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Rivers APC still in limbo as parties weave a web of litigation

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
18 November 2018   |   5:24 am
Barely thirteen days to commencement of governorship campaigns, uncertainty still hangs over the fate of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State

[FILE PHOTO] Tonye Cole

Barely thirteen days to commencement of governorship campaigns, uncertainty still hangs over the fate of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State

The subsisting judgment of a Rivers’ State High Court presided by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, which nullified the ward, local government and state congresses conducted in May, and the subsequent, indirect governorship and legislative primaries has but deepened the prevalent chaos in the party.

Though the name of Mr. Tonye Cole has been submitted by the APC to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as its governorship candidate, contending factions loyal to the key antagonists, the Minister of Transportation cum former governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi and his estranged ally and governorship aspirant, Senator Magnus Abe, are now embroiled legal wrangling at the appellate court.

A new twist has emerged in the APC conundrum, as Senator Abe and others who participated in the parallel direct primaries have filed a suit at a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt seeking to be declared as authentic candidates of the APC in Rivers State.

Abe and others in an originating summons prayed the court to issue an order of the court compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept and publish their names as candidates of the APC for Rivers State.

The legal counsel to Abe and others, Henry Bello’s motion ex parte could not be heard on Wednesday in the absence of the respondents, in that it sought to abridge the time within which respondents could respond to the originating processes.

Meanwhile, the court has directed that the respondents be put on notice and the matters adjourned to the 20th November 2018 for the hearing of the motion for accelerated hearing

The uncertainty over the fate of a clear governorship standard bearer of APC may eventually dampen much of the optimism that the 2019 election will be a tough contest between the incumbent, Governor Nyesom Wike and his APC political adversaries who have already made remarkable encroachment into the Peoples Democratic Party enclaves.

The 2019 general election was bound to be the most consequential to the APC after it was routed out of power in the state in 2015 by the PDP. However, its protracted conflict and the seemingly mindboggling inability of the party leadership to proffer solution to this divisive and unpredictable conflict, might diminish its chances to wrest power from the incumbent.

A clear indication that amicable resolution of the APC conflict is almost untenable at the moment is the several appeals filed at the Appellate Court challenging the verdict of Justice Nwogu, which nullified the governorship and legislative primaries. The plaintiffs are Mr. Cole and others; Ezemonye Ezekiel and12 other House of Representative candidates; Ojukaye Flag-Amachree and others.

Counsel to aggrieved pro-Abe supporters, Ibrahim Umar and 22 others who initiated the legal tussle in the party has petitioned the President of the Court of Appeal seeking for a special panel to swiftly hear the impending appeals. Due to this petition, the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt had to adjourn to the 5th December 2018 for further action.

The pro-Amaechi APC faction spokesperson, Chris Finebone, told The Guardian that the litigation were necessitated because the lower trial court went far beyond the scope of the plea by Ibrahim Umar and 22 others, challenging the conduct of the congresses to give consequential judgment on the party governorship and legislative primaries.

“You know that one of the worries we have about the substantive judgment was that the judge went far beyond what was before him and included certain issues anticipating that they definitely will come up. For example, the way and manner he went to bring things that have no bearing with the judgment into it, like mentioning primaries. Those things were done in bad intention and we believe that legally they cannot stand.

“Having done that, he also dragged in people who have nothing to do in the matter before him; and in the appeal the people will have to join because they have been rolled into a matter they have nothing with and to untangle themselves they have to take advantage of the appeal to join. That is why they also filed,” said Finebone.

On the contrary, founder of Kairos group, Mr. Kennedy Friday, argued that just as the APC disobeyed the interlocutory order for which it came under heavy verbal bombardment by the apex court, those who are masquerading as candidates of the Rivers APC in the various elective positions and have filed appeal at the appellate court, are also in horrifying and most despicable disobedience of the judgment of the High Court, which nullified the unlawful processes through which they emerged.

“As it is today, the purported candidatures of Toney Cole and Victor Giadom remain nullified and a nullity. That is also true of all National Assembly and State House of Assembly candidates that arose through indirect primaries. They may deceive themselves and continue to deceive others, but that is the state of the law today. Section 287(3) is clear that the judgment of the state high court must be enforced by all authorities everywhere in this country,” he added.

Irrespective of the litigation, which signals possibility of deeper trouble ahead, Mr. Cole has since embarked on a state-wide ward by ward sensitisation tour to aggregate the key needs of the people and also to sell his vision to the electorate.

“The reason I am touring from Ward to Ward is to know about the needs of the People. I am happy that Bonny has decided that apart from oil and gas, they can approach other ways of generating revenue. A good leader listens to new ideas from his people. We have to ensure that peace is in existence, which will bring about the development of Rivers State, employment opportunities and jobs creation,” he said.

Cole’s campaign team has started firing fiery darts in the direction of Governor Wike, accusing the state government of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies following a stern warning against any traditional ruler who engages in partisan politics.

The APC campaign group claims the governor’s stance is a surreptitious attempt to drag the traditional institution into partisan politics on his side and against the rest of the opposition parties in Rivers State.

“We are convinced that the real reasons for the present reprimand of the traditional institution by Gov. Wike was occasioned by the open acceptability of the APC governorship candidate in Rivers State, Pastor Tonye Cole, who has been received with fanfare by the people and showered with traditional titles during his ongoing ward-to-ward consultative visits across the State.”

Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Emma Okah, said the governor’s admonition to monarchs to stay away from partisan politics is in the best interest of the state and integrity of their positions.

Okah observed that although Cole is new to the politics of Rivers State, the reaction of his campaign team to Governor Wike’s directives tells a lot about the quality of his campaign.

Political observers say this altercation is a pointer that campaigns might be rough.

Already, the political atmosphere in Rivers State is beginning to heat up.

Last Wednesday, a pro-PDP group, the Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI), on a sensitisation rally at Ipo community in Ikwerre Local Government Area was attacked by unknown gunmen, during which several persons sustained bullet wounds. Both PDP and the APC have traded accusation over the incident.

PDP chairman, Felix Obuah who accused the APC of masterminding the attack, regretted that politics and political strategies were being distorted from their true meaning of discernible ideology and use of legitimate means to promote governance.

APC spokesperson, Chris Finebone, said the party knew nothing about the cause of the shootout at the GDI sensitisation rally at Ipo.