Chiemeka ADINDU, Calabar
Since the demise of Senator Rose Oko on March 23, 2020 in a London hospital, there has been political tension over who becomes her authentic successor. Court injunctions and judgements have even made the political tempo more interesting.
The entire process for Oko’s replacement has witnessed controversies both in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the All Progressives Congress, APC. It is undeniable that the tussle began with quarrels and counter arguments over the list of delegates on the Ward and Chapter congresses of March 7 and 21, 2020 meant to be used for the September 5, 2020 primary elections of the PDP.
The PDP National Working Committee, NWC had confirmed the list of the National Organising Secretary of the party, Col. Austin Akobundu on April 26, 2020. However, some members of the NWC did not endorse the list which caused some divisions as efforts were made to smuggle in a different list on April 27, 2020 which did not go down well with them as they could not sail through.
The tussle even heightened after a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt which was presided over by Justice I. M. Sani affirmed the list of April 26, 2020 and barred the NWC of the PDP from altering the March 7 and 21, 2020 Ward and Chapter executives congresses that produced the April 26 list for the PDP Cross River North Senatorial primary elections.
The PDP primary elections for the Senate seat later took place and both Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe and Dr. Stephen Odey held parallel primaries. This made it obvious that the PDP presented two candidates for the December 5, 2020 bye election. This was as result of two Federal High Courts in Calabar and Abuja declared Odey and Jarigbe as the candidates of the party.
PDP won the general election and Odey was declared winner by INEC and later sworn in by the Senate. And just 24 hours after, the court of appeal gave a counter order in favour of his rival in the party, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe. And the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmoud, subsequently issued him a certificate of return.
In his quest to take over the seat from Odey, Jarigbe further secured a Supreme Court judgment on February 25, 2021, which struck out the appeals by Odey and others, and sustained the Appeal Court judgment.
As all these went on, candidate of the APC, Joe Agi, SAN, who emerged second at the December 5, 2021 bye election filed a petition at the election tribunal, to take over the seat. His argument was that the PDP had no substantive candidate for the election and that he should be declared winner of that election.
Luck ran against him on Friday, June 18, 2021 as the election petitions tribunal sitting in Calabar dismissed the petition he filed against Odey, Jarigbe and INEC.
In a unanimous judgment, the panel, Justices John Olajide Abe, Gilbert Ngele Alo and led by Justice Yusuf Ubale Muhammad, struck out the petition.
Reacting, Counsel to the petitioner, Oladimeji Ekemgba stated that they would further study the judgment and proceed to the appellate court if the need arose.
He said: “Our response is that we will study the judgment and avail our clients the best advice as to what to do. We have seen some appealable grounds, we will test it and be able to know whether the political party is permitted under our law to field two candidates for an election because our main ground here is that PDP fielded two candidates for the election while the other party fielded one candidate.
“The judgement of the Supreme Court is that Jarigbe is the candidate of the party, how come Stephen Odey is issued a certificate? This is what we don’t know. So we would look at it and see what the appellate court would say about it. It will further help our law and our democracy.
“When we get to the appellate court, we will know whether what my Lords said or whether their judgment was correct or not because the fact is that there’s judgment of the Supreme Court that said that qualifications of a candidate are matters under the jurisdiction of the election petition tribunal. So if a candidate is not qualified and section 138 1A of the Electoral Act provides that I can come here and challenge his qualification or return. So if my Lords are saying no, we can’t come here, we would take it upstairs to see whether our law or the Electoral Act has been changed.”
Meanwhile, the Director of Cross River State Due Process and Price Intelligence Bureau, Alphonsus Ogar Eba has expressed his joy at the judgement. He believes that it has brought an end to all the permutations by Jarigbe.
“One good thing in this judgment is the fact that the action that was done by INEC on the 18th of December which has been the plank on which the second respondent, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe has been hinging on, today has been declared by this court as a jiggery pockery and so I don’t know what they intend to do. They might decide to embark on a journey of vain expectations, they have the stamina, they have the energy for that, but the court has said we have found nothing to upturn that declaration of Senator Stephen Adie Odey”, Eba remarked.
In his analysis, counsel to the second respondent, Mba Ukweni disclosed to TNN that they were also cross appealing the case. He said their cross appeal will be in that aspect where the court swaved, after saying they had no jurisdiction to dabble into issues of sponsorship of a candidate by political party where they now went and made pronouncements, that Odey was the properly elected and sponsored candidate of PDP.
He stated that they would challenge that aspect as it was beyond the jurisdiction of the election petitions tribunal, adding that it was also not founded on the evidence before them.
“The evidence before them shows otherwise that it is Jarigbe that is the candidate of the PDP and that the court had ordered the authentic list of the delegates to be used for the election, the primaries, and that was not what was used for the primaries that emanated from. Then the person who testifies for PDP also stated clearly that the party has given directive that it is that authentic list that is to be used. So those pieces of evidence were there before the court, before the tribunal but, they pronounced otherwise, if at all they had to go into that. So that is the aspect we’re likely to appeal.
“Joe Agi’s petition is that PDP had no candidate in the election and that the person, Dr Stephen Odey who was forward by the PDP for the election is not the person who the court eventually ordered to be used as the candidate of the party. So Joe Agi’s petition was based on the fact that Stephen Odey was the person presented by the party but that was not what the court ordered. So as such, PDP had no candidate in the election and since PDP had no candidate in the election, that the political party cannot go into political contest for the election without a candidate, so he should be declared as winner of the election having come second.
“So the votes that were given to PDP should be nullified by the tribunal. That was his complaint and we filed an objection which the tribunal ruled in our favour of sponsorship for the nomination of a candidate, that a pre-election issue must only be filed by the person who was a party in the party’s primary contest. Joe was not a member and is not a member of the PDP as at the time of the primaries and cannot complain about what went on in PDP. And the tribunal upheld our objection that Joe is not a member of the PDP and has no right to complain”, Ukweni narrated.
At the moment, Odey has remained in the Senate but the fierce battle continues.