Tribunals In Rivers, Akwa Ibom And Abia: Time Ticks As APC, PDP Bicker
THE situation in many states, regarding the Election Petition Tribunals is that of apprehension and suspense. Parties to most of the suits are closing their cases, while others are getting set to adopt their addresses.
Perhaps, on account of the frenetic nature of suspense and fear of possible reversal of electoral fortunes, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are locked in allegations and counter-accusations of attempts to influence the course of justice at the tribunals.
Shortly after the March 28 presidential election, which it won, it became obvious that APC could not secure victories in certain states, especially for the National Assembly and Governorship elections. At the build up to the general election, it was taken for granted that states in both Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones were strong holds of PDP. As such, the PDP expected that with bulk votes from these two zones, in addition to those form Southwest and parts of North-central and Northeast, it would coast home to victory as usual or at worse, a tie.
But all those schemes could not bear much fruit as APC returned mindboggling votes from the ballots of ‘populous’ Northwest and Northeast states to cancel out what could have given PDP and its candidates the edge.
But having secured the much victory in the centre, APC was not content. Rather, the party decided on a very strategic plan of trying to remove some crucial states that could aid PDP in waging strident opposition, and or plot its way back to the control of federal power. Some of these states include Abia, Akwa Ibom and Rivers. APC tends to believe that if it is able to snatch one or two of these states as happened in the Southwest through the tribunals, it could post a dominant control of the polity, much the same way as PDP did in the past sixteen years.
A critical consideration in the desire by the new ruling party to add some of these states to its pool is the fact of the states’ financial health. From its experience with Lagos State when it was in opposition, APC believes that these strategic states could help to oil the operations of the opposition PDP. But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the detail.
RIGHT from the buildup to the 2015 general elections, Rivers State remained as a hotspot. Two things made the battle for Rivers very crucial. The former Chief of Staff in Rivers State Government House in former Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s administration, Barrister Nyesom Wike, who became a minister of state, was eyeing the governorship seat.
Not that alone, having been promoted to the position of minister, Wike became a political ally of the then President Goodluck Jonathan. And as Governor Amaechi fell out of favour with the President over his insistence to occupy the Chairmanship of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, (NGF), Wike decided to stand in the gap and “give it back to Amaechi”.
Matters took a turn for the critical when five state governors decided to quit PDP. Amaechi not only happened to be among the five, but was actually the only one from the South-South where the then President hails. These five governors joined the newly formed APC. As if that was not enough, Amaechi went ahead to become the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation. As the rumours of bloody electoral battled spread, Rivers was constantly in red ink as one of the flashpoints.
However, when push came to a shove, President Jonathan who was seeking a second term in office lost. But Wike, who had clinched the PDP governorship ticket continued to campaign alongside his political grouping, Grass Roots Initiative, (GRI). It was obvious that with the strong backing of the presidency, especially the wife of the then President, Dame Patience Jonathan, Wike’s contest against Amaechi’s protégé, Hon. Dakuku Adol-Peterside, a lot of things would be at play.
Being home to two elephants – President’s wife and incumbent Governor/DG, APCPCCO – Rivers lived up to its billing. Consequently, on April 12, 2015, despite the fall of the Jonathans, voters in the state demonstrated that blood is thicker than ink. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, was declared winner! APC cried foul. Buoyed by the victory of Amaechi’s principal in the presidential election, APC hurried to the tribunal, believing that ‘the wrongs and false victory of Wike’ would be made right there.
A new panel of Judges was set up to replace the first one, which was accused of “undue fraternization’’ with Governor Wike. As the trial lasted before the first tribunal was disbanded, parties to the suit engaged in all sorts of legal gymnastics. While PDP accused APC of trying to use federal security outfits, especially the office of the National Security Adviser, (NSA) to upturn the mandate, APC maintained that what held on April 12, 2015 was official brigandage and less of a governorship election. Perhaps, in a bid to ensure that the second Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal does not remain contiguous to the Government House, the tribunal was relocated to Abuja.
This way, APC leaders feel the panel would not be contaminated by Governor Wike, even when the official reason is said to be for witnesses to feel free to offer their testimony. The current mood in the state is that a re-run election may be called.
LIKE Rivers State, Akwa Ibom has the singular misfortune of having a loud and rambunctious governor that was a major player in PDP. Former Governor Godswill Akpabio, came strongly on the national scene when he was selected to head the PDP Governors’ Forum, a creation intended to whittle down the influence of NGF under Amaechi. Blessed with a buxom purse and scintillating performance in his home state, Akpabio put his new office into good effect. He built goodwill across the land and, as such, was able to attack and defend the PDP and its President.
Knowing that he was completing his two maximum terms, Akpabio decided, like his other clever colleagues, to anoint a successor. The former governor also created a cubicle to make himself relevant in the scheme of things after his ‘passing out parade’ on May 29, 2015: He ran for and won the Akwa Ibom North Senatorial seat! And as a go-getter that he is, Akpabio sent jitters down the spine of APC, when he won the post of Minority Leader, which doubtlessly gives legroom to torment the ruling party further.
