In view of the legal circumstances in Rivers APC, the question in the title of this piece has been a recurring decimal since the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave its momentous judgement of October 23rd, 2018, in the now celebrated case of Ibrahim Umar and 22 others against the All Progressives Congress.
I will answer the above question in the affirmative, and go ahead to dismiss the fears expressed in certain quarters that APC in Rivers may not be able to field candidates in the 2019 elections. I will contend that such fears are unnecessary, unfounded, hasty and constitute an unfortunate gloss over the fact and the state of law in Rivers APC. Let me start by establishing the background of the legal quagmire in the party and what brought us here.
APC proposed the 5th of May, 2018, for nationwide ward congresses to fill executive positions in the party from ward level. The exercise would graduate to LGA congress, State congress and national convention in the weeks that followed. The party went ahead to publish rules and guidelines governing the conduct of the congresses and also published account numbers and names of banks party men and women who were interested in contesting for positions would pay money into in order to obtain nomination forms already giving to state chapters.
In Rivers State, however, over 8000 party faithful across the 319 wards of the state who paid money to the banks and obtained their tellers as evidence of payment were denied issuance of nomination forms by the party in the state on the clear instruction of the leader of the party Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
What was their crime? The only crime of those hapless party members was that they were said to be, and discreetly identified as supporters of Senator Magnus Abe whom the leader of the party had earlier warned not to ever dream of contesting for the position of Governor of Rivers State in 2019.
The leader, through an incredible effort that started three weeks before the ward congress and coordinated by his own supporters at the wards, had identified all supporters of Abe in the 319 wards and diligently screened their names out of the old exco list. The leader ordered then party chairman, Chief Dr. Davies Ibiamu Ikanya, that on no account should any supporter of Senator Abe be allowed to contest for positions in the ward congress, an order that was obeyed to the letter through shenanigans.
Early in the morning on the 4th of May, 2018, party faithful who had paid money to the bank accounts of the party, armed with their tellers as evidence of payment thronged the APC secretariat in Port Harcourt to collect nomination forms in order to beat the deadline stipulated in the guideline of the congress that completed nomination forms must be returned 24 hours before the congress. But unfortunately, no official of the party was at the secretariat to attend to them.
Later in the morning, some state working committee members already branded as supporters of Abe who obviously didn’t know what the Chairman of the party and his clique were doing came hopelessly to tell the distraught party members that they couldn’t find the chairman who was in exclusive possession of the nomination forms and all his phone lines had been switched off. Dr. Ikanya had only two days earlier, precisely on Tuesday 2nd of May, 2018, during a rare State Executive Council meeting hosted at the party secretariat, swore in the name of the Almighty God that all the nomination forms were already with him and not a piece of it had been given to anybody. That was his response when accusations started flying in the meeting that he had handed over all the forms to the Minister of Transportation. Later events would prove that he lied.
Thousands of hapless party faithful, with their bank tellers raised, started singing in the hot midday sun, sweating it out and chanting that all they needed was issuance of their nomination forms so they could take part and contest for positions in the ward congress.
They had been in the party secretariat from morning till around 5:00 pm that day peacefully waiting, no party official who had answers to their questions came to address them. Instead of coming to talk to them, the Minister of Transportation ordered the police to open fire and teargas on them, and later that evening appeared on National TV to call them hoodlums. Brutalized and assaulted, the party faithful scampered to safety, many of them sustaining different degrees of severe injuries from gun shots. With their blood littered in the premises of the party, they escaped to nurse their injuries.
That day, I drove my younger brother Gbenemene Friday who paid for teller to contest for the position of Auditor in my ward to the party secretariat in Port Harcourt. He had held that position in the previous exco that was to bow out. Unfortunately, he had already been marked as a supporter of Abe that must never be allowed a space in the party. I saw everything that happened and inhaled my fair share of teargas as police came to brutalize us on the order of the Minister of Transportation.
The Minister and his cronies by this time were cocooned at the INTELS camp in Port Harcourt with all the materials for congress, guarded by heavy security presence. They stayed there to stamp already prepared list of party excos across the ward while faithful party men and women were shedding tears and bleeding at the party secretariat.
To cut the long story short, those who were disenfranchised wrote petitions to the Appeals Panel set up by the party as specified in the guideline. The petitions were only acknowledged as received but not once did members of the panel sit to consider the petitions. The Minister of Transportation lodged the panel members in five star hotel where they were drinking Champagne. Nobody saw them.
Frustrated by those who should listen to them and mocked at by those who should show concern, 23 of the disenfranchised party faithful went to the State High Court to institute an action. The court, after hearing all parties in the suit issued an Interlocutory Injunction on the 11th of May, 2018, restraining the APC from conducting further congresses in Rivers State and ordering that status quo should be maintained.
The Publicity Secretary of the party, Chris Finebone and other party leaders in support of the Minister went on air to say that the party would not obey any order and went ahead with LGA congress on the 12th of May in contempt of court.
