Chief Utum Eteng is the head of the legal directorate of Prince Bassey Otu Governorship Campaign Organisation in Cross River State. He is a former secretary of the Atam Peoples Congress, the group that has battled to secure a governorship slot for the Atam people.
But right now, he is of the APC and a supporter of the governorship ambition of Prince Otu. He is very well familiar with all the issues surrounding the legal battles of the APC candidate. He spoke with TNN on this and other issues.
Let’s start from the suit filed by the PDP against Prince Otu and his running mate. The issue is that Prince Otu’s running mate is not a member of the APC and so, he is not supposed to be taken as running mate. How did this come to you?
There are only two cases in court concerning the APC governorship candidate or APC gubernatorial candidate and deputy governor.
One is the one recently filed by the PDP, challenging the qualification of the deputy governorship candidate, Rt. Hon Peter Odey. By their own argument, they are hoping that he is not a member of APC as to run the deputy governorship slot on the platform of APC, but the point remains, APC says, this is our member, we submitted his name to INEC. So, he remains our member.
In the first place, you know it is a political party that determines who its member is. It’s not the third party. INEC does not even determine who a member of a party is, it’s the political party and APC says he’s our member and APC submitted his name to the electoral body. Well, I will not say so much because it may be subjudice. If I really go on into the nitty-gritty of lifting the law as it is, it is a matter in court for now and I will say very little about the merit so that I don’t get involved talking about the facts and the merit, they are to be decided by the court. But all what they are saying is whether reading certain sections of the constitution and Electoral Act, the first defendant is eligible to participate in the contest, that is, the APC is eligible following their arguments that the deputy governorship candidate is not a member of APC. So the argument is that APC is not eligible to participate or to present, because what affects A affects B in a joint ticket. Well, I will not want to go into their argument or demerits of their argument but I will say, it is settled law that it’s a political party that determines who its candidate is, it’s not a third party and for one to ask who a candidate of a party is, you must be a member of that party to have the locus standi to ask. A stranger cannot cry more than the bereaved, so that is the position.
The other leg of their case against the APC running mate is that he has a dual citizenship. By the constitution, you can have a dual citizenship. We have got previous judgements where the court of appeal has settled the matter of dual citizenship. And by the way, what is important is that of your place of birth. That one takes precedent.
You are saying a stranger, but in this case the person has locus, the person who has gone to court has locus because he is PDP, he is running an election against the APC.
And he is talking about the soup cooked by the APC for APC members to eat, the soup was cooked by APC members for APC members to eat, not by the PDP members to eat, he cannot participate in the eating of the soup because he is not a member of APC that cooked the soup for APC members, is that not correct?
What is the issue of locus standi? That one is all about post-election matter, but this is a pre-election matter. So when we get to the bridge we will know how to cross it.
I know there has been a case running between the PDP and the APC over the defection of members of the house of assembly, including Peter Odey. Judgement was given in that case, to the effect that Peter Odey and the other members who defected could not transfer their mandate from the PDP to the APC, and that they should vacate their seat. All of them have gone on appeal, including Peter Odey; and their position is that they never left the PDP. That is their case before the court of appeal.
Well, an appeal is to some extent an extension, a continuation of the hearing of the matter in the lower court. The lower court has given a judgment that you have left PDP. If you have left the PDP, the court did not say you should not join any other party or they could not belong to any other party. If there is an appeal, an appeal may be as a result of some areas like the court saying vacate the seat. That might be the contest. But be that as it may, the court has said, simplicita, you have vacated the this seat, you cannot transfer the mandate of PDP to APC, in which case the court itself by that pronouncement has acknowledged that they are not members of PDP, but they are members of APC. This is deductive reasoning. Would you say that it is not correct?
Was there any pronouncement by the federal high court presided over by Justice Tawo Tawo, that Peter Odey and the other PDP members that defected are currently members of the APC?
That was not the claim of the claimant in that case, he said you have left PDP, you cannot transfer your mandate to APC and that is the judgment of the court. Look at it critically, forget about sentiments. The PDP sued APC members for what? For defecting, is that not correct?
It’s simple grammar, I am suing you and say you have to leave your mandate because you have left my party. Is there any other thing that is expected? And the court says oh! It is true, you have defected, so leave their own mandate. What will you imply from these? Oh! You have defected. When the court says you are members of APC or not, it’s immaterial now.
Sir, let’s look at logic; you have defected, if you have defected, it means you are leaving party A to party B, is that not correct?
When the court said they had left PDP, they should not transfer their membership of PDP to APC and still remain in the house of assembly. Peter Odey and the rest that were involved in that matter went on appeal, meaning they did not agree with that verdict, so…
(Cuts in) Meaning they did not agree with that verdict. Assuming I want to go by what you have said, meaning they did not agree by that verdict, has that by itself upturned the verdict? The verdict can only be overturned by a higher court. Until a higher court overturns that, which to my mind is not likely, without prejudice, which to my mind is not likely.
So what does this particular case mean to you?
That has been long expected because you see, I am sorry, with due respect, when a man is, sorry, with due respect, a foolish man who will fall at the middle of the river and will not raise his hand, one way or to other to attempt to escape, is that not correct? You cannot just fold your arms and legs and just go like a stone. You have to struggle. It’s expected. More will still come and we are expecting more, because people believe now in some cases, elections, people spend little money to canvass or to do proper election, pre-election situation, and keep the money to file litigation in court and sometimes more money than what is used to reach the people. You know what has happened in this country. So to some extent, people still believe, have the archaic feeling that you can get from the court what the electorate refused to give you. So this is the experiment some persons are into now.
There is also a second court case and that is the case involving Owan Enoh and Prince Otu; the candidate of the APC. That matter has been pending. What are your fears?
None whatsoever. I’ve read the whole processes filed, from the beginning to the end, both the counter processes, the reply and whatever. I have no fear whatsoever, at all. We are on very solid ground.
But the question is, the processes that led to the clearance of Prince Otu, he was not properly cleared…
(Cuts in) like what?
That is the case in court, that he was not cleared.
You see, an attempt to answer this question may lead me into digging into the facts and the merits of this case. It will be unfair for a lawyer of my standing to go into comments that may be prejudicial to the proper verdict of the court. But the issue remains, it is only a party that presents its own candidate. That is well established. The party says this is our candidate and the court does not impose candidates except under the breach of the constitution of the federal republic, or the guidelines of the party. Otherwise, I don’t want to answer that. The answer is a very simple one, and it is not even a technical answer.
The principal of a school has set up an adhoc committee to investigate the stealing of the school bell and the adhoc committee went ahead to do its findings, even if it says the teacher did not steal the bell or the teacher stole the bell, who is the final authority? It’s on the desk of the principal whether to accept or not to accept. It’s commonsensical. You don’t need to be a lawyer for 100 years. So I do not want to comment further so that I do not open up the facts or the merits of either party. But I can tell you from my own perspective and having read through all the processes filed by the parties, Prince Otu is on very solid ground, very, very solid like the rock of Gibraltar.
And you think he will survive all these legal battles?
The Bible has answered that; no weapon fashioned against my man will prosper, is that not? No instrument of danger directed against the man of God will prosper because God is in front, behind and beside. So, there is no cause for alarm. He has gone around thanking the people, consulting with party members to thank them, pending the take-off of the proper campaigns. So, I think I am sure he is on very solid ground, solid, solid, solid ground, unshakeable ground. It’s only the court that can finally pronounce. But from my own perspective and candid opinion, my submission is, he is on solid ground.