A cloud of uncertainty looms over prospects of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State participating in the forthcoming governorship election.
There is simmering frustration within the party, as the political future of many of the principal antagonists, including Chibuike Amaechi and Senator Magus Abe, is now at stake.
On January 7, 2019, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice Kolawole Omotosho, delivered ruling on two matters brought before it by Senator Abe and 43 others and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against the APC.
Abe and others had prayed the court to declare them the authentic APC candidates for this year’s general elections, having emerged winners of the direct primaries conducted last August.
But the PDP, which had capitalised on the crisis plaguing APC, prayed the court to bar the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from including APC in the ballots for the 2019 polls in the state, following a court judgment declaring as null and void the process that led to the emergence of Tonye Cole and others as APC candidates in the state.
Justice Omotosho had acknowledged that the only legal primaries conducted by APC last August in Rivers State was the direct primaries that produced Abe and others, though it noted that it was not monitored by APC National Working Committee.
The court also observed the fact that the party, through its counsel coming to court to say it didn’t support the direct primaries did not help Abe’s case.
Citing the judgment of a Rivers State High Court, which nullified the processes that led to the emergence of Mr. Cole and others through the indirect primaries, Justice Omotosho said APC national leadership’s decision to stay away from the direct primaries which didn’t have legal encumbrances and then coming to court to say they didn’t observe direct primaries was equal to shooting itself in the foot.
To this end, the court declared that both Abe and his adversaries on the other side of the APC divide are not eligible to participate in the 2019 general elections.
A more devastating blow was delivered to the APC, as the court also granted an order for a mandatory injunction directing INEC to remove all APC candidates from ballot papers and other electoral materials for the 2019 general elections.
The injunction was based on a suit filed by PDP, which sought the court to compel INEC to obey Rivers State High Court’s judgment that nullified all APC congresses and primaries.
While the political future of APC candidates on both sides of the divide now hangs in the balance, it remains to be seen whether the party’s national leadership will be able to convince its members to arrive at a decision on who retains the governorship ticket.
The APC South-South Reconciliation Committee, led by former Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, was scheduled to meet aggrieved party members in Port Harcourt last December, but the meeting never held, perhaps due to the multiple lawsuits by the uncompromising contending factions.
Prior to this time, this had cast a looming cloud of uncertainty over the prospects of an amicable resolution of the crisis, which the APC had all this while downplayed.
The prospect of APC not fielding candidates in the upcoming general elections may compel the party’s leadership, particularly Abe and Tonye, to put aside their differences, otherwise, the greatest beneficiary will be the incumbent, Governor Nyesom Wike of PDP.
Both Cole and Senator Abe had expressed the desire to appeal Justice Omotosho’s verdict at the appellate court. However, both men have indicated readiness for political solution to the impasse.
Mr. Cole observed that the court’s decision on the crisis rocking APC has a far wider implication not just for River State, but also for the country. To this end, he expressed readiness to dialogue at a negotiating table with Abe to resolve the crisis ahead the general elections.
He said: “The negotiation table is open, and I hope this is wake up call, because the alternative is grievous for this state. It is not about Magnus Abe, it is not about Rotimi Amaechi.
For goodness sake, this is bigger than all of us. There are people in this state who are dying because the tide is low and they cannot get a boat because there is no jetty.
There are people who cannot move out of riverine communities. They die because there is no jetty.
How much is a jetty? There are people who are dying because they cannot get medical services. There are people who are dying because they stand on one side of a divided house and somebody is killing them because they don’t agree. For goodness sake, we have bigger problem than who is holding a ticket…”
Cole explained that he has always been disposed to reconciliation since his emergence. He acknowledged that the crisis threatening to tear the party apart was unnecessary.
Senator Abe said in a bid to make APC a capable political machine that can actually deliver on members’ expectations, still steps must be taken to restore respect for one another within the party.
He said: “My suggestion on the way forward is that I want to talk to party members. I want people to be able to reason for themselves, because we are now in a position where it is clear that one person cannot reason for all of us. We have to think for ourselves. We have to act to save our party. We have to understand how the party got to where it was.
It was not by accident. It was by the deliberate actions of people who mismanaged a situation that could have been better managed. I believe that was the reason people went to court
“I think that as much as possible, the party needs everybody. In this kind of situation that we have found ourselves, we simply have to accept the reality that where we are today as a political party is a disgrace, and that we can move ourselves out of this position. But we can only do that by people showing respect for one another and admitting the sacrifices that APC members have made for the party in Rivers State. We can only move forward by respecting the position of one another…”
Already, the Rivers State PDP campaign council is celebrating the court judgments restraining INEC from recognising any APC candidate in the 2019 general elections.
The campaign spokesperson, Emma Okah, said APC’s exclusion from the polls will douse tension and promote peace in Rivers State because APC’s alleged past involvement in elections in the state has been characterised by recurring violence, rigging and breakdown of law and order.