Curiously, the party in an advertorial published in the Nation newspaper on Saturday, 19th of May, 2018, issued a notice cancelling all the congresses in Rivers State and scheduling new Ward congress for that same day the 19th of May, LGA Congress for 20th, and state congress for 21 in unprecedented quick succession. That action was also a clear violation of the Interlocutory Order which restrained the party from conducting any further congress in Rivers State pending determination of the suit.
After the party violated the Interlocutory Order, the litigants went back to court to complain. The court after hearing all parties issued a Mandatory Injunction on the 30th of May, 2018, nullifying the LGA congress of May 12, 2018; ward congress of 19th May; LGA congress of 20th May; and State Congress of May 21 conducted by 4am that day which purportedly produced Mr. Ojukaye Flag Amachree as Chairman of the party in the state.
The following day, Mr Ojukaye issued a statement that was published in the papers and aired on radio saying that the congress that produced him as Chairman was not before any court and that Justice Nwogu of the State High Court didn’t know what he was doing when he issued the Mandatory Injunction nullifying his chairmanship and his executive. He concluded that the party would not obey the order and party members should go ahead to recognize his exco. He was supported in that comment by leader of the party, the Hon. Minister of Transportation.
Interestingly, Ojukaye, who had earlier said that the congress that purportedly produced him as chairman was not before any court of law was the first person to boast through a statement that all legal impediments on his way had been cleared the day the Court of Appeal, against known judicial positions, curiously stayed further execution of the order of interlocutory Injunction issued by the High Court, which order was flagrantly disobeyed by the party in the first place. That was on the 12th of June, 2018.
It’s worthy of note that the State High Court has already delivered its reasoned verdict in the substantive matter nullifying the congresses of 19th, 20th and 21st of May, 2018. The court also invoked its inherent powers to make consequential order by voiding all the indirect primaries conducted by Rivers APC. The Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly indirect primaries were all voided. That was on the 10th of October, 2018.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria caused a great stir in the country when twelve days later, precisely on the 22 of October, 2018, a panel of the justices of the apex court overruled the Court of Appeal on the stay of execution of the order of interlocutory Injunction, accusing the lower court of gross judicial insubordination. The apex court said that APC cannot benefit from its stupidity of disobeying valid court orders. The pronouncement of the Supreme Court reinforced and gave eternal legal validity to both the Orders of Interlocutory and Mandatory Injunctions issued by the High Court and the substantive judgement of the trial court.
That development has made some political pundits to say that the Rivers APC cannot field candidates in the 2019 elections. That proposition, without prejudice to those making it, is preposterous and unfounded.
Indeed, there is absolutely no legal encumbrance in the way of Rivers APC from fielding candidates in the 2019 elections.
Recall that the NWC of the APC gave latitude to the legally constituted State Chapters of the party across the nation to request mode of primaries that will be suitable in their different states. Also recall that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, at the last NEC meeting of the party said that due to the legal complexities in Rivers APC, the party would conduct Direct Primaries in Rivers State.
Do not forget that at the time the Ojukaye faction through a memo requested for indirect primaries in Rivers APC, the Ojukaye crew had no standing in law to so do because a valid court order already nullified the congresses that brought him in and he was already acting in disobedience and contempt of that order.
In the eyes of the law therefore, the Ojukaye exco did not exist as the State Working Committee of the party and couldn’t have summoned any State Executive Committee of the party in Rivers State to request for indirect primaries. The Supreme Court by its judgement has validated both the injunction stopping the party from conducting further congresses in Rivers State and the Mandatory Order nullifying the congresses that brought in Ojukaye and his midnight crew in the state and across the 319 wards. It follows that Ojukaye did not call any meeting that requested for Indirect primaries because he simply did not exist in law.
Note that the Prince Peter Odike led APC in Rivers State which is the only legally established State Working Committee going by the court order which sanctioned status quo correctly convened a State Executive Committee of the party and requested the NWC, through a memo, to grant Direct Primaries in Rivers State.
Direct Primaries in furtherance of that memo to the NWC were conducted in Rivers State for the Governorship, Senate, House of Reps and House of Assembly elections and candidates who won were duly announced. The Direct Primaries were observed by all organs of state legally mandated to observe such exercise.
The candidates of the APC in Rivers State who won Direct Primaries in the different categories of election are therefore the candidates of the party in the 2019 elections. There is absolutely no vacuum and no lacuna. Every field was well covered.
All the results of the Direct Primaries are already with the National Working Committee of the party and all they need to do is to adopt them and submit the names of the candidates who won in the primaries to INEC. Those are the candidates that can legally stand elections in Rivers State in 2019.
So all the talk about the party not fielding candidates in the 2019 elections are unfounded and untrue. While the indirect group was swimming in unmitigated and incurable illegality from the beginning, the direct group was on the side of the law and doing everything legitimately from the beginning.
It’s very simple and easy to understand that the APC have legitimate candidates in all elective positions in Rivers State free from all legal sanctions. The National Working Committee must go ahead to field these candidates and engineer a move to reposition the party to win elections in Rivers State.
Founder of Kairos Media Group writes from Port Harcourt.