Rivers APC tumbling towards the precipice
• Court’s pronouncements compound party’s woes
There are fears that the infighting in All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State, especially the supremacy battle between the Minister of Transport, Chibuike Amaechi and his estranged ally, Senator Magnus Abe, could rob the party of a place in the 2019 election in the state.
What seems to crystallise the danger facing the state chapter of APC is last Monday’s Supreme Court verdict, which set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, on congresses conducted by the party in Rivers State.
Intriguingly, Justice Chiwendu Nwogu of the state High Court had declared the said congresses null and void. APC has been bogged down by factionalism since 2016, when the minister, who is the acclaimed leader of the party in the state, forbade Abe from seeking the party’s governorship nomination for the 2019 election. Abe represents Rivers South East Senatorial District in the Senate.
Amaechi had declared during a stakeholders meeting: “I have foreclosed Abe’s governorship ambition as far as the Rivers APC is concerned. If he likes let him run to President Buhari. That will not change anything. If he likes let him go to the First Lady, Aisha Buhari; nothing will change.”
That stance had forced a section of the party membership that were already disillusioned by the minister’s leadership style and those harbouring the premonition that he might possibly foist a governorship candidate on the party to align with Abe. Their collaboration was intended at possibly preventing the cartel that had strongly positioned itself to grab state power by manipulating the presidency.
Consequently, the upheavals in the party could be said to have begun in earnest when in June last year, Amaechi suspended APC leaders in Port Harcourt, Worgu Boms, (Obio/Akpor); Tony Okocha and Allwell Onyesoh from Etche Local Government Area, perceived to be core Abe loyalists. The action deepened the fissures and discontentment that fueled series of legal landmines now threatening to blow up the chances of the party in the 2019 polls.
A dissatisfied APC member, who sought anonymity, acknowledged that the feud between Amaechi and Abe has caused widespread instability in the party. He said the rift in Rivers APC has been powered by a cartel that is bent on hijacking the leadership through the systemic marginalisation of Abe and those perceived to be supporting him.
The APC chieftain contended that because the state High Court urged the party to maintain status quo pending the determination of Ibrahim Umar and others’ suit against APC, the exit of former state chairman, Davis Ikanya, paved the way for his deputy, Peter Odike, an Abe loyalist, to assume the role of acting chairman. This, he added, led to the parallel state executive structure that conducted the indirect primaries, which Abe emerged as a factional governorship candidate.
According to the source, “Prior to the May congresses, they embarked on a sustained crusade to scandalise and demonise Abe and party members perceived to be loyal to him. “To ensure that Abe was neutralised, those who were perceived to be loyal to him were systemically excluded from participating in their congresses. All those who purchased forms were never issued forms. That move has now backfired as aggrieved persons headed to the court to seek redress.”
APC now looks utterly confused and almost directionless owing to the situation. And the leaders are having sleepless nights over the development, which was triggered by a lawsuit from Ibrahim Umar and 22 others against APC for flagrantly denying them the right to participate in the ward congresses.
The court, presided over by Justice Nwogu, after hearing all the parties in the suit, granted their prayers, including an order mandating the parties to maintain the status quo to what it was until Friday, May 11, 2018 when the order of interlocutory injunction was granted.
The court also restrained APC, “whether by its officers, agents, committees, nominees or any persons howsoever constituted or howsoever constructed, from conducting ward, local government, state congresses or any other congresses whatsoever described in Rivers State chapter, pending the determination of the substantive suit before the Court.”
However, for inexplicable reasons the party ignored the order and went ahead with the congresses, which ushered in the Ojukaye Flag-Amaechree-led state executive. After the congresses, the party went to the appellate court sitting in Port Harcourt to quash the interlocutory injunction, which was granted barely a few hours to APC national convention.
It was that appellate court’s decision that was set aside by the Supreme Court, which described it as a sacrilegious exercise of discretion owing to the sheer fact that APC had acted in “condemnable, egregious and preposterous” manner by proceeding to conduct its ward, local government and state congresses of May 19, 20 and 21, 2018, respectively, in breach of subsisting orders of the High Court of the state.
Peeved by APC’s refusal to obey the interlocutory injunction, Justice Nwogu, in his ruling on October 10, 2018, nullified all the elections that threw up Rivers APC Ward, local government and state executive committees.
