Correspondent, BLESSING IBUNGE,
reports on the challenges facing the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State as the party battles to ensure its participation in the series of elections, which commences with the presidential and National Assembly polls on Saturday
Few days to the general elections, the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is yet to settle its internal crisis, just as an Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, has adjourned till Wednesday February 13, 2019 to rule on other pending matters bothering the participation of the party’s candidates in the polls.
The legal protest by Ibrahim Umar and 22 other aggrieved members over refusal of the party at the state level to allow them purchase forms for ward congress led to the unending cases of APC in Rivers State.
Also, the feud between the Minister of Transporter, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Ngei Abe has worsened the APC crisis, as Abe had lamented bitterly on how Amaechi has fought against his ambition of becoming governorship candidate of the party. The misunderstanding by the two giants of the party divided the support base of the members, thereby creating room for factional APC leadership in Rivers state.
On October 10, 2018, a High Court of Rivers State presided by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu, nullified the ward, local governments and state congresses of the APC following the party’s failure to obey an earlier order of the court directing it to stop the congresses.
The same judgement was appealed by the Amaechi faction of APC while Abe also went to court to challenge the appeal, claiming that his (Abe) factional primary election, where he was elected guber candidate on direct primary still remains the authentic and recognized party in the state.
While the party awaits the Supreme Court interpretation on Appeal number 198, Abe approached a federal High court in Port Harcourt to declare him and other members in his faction rightful candidates of APC in the state.
After weeks of arguments on the matter by parties, on January 7, this year, the Federal High Court presided by Justice Kolawole Omotosho upheld the judgement of Justice Nwogu of the State High Court, thereby nullifying all candidates of APC in the state over their disobedience to court order.
Omotosho went ahead to direct the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who was also a party in the suit not to include APC candidates on their ballot paper, suspending the Amaechi faction which elected Tonye Patrick Cole and others as the party’s candidates in the state through indirect primaries supervised by the National Working Committee of APC from campaigning for the elections.
Following the ruling by Justice Omotosho which was not in favour of the both faction of the APC as a party, Magnus Abe and 41 others, and Patrick Cole and others, again approached the Appeal in Port Harcourt, seeking for stay of execution of the Federal High court judgement of January 7.
Three separate appeals by APC, Magnus Abe and Patrick Cole, seeking stay of execution of the lower court were heard by the Appeal panel led by Justice Ali Gumel.
On February 4, the Appeal Court granted Stay of Execution of the January 7, 2019 judgement delivered by Justice Kolawole Omotosho of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, in the suit filed by APC over the candidates of the State chapter of the party, for the 2019 general elections.
Delivering the ruling on the APC appeal, the court noted that there is multiplication of appeal against the judgement of the Federal High Court, adding that all the parties in the suit appealed against the judgement in separate suits.
The judgement which was read by one of the Justices of the panel, Justice Muhammed Mustapha, also noted that INEC as a party in the matter did not file a counter affidavit on the application served it.
Mustapha added that “It will be unjust to repeal the application for stay of execution of the Federal High Court judgement of January 7, 2019”.
The court has also adjourned till February 13, for its decision on separate appeals by Magnus Abe and Patrick Cole.
There have been different interpretations of the appeal court ruling by the two rival factions of the party in Rivers State
Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, has said that the ruling of the Court of Appeal granting stay of execution to enable the All Progressives Congress (APC) appear on the ballot box in Rivers State, did not restore the name of anyone but merely gave a stay to enable the party prepare for the forthcoming general elections.
Abe, in a statement issued by his spokesperson, Parry Saroh Benson said the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt did not order the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to restore names of candidates for the 2019 Governorship, State House of Assembly and National Assembly elections.
He said that it has always been of his view that what is required in APC Rivers is a dispassionate review of the issues in contention so that a clear and definite decision can be made on those to fly the flag of the party in the forthcoming elections.
He further stated that the application to declare any faction as the authentic candidates of the party was specifically rejected. “That issue is the subject of series of pending litigations before Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal”, Abe added
However, speaking with The AUTHORITY on the Appeal Court ruling, counsel for APC, Mr Chimenem Jerome explained that “By this ruling, APC in Rivers State and their candidates are free to participate in the elections. They can go about their campaigns, go about everything that is lawful to ensure that they are in the ballot and that INEC should ensure that their named are got back to the list
“The court said the issue whether INEC omitted the names of the candidates was not sure because INEC has not told the court such. That in the eyes of the law, means no name was omitted.”
Also APC NWC recognized governorship candidate, Patrick Cole, described the judgement is a victory for democracy.
Cole, who spoke through the spokman of his campaign committee, Ogbonna Nwuke, urged his supporters to remain calm and focused, saying that “the outcome of the decisions so far issued by the court has proved that the cases filed by the APC against the previous rulings of the lower courts were indeed competent.”
“We are pleased that a sense of justice has prevailed to clear the injustice designed at depriving an electorate of the freedom to choose whoever they desire to lead them”, Pastor Cole pointed out.
Also in its reaction, the Rivers APC, led by Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, said the judgement vindicated the party in the state.
The party in a statement signed by its State Publicity Secretary. Chris Finebone advised “All Rivers APC faithful should remain resolute as we are set to recover all that Satan has battled so hard to take away from us.
Just as reactions were still on by the party members on the Appeal Court ruling on February 4, the Supreme Court on Friday February 8, delivered a shocking ruling, upholding the judgement of the state High Court of October 10, 2019.
The Apex Court in its judgement set aside the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, which in October 2018 upturned the interlocutory order of the High Court.
In a ruling delivered by a five-man panel of Justices, the Supreme Court said the judgement sought to be upturned was entered by consent and could not be appealed as a matter of right.
The Supreme Court invoked section 22 of its Act, allowing it to take over a matter and give a final judgment to decide on the appeal.
In a lead judgement delivered by Justice Sidi Barge, the Apex Court held that by virtue of section 11 Rule 5 of the Supreme Court rules, the appeal against the High Court ruling, having been withdrawn by the APC, was bound to be dismissed.
Justice Barge said since the Court of Appeal failed or evaded to make dismissal pronouncement for the said appeal, the apex court had no choice but to invoke section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to assume jurisdiction over the case and decide on it.
With barely five days to commencement of election, the APC in Rivers State no doubt remains in the dark with its hopes hanging at the Supreme court’s final judgement on the fate of its candidates just as the party risks missing out in the next four years of Rivers State political activities.