It is against this ironic background that Akwa Ibom became one of the states where the election petition tribunal has become another fencing ground for APC and PDP.
The Tribunal acquiesced to the relocation of the Governorship election tribunal to Abuja, at least to assure witnesses of adequate security and perhaps, secure a cancellation of the April 12 poll. The ruling party also appointed the very man that former Governor Akpabio displaced in the Senate, Senator Ita Enang, to the federal cabinet as Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, (Senate). Recently, the department of State Services, (SSS) carried out a sting operation at a chalet in the Government House, where the immediate past Governor stays when he visits from Abuja.
As expected, the sting operation by SSS provided the two major political parties another opportunity to further their bickering. In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh, PDP accused the ruling APC of arm-twisting members of the Election Petition Tribunal to deliver judgment in its favour, adding that the invasion of the Akwa Ibom Government House was stark evidence of that tendency. However, APC through its own publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged PDP to stop crying wolf since according to it the nation’s judiciary is worthy of their confidence.
Mohammed, who addressed a press conference in Lagos, accused PDP of “carrying out an orchestrated misinformation campaign about Akwa Ibom State governorship tribunal and the Directorate of State Security (DSS),” stressing that the party should focus more energy on pleading their case at the tribunal, rather than whipping up sentiments. While alleging that PDP wants to deceive Nigerians about the real situation of things about the governorship election petition by the APC governorship candidate, Mr. Umana Umana, Mohammed said Metuh, PDP Chairman in Akwa Ibom, Mr. Paul Ekpo, and the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko of spreading the lies.
He said: “PDP has pointedly accused the APC of working with the DSS to upturn the state governorship election purportedly won by the PDP. That is the summary of all their mindless and meaningless accusations. The DSS recently invited the REC, (Resident Electoral Commissioner), Mr. Austin Okojie, and some other officials working with him to help their investigation into the discovery that INEC had destroyed and attempted to destroy evidence in election petitions before the state election petition tribunals by shredding ballot papers, immersing them in water, mixing them all up and stuffing them in jute bags…”
The APC publicity secretary added that when the evidence came to the DSS, it began investigations to determine those responsible for the criminal acts.
But Metuh stated that by his press conference, Mohammed and APC had accepted its responsibility in “a number of anti-democratic actions of government agencies lately, particularly the mindless invasion of the Akwa-Ibom State government house and sundry interference in the activities of the state election petition tribunal.” While describing Lai Mohammed’s assertions as weak attempt to defend what was indefensible, Metuh maintained that the APC spokesman succeeded in confirming the unlawful acts of DSS. “It also shows,” he said, “that his party and the federal government, under President Muhammadu Buhari were behind the invasion and the hounding of election officials to compromise the Akwa Ibom governorship election tribunal and take over the state.” Wondering why the APC spokesman should be the one to “stand in the gap to explain away the actions of the DSS when the security organisation”, Metuh declared what APC was doing amounted to “a desperate attempt at political shoplifting.”
IN Abia State, PDP and APC are engaged in a kind of proxy war. The former Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, was briefly the chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum. In a bid to fulfill his ambition to progress to the Senate, the former governor supplanted Senator Nkechi Nworgu, for the Abia Central Senatorial zone. Shortly before the election, some stakeholders from the zone had suggested to the governor to have Senator Nworgu as the running mate for whomever he may settle for as his successor. The governor remained non-committal until the PDP primary election. Instead of Dr. Alex Otti, who was said to have received the governor’s endorsement and that of the presidency, Orji settled for Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. And instead of making Senator Nworgu Ikpeazu’s running mate, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Ude Oko Chukwu, was chosen.
Yet, in Abia North, some stakeholders pleaded with the governor to support power shift by insisting that the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, should not be supported for another term in the Senate. To the chagrin of the stakeholders, instead of allowing the zone to select their candidate, the governor was said to have handpicked his friend, Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa. All these culminated in a massive defection of disaffected stalwarts to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
After the March 28 and April 12 elections, both Dr. David Onuoha-Bourdex and Dr. Alex Otti, APGA candidates for Abia North Senatorial seat and governorship respectively are in the tribunal challenging the return of Ohuabunwa and Ikpeazu as Senator and governor respectively.
At the build up to the election, some of Governor Orji’s loyalists alleged that the presidency was supporting the APGA candidate, Otti and Ikpeazu, for the governorship. However, after PDP lost the presidential election, there are speculations in Umuahia that APC was interested in the outcome of the election petition tribunals. The speculation became rife when the governorship election petition tribunal accepted as exhibit the INEC report on the use of card readers for the governorship election despite objection by counsels of the defendants including that of INEC. At the National Assembly Election Petition, counsel to Senator Ohuabunwa alleged that the position of counsel of the petitioner was being celebrated in the media as if it is the opinion of the tribunal. This may explain why the Senator was among Senators that escorted Senate President Bukola Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal last Tuesday.
As the various Election Petition Tribunals begin the processes leading to the final delivery of judgment, it would be seen in the next few days whether the bickering between APC and PDP had direct bearing in the eventual outcome.