2019 Rivers elections: Deadly arrow heads to Amaechi’s heart as Rivers APC disappears on the ballot

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  • Endless court sackings of all APC candidates continue
  • Only hope may be with Magnus Abe’s Court of Appeal case for substitution

Culled from BD Sunday By Ignatius Chukwu

Former Rivers State governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, now Minister of Transportation, is not only regarded as leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State but the South-South. He worked hard to make the party to win the elections in the state in 2015 to no avail but won national acclaim for leading the campaigns that snatched power from his fellow Niger Deltan, Goodluck Jonathan, to Katsina State-born Muhammadu Buhari.

Amaechi is seen to work so hard to recapture power in his state probably to enable him earn some rest but the logo of his party, APC, has rather disappeared from the ballot paper for the upcoming elections, meaning that from the governorship to all the legislative positions both at state and federal, no single APC contestant would face the voters. This is regarded as a tragedy to Amaechi as a person because it could crumble his entire political structure especially if his party loses at the centre.

Should this situation stay this way till February 16, 2019 when the elections begin, Rivers State would have been added to the other states where the ruling party would accept defeat even before voting starts, including Imo, Zamfara, and Osun, states believed to have been lost due to mismanagement of the primaries by the party lords, just like the PDP handed Imo State away to Ikedi Ohakim only to continue to mourn to this day.

Origin;

A Rivers State high court judge Chiwendu Nworgu had shut down the APC congresses as null and void; and appeal and supreme courts have continued to uphold all of aspects of this ruling. Though APC notchers have continued to call him names and create insinuations of being close to the state governor, the judgment rendered void the primaries that produced different candidates for the party since October 2018, except a substantive appeal pending at the Supreme Court comes to their rescue. Many think this may be either unlikely or too late.

Magnus Abe and Dakuku Peterside emerged as closest political allies to then Gov Amaechi and each wanted to be next governor. On the day of decision, both contenders were locked in a room in Government House in Port Harcourt almost a day until Abe flew out of the room, indicating that Dakuku had been chosen. Abe was pacified with a senatorial slot which he won but Dakuku went ahead to lose to PDP’s Wike, a former minister and strong ally of then President Jonathan.

This time around, Abe seemed prepared to ensure Dakuku, now the CEO of NIMASA, would not outwit him anymore. When he saw it was about to happen, he broke away and declared his ambition contrary to Amaechi’s instruction for everybody to keep such ambitions under wrap. A bitter rivalry ensued as Abe denounced loyalty to Amaechi and drifted closer to their former common enemy, Wike. Lots have been written about deals and pacts between Wike and Abe, but Abe has continued to laugh such insinuations away. What seemed obvious was that Abe seemed to enjoy huge access to what Wike is known to have in abundance, coziness with the Judiciary at all levels.

Now, each time a major victory is won in the courts against the Amaechi camp, jubilation would explode same time in both Abe and Wike’s enclaves, making Amaechi camp to point it out to observers as evidence that both men were working in concert. Huge amounts have been bandied about as value of the pact but no evidence has been adduced so far.

The legal fireworks began in May 2018 when Abe’s team went to court in Port Harcourt to challenge the ward congresses as an illegality. Many APC bigwigs did not take it very serious. Next, the high court granted Abe requests nullifying the congresses. The National leadership of the party tried to mend matters by calling for another exercise and also made forms available to the Abe camp; too late. This judgment or aspects of it have been challenged up to the Supreme Court and back, but the APC has continued to lose. Now, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has finally obeyed the orders by yanking off the logo of the APC from the ballot and removing all APC candidates from the latest list just displayed in Port Harcourt as reported by online newspapers keeping vigil at INEC.

Amaechi and Wike in judicial ‘perception’

Wike is not just a lawyer, his wife is a judge, wife of his biggest mentor is a Supreme Court judge. He too has endeared himself with the Judiciary by reopening the courts the same day he was sworn in. Lawyers jubilated over this because for almost a year, they had earned no money because litigation froze. Some lawyers were seen selling in their wives’ shops. It was that bad.

Wike has also built a new Nigeria Bar Association 9NBA) Building in Port Harcourt, this time, opposite the PH Local Council Secretariat. He has also built Federal high Court buildings and lawyers quarters. He has sponsored games in PH for judicial workers around Nigeria and awarded millions of naira to winners. The NBA has been hosted in PH twice and the African Bar Association has been hosted in PH.

