It is preposterous that a ruling party in a state would drag the governorship candidates of almost all opposition parties to court, to question how they emerged, and a court of law would allow the nonsense to stand. That is the dangerous political trend ongoing in Rivers State, courtesy of garrulous Governor Nyesom Wike-led Peoples Democratic Party. This governor has been exploiting Nigeria’s kinked courts to unleash judicial mayhem on governorship candidates of leading opposition parties in the state. This is aimed at destabilising them and ensuring that these parties have no candidates in the 2023 governorship election in the state. Wike does not want any strong opposition for his puppet, the PDP’s governorship contender, Siminialaye Fubara.
The case filed against Tonye Cole, the All Progressives Congress’s governorship candidate, is most interesting. Few months back, the Rivers State PDP asked a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt to order INEC to disqualify Cole, claiming that the delegates that voted at the primary election won by the APC candidate were not democratically elected. Wike and his PDP also told the court that Cole holds dual citizenship (Nigeria and the United Kingdom), “which disqualifies him from vying for any elective office in Nigeria.”
It is pertinent to note that the plaintiff i.e. the River State chapter of the PDP, is not a member of the APC; it did not participate in the APC gubernatorial primary election, yet approached a court to complain about what the Rivers APC did at its primary election. This is a clear case of what good judges would describe as “meddlesome interlopers.” Legally, the Rivers State PDP lacks the locus standi to challenge the APC primary and are simply meddlers. That is the position of the law.
Disgracefully, Justice Emmanuel Obile who presided over the case, agreed with PDP’s submission that the APC candidate is not eligible to contest the primary election and also declared the APC primary election won by Cole as null and void. He directed INEC to remove Cole’s name from the list of eligible candidates for the 2023 governorship election in the state.
Justice Obile’s ruling is clearly weird and not sustainable. That was why APC’s Publicity Secretary, Darlington Nwauju said the judgment was meant to satisfy the PDP in Rivers State.
Counsel for the APC, Collins Dike, captures the oddness of the judgement appropriately: “First, to say that the judgement has been given, in law, we abide by it. However, we are disappointed and we are sure we are going to test it at the Court of Appeal.
“Our constitution is very clear that where a person is a citizen of Nigeria by birth and goes on to acquire the citizenship of any other country or pledges allegiance to any other country, he is qualified to contest elections. Tonye Cole acquired citizenship of the United Kingdom; he stated so in his forms before INEC. But it is also clear that he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth. So, the court read that very clearly from the constitution and proceeded to disqualify him contrary to the provisions of the constitution.”
Before the judgement disqualifying Cole, the Rivers APC had tried to counter the PDP, by adopting Wike’s strategy. How? They also filed a suit asking the court to disqualify Wike’s man, Fubara as the governorship candidate of the PDP. It was also handled by Justice Obile, who in preliminary objections by the Rivers PDP, ruled that “no party has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of other political parties.” The court also held that it has no jurisdiction to entertain the case and dismissed it. This ruling clearly contradicts the one sacking Cole.
Another interesting dimension to these weird cases is that the PDP in Cross River State recently tried to use Wike’s tactics against Bassey Otu, APC’s 2023 governorship candidate in the state. PDP and its candidate, Senator Sandy Onor, sought the disqualification of Otu and his running mate, Peter Odey, from participating in the election.
Onor and the Cross River State’s PDP alleged that Odey was not a member of the APC and that he was also a British citizen and as such, was not qualified to run for any elective position in Nigeria. PDP’s Counsel, Mba Ukweni prayed the court to disqualify the APC gubernatorial candidate and his running mate, since it was a joint ticket. But the presiding judge, Justice Rosemary Oghoghorie struck out the matter, because “it is devoid of any merit whatsoever.”
The acquisition of dual citizenship by a Nigerian per se is not a ground for disqualification for elective office particularly where the Nigerian citizen is a citizen by birth. That is the clear meaning of the provisions in sections 66 (1) and 28 of the 1999 constitution when taken together. No doubt, in Cross River State, Justice Oghoghorie properly interpreted the laws of our country in this case. Victor Ndoma-Egba, a Chieftain of the Cross River State APC, while hailing the judgement, said: “The judgement is expected. They (Onor and the Cross River State’s PDP) don’t have the locus standi and that was why they were aptly described by the judge as meddlesome interlopers or busybodies.”
Juxtapose Justice Oghoghorie ruling in Cross River and that of Justice Obile’s ruling sacking Cole, and you will agree that something is clearly wrong with the ruling in Rivers State. On this judgement, Wike has a lot of questions to answer for. His handwriting is visible on the wall.
Wike is also hindering even National and State Assembly candidates of the leading political parties in his state from the 2023 elections, using this worrisome judicial tactic. Already, a court in Port Harcourt has ordered INEC to remove candidates of the Labour Party in Port Harcourt Federal Constituencies 1 and 2 as well as Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency, from its list of candidates. It has also nullified the nomination of four Labour Party House of Assembly candidates.
