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Rivers APC fate hangs in Balance

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike


All eyes will be on the Court of Appeal, as it decides this week whether to grant a stay of execution on a court order restraining the
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognising any of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates for the general elections in Rivers State.

Although still the second formidable political party in Rivers State, APC’s prospect of partaking in the March 2 governorship and House of Assembly elections is far from assured, following the non-inclusion in the final list of candidates INEC published last Thursday in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State.

In what could be likened to desperate last kicks of a dying horse, APC had approached the appellate court in Port Harcourt again, after affirming it couldn’t participate in the March 2 general elections, seeking a stay of execution on the order issued by Justice Kolawole Omotosho of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

The Federal High Court order is predicated on a suit filed by the state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wherein it prayed the court to declare that APC candidates were not validly nominated, based on the judgment of a Rivers State High Court, presided over by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, who voided the wards, local governments and state congresses as well as APC’s primaries.But APC had argued after Justice Omotosho’s restraining order that, as far as the country’s laws are concerned, the issue of candidate nomination by a political party remains the exclusive right and preserve of that political party, and any dispute arising therefrom also remains within that political party and its aggrieved members.

It further contended that under the Electoral Act 2010, a third party (PDP) can only challenge nomination of 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.With barely a month to the general elections, the legal tussle between the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe’s factions shows no sign of withering. Both sides have remained adamant on amicable resolution of the crisis caused by power struggle within APC, which reached the climax during last May’s ward, local government and state congresses and eventually the primaries.

It is not clear if the APC contending parties, which seem to be fighting a lost battle, will through a labyrinth of cases now in the appellate and Supreme Court, be able to reach an amicable reconciliation before the general elections. Political observers are of the belief that the party’s future, as far as 2019 elections are concerned, depends on Cole and Abe, who are still pursuing separate cases in court.

But despite the party’s fate hanging in the balance, Mr. Cole, who is recognised by APC national leadership as the party’s authentic candidate, has expressed optimism that the apex court will grant him and his party justice, even when every other court had failed to do so.He said: “No matter when the court gives us victory, which I have absolutely no doubt in my heart it would, what you will witness is a tsunami of support that is guaranteed to sweep away every opposition on election day.”

Similarly, it would be recalled that the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, had hinted that governorship and other APC candidates in Rivers will be on the ballot in the 2019 general elections, as all hope was not lost.“I know the judiciary is an important component of the political process. You can’t talk about politics without mentioning the judiciary or its role. So, my confidence is that ultimately, this issue will be resolved. APC candidates will be on the ballot and run for the election, and Rivers people will have options. I also know they will choose APC candidates above those of other political parties,” he said.

However, Governor Nyesom Wike has been critical of APC’s optimism to get legal reprieve at the apex court. Indeed, he has alleged that the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen, was part of a grand strategy to upturn court judgments in states where APC has intra-party crises.

“The President wants to act against states where the party is having crises. The whole thing is because APC has crisis in Rivers State. Just because of that, you destroy the whole institution. They want another CJN that will upturn everything. These are the type of actions that generate insecurity,” he said.

Wike has also claimed that intelligence report at his disposal revealed that INEC has instructed its printers in Switzerland to add APC on the ballot in Rivers because they are expecting favourable judgment at the Supreme Court.He said: “We know INEC’s tricks. Let nobody push us to the wall. If there is a war in Nigeria, INEC should be held responsible. Anybody can contest, but the law must be followed.”

However, it appears APC is not only exploring the legal option in ensuring its participation in the general elections in the state. Penultimate week, its legislative candidates threatened there might be bloodshed and possibly no election in the state, if INEC fails to include their party on the ballot papers.Spokesperson of the barred candidates, Mr. Henry Odili, claimed that the recent judicial pronouncements clearly showed that Governor Wike was behind the intra-party issues in Rivers APC, and hopes to achieve his aim through exclusion of APC in the 2019 elections out of fear of his guaranteed loss at the election.

He also accused INEC of conspiring with Wike to disenfranchise Rivers people from freely choosing their leaders and representatives in the general elections. He said the move was an invitation to anarchy, which should be avoided.But the Commissioner of Information and Communications, Emma Okah, refuted APC’s claim that Governor Wike had a hand in the party’s
predicament.

Okah said the allegation that Wike colluded with INEC to disenfranchise Rivers people was spurious, as APC was merely suffering from a self-inflicted problem, due to recurring acts of impunity, lack of respect for the judiciary, and disregard for the tenets of internal democracy.“Wike is not an APC member. He never asked APC to disobey court orders or refuse to resolve internal problems,” he said.

Similarly, Senator Abe has said the decision to ignore party members, who were summarily barred by the Minister of Transportation from taking part in the party congresses, was not taken by Wike.“I have no issues with Pastor Cole,” he explained. “But Nigerians will always remember that as one of the founding APC members in Rivers, I did not leave APC to attempt to take over Sahara Energy as its Managing Director. Rather, it was Mr. Cole who brought himself into the midst of a raging political dispute in Rivers APC to claim award of the party’s gubernatorial ticket without a proper understanding of the issues in contention. He chose to ignore the existing court orders that already defined the issues in the party.

“For those who set the house on fire and refused water to douse the fire, even when it was offered to turn around to continually malign the people that have practically sacrificed their lives for the party is most offensive.”The fight between Amaechi and Abe has been further deepened by the removal of the senator’s nominee, Mr. Derek Mene as the Executive
Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA) on the Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He was replaced by the minister’s ally.

Abe has described the move as an arm-twisting tactic meant to pressurise him into abandoning the struggle for justice. He said his faction’s struggle predates the current NDDC board, and will outlive its dissolution.“Let me assure all lovers of justice in APC that the struggle for fairness, equity, justice and respect for our members is in no way affected by the dissolution of NDDC Board,” he said.Only time will tell whether APC can weather the raging storm it plunged itself into.


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