Before that, the Nigerian Judicial Commission (NJC) had had running battle with Amaechi when the then governor refused to recognize the NJC recommended chief judge of Rivers State, daisy Okocha, preferring his own choice. This was because there were moves to impeach Amaechi and the plot required just a ready chief judge to come to reality. Amaechi fought hard to stop the jigsaw from completing. In so doing, he earned the wrath of the Supreme Court and most other judges. Talks were open in lawyers’ circles that Amaechi and his associates would never be allowed to benefit from the institution that he allegedly troubled.

As if this was not enough, the FG launched its anti-corruption war into the Judiciary, launching a midnight attack on some judges. Gov Wike miraculously found himself passing the way of the judges’ quarters in Port Harcourt and thus mobilized to save some. He thus became a hero while Amaechi came under harsher light and some suspicion. Amaechi had been fingered in the delay to nominate a Niger Delta son, Walter Onnoghen, as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). After that, many judges faced corruption charges and some lost out. Sentiments against the FG and Amaechi increased even as suspicion against Amaechi grew larger. Now, that the FG moved against the CJN, Wike has told a rally in Eleme that the travails were coming from their son, Amaechi. He has poked up issues of Amaechi helping to dethrone a son of the oil region (Jonathan) and now Onnoghen. It is resonating with the crowds. Amaechi’s defenders are arguing that Amaechi did not write the petition nor was he in either the CCT or the EFCC. It is not clear if this level of defence is jelling with the Niger Delta crowds that now bale for blood in an election moment.

Courts and cuts

As the APC desperately sought judicial relief for their candidates, the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt, for the second time, rather struck out an appeal filed by the APC challenging the ruling of the Rivers State High Court judge, Chiwendu Nworgu, which nullified the party’s wards, local governments and state congresses.

The Appeal Court had on December 12, 2018, struck out the same appeal against the State High Court decision for filing out of the stipulated time in the constitution.

On Tuesday, January 15, the APC had approached the Court of Appeal again, challenging the ruling of the same court, stressing that the lower court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the matter on the first instance. But the visiting Appeal Court Panel constituted to handle the matter, struck it out on Wednesday, saying it was a pre-election matter.

Delivering the judgment on behalf of the panel, at about 7:00pm, on Wednesday, Justice C.N. Uwa noted that the matter, which the lower court handled, was a pre-election suit and ought to have been appealed and disposed off within 60 days after the judgment of the lower court. “The appeal is fundamentally defective. The court cannot go into the matter, as doing so will amount to an effort in futility.

“It is unnecessary to continue on an appeal no matter the merit, which this court has held as status-bound. It would be an effort in futility to continue. This appeal is hereby struck out”, Justice Uwa stated.

Speaking with Journalists after the judgment, Henry Bello, Counsel for Ibrahim Umar and other 22 aggrieved APC members explained that; there is no Appeal anymore pending in this Court of Appeal against the decision of the High Court of Rivers State delivered by Justice Chiwendu Nwogu on October 10, 2018. “The implication is that as from today (16/01/2019), there is no more challenge at the Court of Appeal against that judgment of the lower court, the High Court of Rivers State in the suit by Ibrahim Umar and 22 others against All Progressives Congress (APC). By this judgment, it is now declared null and void the indirect primary elections conducted in Rivers State by the APC”, Bello added.

Implication to primaries and APC candidates

On January 7, 2019, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt granted an injunction stopping all sacked candidates of the APC in Rivers State from parading themselves as candidates for the 2019 General Elections.

He said that the Rivers APC would not participate in the governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly elections in 2019. Justice Kolawole Omotosho also granted a mandatory injunction directing the INEC to remove all APC candidates from ballot papers and other electoral materials.

The Court gave his judgment in the suit filed by the Rivers State PDP asking the court to compel  INEC to obey the judgment of the Rivers State High Court nullifying all Rivers  State APC Primaries and congresses. Justice Omotosho re-affirmed his directive in the suit between Senator Magnus and others versus Rivers APC that INEC cannot recognise any candidates presented by the APC  for the 2019 General Elections.

He added that all the primaries conducted by the Rivers State APC having been nullified by the State High Court remains invalid because the judgment has not been set aside.

Therefore, Justice Omotosho said that the APC in Rivers State has no right to nominate any candidates for all the elections. The Court warned against the willful disobedience of court orders, saying that it is detrimental to the rule of law.

Counsel to the PDP, Dike Udena , expressed happiness with the judgment. Counsel to Senator Magnus Abe, Henry Bello, said the court emphasised obedience to court orders, saying that the nullification was the consequence of the imposition of candidates.  He said that Senator Magnus Abe and others would appeal the judgment.

Also speaking, Counsel to APC, Emenike Ebete said that the APC will challenge the two judgments. He added that the APC will also file papers for stay of execution of the judgments. He expressed dissatisfaction that the court barred Rivers APC candidates from parading themselves as nominees for the elections.

