Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe as second defendant” and was given 48 hours to file his response to the earlier case instituted by Odey against INEC. The matter was adjourned to October 28 for hearing.

But Odey’s counsel, in a surprise move, had filed a fresh suit that INEC has no role to play in party primary and the court should so declare. But Adedipe, in an interview, said, “that is a bit curious to me, having regards to the provisions of the Electoral Act and others. The truth, as I see it, is that they are trying to manipulate the report of INEC, which shows that Agom Jarigbe won the primary.”

This matter too was adjourned to October28.

On whether the PDP will have a candidate for the election come October 31, he said, “the fact of the matter is that PDP is on the ballot and whoever is the candidate will take that seat.”

The September 5 controversial primary was stained with violence as Concerned Youth of Northern Senatorial District of the PDP, in a briefing by its secretary, Mr. John Ajegi, called for justice for the slain PDP youth leader, Charles Onwe, on the eve of the primary. He alleged that, “a group of people in Commissioner Stella Odey’s house in Ogaga killed him.” But some persons said he was killed outside the commissioner’s compound.

However, Mrs. Ode declined to comment on the incident, saying, “The matter was before the police and as such could not comment for now.”

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