Chiemeka ADINDU, Calabar
All hopes for the Cross River state governor, Professor Ben Ayade to return to the senate seem to have been dashed, after the apex court upheld the decision of the appellate court which confirmed Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe as the authentic candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP in the Cross River North Senatorial bye-election held on December 5, 2020.
There were speculations that the governor had presented the name of Dr. Steven Odey to represent the party in the bye-election to pave way for him to be re-elected as a senator representing Cross River North after his tenure as the governor must have elapsed in 2023.
Things became rosy for the governor when INEC issued a certificate of return to Odey who was declared winner of the December 5 bye-election in Cross River North Senatorial district. He was not sworn in by the senate president on the same day his colleagues from other states were sworn, in due to many litigations against his candidacy. But he was fortunate to be inaugurated the day after.
However, Odey’s seat began to jerk just 24 hours into his occupancy after the court of appeal gave a counter order in favour of his rival in the party, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe. Since then, Jarigbe and Odey, both of the PDP have been involved in a legal battle for the Cross River North Senatorial seat. The battle was believed to have torn the party along two major lines with the Jarigbe faction being accused of sponsorship by a governor in the south-south described as the “Governor General of PDP”.
Justice Binta Mohammed of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT had in her judgment declared Jarigbe as the valid candidate of the party for the senatorial bye election. Dissatisfied with the ruling, John Alaga in his suit No. CV/77/2020, urged the court to disqualify the candidature of Jarigbe on strength of the alleged false information and other allegations. But in his judgment, Justice Mohammed sitting in court 27, Apo division of the FCT High Court held that the claimant has failed to prove his case.
In her judgment, she held that contrary to the claim of the claimant, John Alaga, the defendant, Jarigbe, did not supply any false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in his INEC Form CF001 by purporting to have sat for and or obtained educational qualification making him eligible to contest for the Cross River North Senatorial bye- election.
The court also held that the Cross River North Senatorial primary election of the PDP wherein Jarigbe, 1st defendant, was nominated as the senatorial candidate was conducted with the authentic list of the ward and local government area executives of the party; hence, the court ordered INEC to give Jarigbe every other rights and privileges pertaining to his lawful qualification and nomination as the PDP candidate.
It was on this premise that Odey, who is a former chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB approached the apex court to challenge the judgment of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal which voided his candidacy. He appealed to the Supreme Court to, among other things, set aside a portion of the December 17, 2020, judgment of the appellate court that directed INEC to recognize Jarigbe as the candidate of the PDP for the by-election.
He stated that the Federal High Court in Calabar delivered its judgments on December 3, 2020, affirming him as the authentic PDP candidate, while the court struck out Jarigbe’s case for want of jurisdiction. Unfortunately for him, luck ran out of him on February 25, 2021 after his suit was struck out by the Supreme Court for lacking in merit.
Analyzing the Supreme Court ruling during a telephone conversation with TNN, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Ntufam Mba Ukweni said the apex court has the jurisdiction to decide on the matter. He stated that the election petition tribunal does not have the legal backing to decide on pre-election matters.
He said: “Well, I’ve not seen the judgment, what I have here is the judgment of the appeal court which is what the Supreme Court affirmed so they shouldn’t create unnecessary issues about it. It is a straightforward matter; the court of appeal gave a decision that they were uncomfortable with. When the Court of appeal said he should issue certificate of return to Jarigbe as the candidate, that was what actually took them, all these while they’ve not showed any interest in the matter but when that pronouncement was made they ran to seek leave to be an interested party because they see it as something that has affected them. And the Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the court of appeal, so do they need to go back to the Supreme Court to interpret it again?
“The tribunal can’t have the final say on who is the candidate of a party, it’s not the business of the tribunal and that’s one of the points that we are raising in Joe Agi’s matter. The only petition that is still surviving there that the tribunal has no business with pre-election matters; the tribunal is set up to determine post election issues and that is why a person who did not win the election is not a proper respondent in an election petition. Steven Odey is not a proper respondent to the election petition because he did not win election.
“You don’t have to punish somebody who has lost, Supreme Court says so; don’t increase his injury by bringing him again into an election petition. So following the pronouncement of the Supreme Court, it is Jarigbe who won and that is final on the issue. Whoever emerges as candidate of the PDP automatically becomes the winner of the election. So if they are thinking that the election tribunal which we will resume sitting this week is the one going to make a pronouncement on who; are they going to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision? They cannot. So people should be reasonable and know where to end their fight. The issue is over, having that pronouncement that is the end of the matter”.
Recall that the Cross River North Senate Seat was left vacant following the death of Senator Rose Oko on March 23, 2020 in a hospital in London, United Kingdom after an undisclosed sickness.