APC reacts, reassures

The Amaechi-led APC family has been trying to douse the fire, asking the members not to see any threats in the ruling, even when many feel jittery. Chris Fineface, a member of the publicity department, reacting to the Omotosho of the Federal High Court ruling, said the party strongly felt that the trial court missed the mark in some of its decisions. He celebrated the aspects that stopped Abe but rejected the part that nullified the actions of the national leadership of the APC. The party had held onto the fact that it was the national body that conducted the primaries and o should not be affected by the Worgu ruling, but the Abe group has argued that the congresses produced the delegates. “We know, as it is the law in Nigeria today that the APC as a political party has absolute powers to schedule, reschedule or even cancel any of its congresses. The party effectively terminated the ward, LGA and state congresses of 5th, 12th and 19th May 2018. The APC primary election based on the unchallenged results and outcome of subsequent APC congresses were lawful and valid.”

That is the part waiting for the Supreme Court to decide.

Another plank waiting for the Supreme Court is the victory granted PDP by granting their prayer that the APC candidates were not properly elected. The APC says “As the laws remain today, the issue of nomination of candidates of a political party remains the exclusive right and preserve of that political party, and any dispute arising thereto also remains within that political party and its aggrieved members. Under the Electoral Act 2010, a third party (PDP) can only challenge the nomination of the 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. Nothing more imaginary can fit into the contemplation of the Nigerian electoral laws. The PDP’s case did not satisfy any of these conditions or circumstances.”

On removal from ballot

The APC said: “Considering the myriad of reactions trailing the exclusion of the National Assembly Candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC,  Rivers State, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from its list of candidates released today, it has become most expedient to allay our fears and dismay arising from partial understanding or total misunderstanding of the process.

A statement Thursday afternoon when tension rose by David Okumgba, South-South APC Zonal Secretary, said: “Whereas, Party members have been severally urged by the leadership at all levels to remain calm even in the face of the daunting Court rulings and the current position of things, it is understandable that members of the Party are still worried and apprehensive.

“However, it is important we understand that the listing of Candidates by INEC is part of its administrative duties prior to an election and that the non-listing of our National Assembly Candidates by INEC is only in submission to a Federal High Court order which is yet to be vacated as at today. It does not in any way, foreclose our candidates’ chances of participating in the 2019 National Assembly elections should we secure an order from a higher Court.

“In view of the fact that  our appeal against the Federal High Court ruling from which INEC derives its strength not to list our candidates, is yet to be heard, including other appeals at the Supreme Court, it becomes premature to be perturbed and shaken.

“Arising from the above, I want to urge our members to remain calm, positive and go about their various political activities with high spirits and impregnable faith in the Party’s ability to lawfully resolve the issue and overcome the bottlenecks on our path to victory.”

Magnus Abe’s fate?

Many have wondered where Magnus Abe’s fate lies in the developing plot. He clings onto Buhari at all times, saying he would win. Sources close to him say he has big hopes that the matter would be resolved in his favour somehow, either by the courts or by the National Working Committee of the APC. His supporters think he might be asked to replace Tonye Cole in substitution order that INEC will heed for states that had legal crisis. Others say the NWC has been meeting and may resolve all issues and ask INEC to recognize Abe in a power-sharing deal that may give 60 per cent to Amaechi in the National Assembly seats and 60 per cent to Abe in the House of Assembly.

On the other hand, the Amaechi camp believes that Abe has his true share in the Wike camp. They claim that Abe wants to get Amaechi out of the way, help Wike win now, and inherit Wike’s structure for 2023, plus enough funds to last the distance. All of this is souped in speculation.

Conclusion:

Amaechi, surrender?

Those who know Amaechi deeply warn that he does not die easily. When he fought Olusegun Obasanjo and the EFCC, he fought to the last drop of blood and reclaimed victory even five months after someone else sat on his throne. When the 2012 political crisis was launched against him by the Jonathan administration, Amaechi openly told his cabinet to brace up for a long fight. He even urged those with faint hearts to resign early and allow his likes to fight on. He warned of casualties to line the routes. He said he knew his enemies were also long-lasting and hard fighters. It has raged on to this day.

So, insiders warn that Amaechi’s silence should not be taken for granted, that he is always developing new weapons and strategies. Bishops, traditional rulers, business gurus are all said to have intervened at one point or the other but that he has insisted on justice.

Many think Amaechi did not waste four years in the Buhari FG for nothing; he must have combed the shelves and gathered details on his detractors and judges enough to cause panic, whether his camp won at the polls or not.

They say, expect bombshells, the type jinjas throw when they are faced with certain death