Judiciary: Venturing into Political Storm

21 Apr 2013

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The Arena

The court-ordered sack of the Governor Rotimi Amaechi-backed PDP executive committee in Rivers State at the behest of an Abuja-backed faction of the party in the state may have raised the ante in the political disagreements between the governor and President Goodluck Jonathan, writes Vincent Obia

The courtrooms are small enclosures within buildings, but the decisions that come out from there are huge and far-reaching. Monday’s ruling of an Abuja High Court, which sacked the Chief Godspower Ake-led executive committee of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State that was loyal to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, is one decision in recent times that holds extensive implications for politics.

The ruling followed a suit instituted by Mr. Felix Obua and Mr. Walter Opuene who claimed that they were both duly elected as chairman and secretary, respectively, at the state congress held on March 17 last year by a committee set up by the PDP national headquarters. The court, presided over by Justice Ishaq Bello, granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs, including an order directing the party to inaugurate them and all others elected on the said date from their faction as legitimate state executive members of PDP in Rivers State.
The judge also made an order nullifying all acts carried out by the Ake executive on behalf of PDP.

Amaechi and President Goodluck Jonathan have been locked in political disagreement bordering on the 2015 general election where the governor is suspected to have a vice presidential interest. Amaechi has severally denied having any presidential interest.

Obua and Opuene belong to a faction of PDP in Rivers State led by Minister of State of Education, Mr. Nyesom Wike, a former ally of Amaechi who is believed to be sponsored by Jonathan to emerge as the next governor of the state. There is also suspicion that Wike, Amaechi’s former Chief of Staff, who had headed the governor’s re-election campaign organisation, might have disagreed with his former boss over the question of the Rivers East senatorial district in 2015. The plot, it is widely believed, is to neutralise Amaechi’s influence in the party, emasculate him politically and, perhaps, organise his impeachment on trumped-up charges, and ultimately use the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to hound and hold him. 

In a country with weak institutions that tend to pander to the president’s every whim, a move against Amaechi was hardly surprising. What, perhaps, surprised many was the seeming whole-soul involvement of the court.

Before arriving at his decision to sack the Ake committee, Bello had rejected a report by the Independent National Electoral Commission, which had monitored the state congress in line with the Electoral Act, confirming the winner of the March 17 last year’s congress. But the judge accepted a deposition by Chief Dan Orbih, who headed the committee from the PDP national headquarters that conducted the congress, that he never certified the result that gave Ake victory. Party stakeholders in the state, including federal and state legislators from Rivers State, who were major participants in the state congress, however, say Orbih actually certified the congress’s result in the presence of INEC officials. They also say neither Obua nor Opuene had participated in the state congress whose result they claimed in the court of Bello.

Besides, some experts have faulted the jurisdiction of the Abuja high court, which has the status of a state high court, in the matter involving a Rivers State PDP congress and INEC, a federal agency.  

With the inauguration of the new executive of the Rivers State PDP at the party’s national headquarters in Abuja last week, the state’s chapter of Nigeria’s ruling party joins other crisis-ridden cadres of the party. PDP is struggling with crisis in Adamawa and many of its South-west chapters.

But the current situation in the Rivers State chapter seems more interesting. The Abuja court that removed the Ake-led committee also invalidated all actions taken by the committee on behalf of the party. Part of the most critical functions carried out by the committee was the nomination of delegates to both the zonal and national congresses of the party from where some members of the PDP national leadership had emerged. The question on many minds now is whether the ruling party would follow through the court ruling by also quashing the elections of its national officers that were wholly or partly thrown up by the ousted executive.

PDP has set a precedent here by sacking some of its national officers, including its national secretary, Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola, national auditor Bode Mustapha, and the South-west zonal executive committee led by former Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Segun Oni in what the party said was in obedience to court orders that had nullified the congresses that nominated the officers.

Many Nigerians reacted suspiciously to the removal of those officers, dismissing it as an attempt to take revenge on former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose indisposition towards Jonathan’s second terms is said to have put him in the president’s black book.
In the latest situation in Rivers State, too, virtually everyone is accusing Jonathan of sponsoring a putsch against a perceived enemy. They are also accusing the judiciary of offering itself as a willing tool. The negative consciousness about the judiciary among the public is certainly dangerous.

There have been protests in Rivers State and Abuja against the sack of the Ake committee. Last week in Abuja, political stakeholders from Rivers State, led by members of the Rivers Caucus in the House of Representatives, addressed a press conference where they condemned the court action and accused the president of complicity in what they called a desperate move to undo Amaechi. The association of local government chairmen in the state has also protested the court’s decision.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mukhtar, decried the dwindling public confidence in the judiciary on April 8 in Abuja, during the opening ceremony of the 2013 refresher course for judicial officers, organised by the National Judicial Institute. She said, “A public uproar or placard-carrying scenario against the judgment of a court of record is not to the credit of the judiciary as an arm of government.” This seems to be the biggest message from last Monday’s decision of the Abuja high court on the Rivers State PDP executive.       

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Political Storm

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