He also went further to nullify APC indirect governorship, Senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly primaries on the ground that the process was a function of illegality and unconstitutional acts.
A public affairs commentator, who is also a former president of Ijaw Youth Council, Kuromiema Miabiye, declared that undermining of internal democratic processes is to be blamed for a crisis-riddled APC.
Miabiye said: “When a man abuses everything decent in his attempt to exalt himself above everything for power, more so, when he is a beneficiary of the order created by the court system, that man is about to cross the Rubicon.”
APC’s quest to change the political equation in the state seems almost delusional, because the legal quagmire, which the party now finds itself, buttresses that assertion.
With the nullification of the primaries, it means that technically, APC does not have candidates for both executive and legislative positions in next year’s elections.
A political analyst, Prince Spencer Adikibi, is the view that whatever interpretation APC faction may give or has given to the Supreme Court judgment, the court clearly nullified the congresses held on 19, 20 and 21 May 2019, which produced all the factional APC party executives from the wards to the state levels.
He explained: “Important point to note is that even though the Supreme Court admonished the Court of Appeal for acting in bad faith by vacating the injunctive order of the High Court, the vacation of the injunctive order by the Court of Appeal is immaterial, because it was made after the congresses were held on the above dates in clear violation of the order of the High Court not to hold the congresses.”
Nonetheless, some party members, who mocked Senator Abe for embroiling himself in an ‘unwinnable tussle’ with Amaechi, are perhaps stunned by the fact that the battle for dominance of the party may, at the end of the day, have done no one any good. Effectivelly, it could be concluded that the fate of APC hangs in the balance.
Abe, who has vowed not to leave APC, said the party ought to have realised that going against a subsisting court order was clear senselessness, stressing: “The historic decision of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which affirmed the position of the High Court of Rivers State that the action of the party of excluding members of this party from the process and depriving them of the constitutional right was wrong. And to do so in the face of a clear order of a court of competent jurisdiction is nothing but senselessness.
“And so, for anybody (or group) to continue to parade themselves either as a candidate of APC arising from a process that has clearly been voided by the court is nothing but political rascality of the highest order and I think it is time for right thinking members and leaders of this party to put this whole thing to an end and put the party in a frame to begin our hard-work towards the realization of our dream of taking over Rivers State.
“Luckily, the party conducted proper primaries in Rivers State in the form of direct primaries. And I believe that the proper thing to do is to do the right thing since the other primary was done in clear violation of an existing order of a court of competent Jurisdiction.”
In what appeared as a frivolous aside, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who was hoping to reap from the open combat between Amaechi and Abe, has vowed that attempt by the minister to impose his business partner as governor would be resisted.
Wike said: “You sold gas turbines to your business partner, sold Olympia hotel to your partner, sold Abonnema wharf to your partner and now you want to sell Government House to your business partner. You have federal might, but we have God’s might. In this forthcoming election, we will teach them a lesson. All these Egyptians you see today, you shall see no more. God rules over Rivers State; nobody can conquer this state.”
Rivers State APC’s ability to extricate itself from the legal huddles is crucial to its relevance, as well as the political survival of Amaechi in the state. This means a second term for Governor Wike may seal the minister’s political fate and those of his teeming supporters in the state.
In an attempt to forestall such a possibility, an aide to the minister, Mr. Achinike William-Wobodo, dragged INEC and Wike to a Federal High Court in Abuja, praying the court to stop the electoral commission from accepting the nomination of Wike as the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
William-Wobodo had in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1020/2018, claimed that the information contained in an affidavit made on 19 December 2014, as well as the certificate titled statutory declaration of age presented by Wike to INEC for the purpose of the 2015 election into the office of Governor of Rivers State that commenced in 2014 and held on 11 and 12 April 2015, was false and also lied against itself.
He averred that in 1999/2000, when Wike planned to contest for the chairmanship of Obio/Akpor local council election, he was less than 35 years, which was the announced age at the time for anyone seeking election into that office. To scale through the hurdle, he alleged that Wike procured one Collins Nyeme Wike to depose to an affidavit that he was born on 13th March 1963.
The plaintiff further claimed that Wike, during his registration with INEC as a voter, in contrast presented his date of birth as 13 December 1967, thus indicativing that the governor must have lied about his age.
However, as APC remains bogged down by internal wrangling, chances of its members switching loyalty look remote because the 2019 election just might redefine the political calculation of Rivers State.
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