Another Federal High Judge Court, Justice Turaki Muhammed disqualified 16 of the 32 APC Rivers House of Assembly candidates, after dismissing two vital preliminary objections by APC on the issue of jurisdiction and Locus Standi. All the suits were filed by Wike’s Rivers State PDP. The Judiciary in Rivers State must rise above sentiments and resist Wike’s antics. The Rivers State Governor is a threat to democracy.
The Judiciary must persistently properly interpret the laws of our land in order to sustain Nigeria’s democracy. This must be done without fear or favour. They must remain neutral and impartial, while also resisting inducement by politicians. Fraternising with politicians must stop.
Unfortunately, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Oluwakayode Ariwoola, who should be leading in this direction, left many disappointed, with his recent open association with some politicians. I was shattered by the CJN’s remarks in support of actions by a group of PDP governors led by Wike. At another function, Ariwoola was quoted as saying, whether people like Wike or not, he was leaving a legacy for generations unborn, stressing that his record will be hard to beat by any other public official.
Before this, Ariwoola was on October 30, hosted to an elaborate reception by Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde. The G5 governors were also there. The CJN celebrated it passionately. These portend great danger for the country’s judiciary. The clarifications by the Supreme Court on behalf of Ariwoola did not help matters. It simply confirmed his dangerous association with politicians.
I brought in Justice Ariwoola’s shenanigans to properly situate the challenges of the Judiciary in Rivers State in the match to annihilate opposition candidates. The CJN is the head of the National Judicial Council (NJC) which enforces discipline of judges. So, how would he perform this vital function, when he is also hobnobbing with politicians? Ariwoola must send the right signals to judges across the country. Our Judges must resist temptations of politicians in order to interpret the law. This is the only way forward for Nigeria’s democracy.
Condition Critical in Abia State
A lecturer at the Abia State Polytechnic called me last Thursday to talk about the plight of the polytechnic’s staff. Here, many are walking corpses due to huge backlog of unpaid salaries. They can no longer fulfil obligations to their families. Children are out of school, while families are struggling for a meal a day. Many of these workers are suffering from health challenges largely triggered by the months of unpaid salaries.
The situation at Abia Poly is replicated in all MDAs in Abia State, yet, the shameless governor of this state, Okezie Ikpeazu goes around with Governor Wike, drinking choice wines. At a point, Ikpeazu went on holiday in Spain with Wike while Abia civil servants were languishing in pain. Workers in some MDAs are being owed as much as three years salaries.
In Abia State, even core civil servants and pensioners are being owed salaries and pension. The Ayuba Wabba-led NLC recently petitioned Ikpeazu, to protest the plight of the workers in the state.
Wabba said: “The list of infractions against workers in Abia State goes on and on. We call on the Abia State Government to invest the resources of the state in settling the huge arrears of unpaid salaries, allowances and other entitlements of workers and pensioners in the state rather than pursuing shadows in both public and private media within and outside the state.
“In the event that the Abia State Government continues to play the ostrich with the lives of workers and pensioners, the NLC will be left with no option than to deploy the full weight of the power of trade unions and workers in the country.”
Unfortunately, it was just an empty threat. Wabba is yet to implement any of the threats against Ikpeazu. He only issues threats on the pages of newspapers. Nothing concrete happens thereafter.
Ikpeazu has succeeded in cowing the state’s NLC. In fact, the leadership of Abia NLC runs errands for this governor. It seems nobody can call Ikpeazu to order. So, the suffering continues for Abia State workers. Ikpeazu continues living big while civil servants are dying in droves. Others are struggling to stay alive. This is the height of man’s inhumanity to man.
This same Ikpeazu, who has ruined Abia State, is aspiring for the Senate. What a country! Abians should respond appropriately with their votes. Ikpeazu must be shut down.
Bello Turji ravaging Gov Matawalle’s LG
Terror leader, Bello Turji, who was declared wanted by the military few weeks back, is roaming freely in Gidan-goga village, Maradun LGA of Zamfara State. This is the LG of Governor Bello Matawalle, who holds the title of Matawalle Maradun. Residents of Gidan-goga are being traumatised by Turji who imposes all sorts of levies on them. The latest is his demand for N20 million, with a deadline. Matawalle seems incapable of rescuing these villagers from the grip of Turji.
To avoid being attacked by Turji, the community had to raise the money and delivered it to the terrorists last Sunday. An additional N6 million was also paid by the community for the release of five people abducted by Turji’s men some weeks ago. Many are fleeing Gidan-goga to avoid Turji’s unending pain. Security agencies are aware of the villagers’ predicament but nothing is happening in terms of helping them.
Turji and his boys are still ravaging Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states. This is the meaning of Nigeria being in a mess with security. An outlaw is roaming freely unhindered and security agents pretend to be unaware of his location. Not even one of the 19 terror leaders declared wanted by the military 19 days ago has been apprehended. What a tragedy! Who will save beloved Nigeria?