Ondo 2016: Uncertainty Mounts over PDP’s Candidate as Party, INEC Differ

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Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure

There was considerable uncertainty at the weekend about the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the forthcoming election in Ondo State. This followed differing positions held by officials of the ruling party in the state and the Independent National Electoral Commission regarding the authentic candidate of the party.

A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Okon Abang had on Friday ordered INEC to accept Jimoh Ibrahim, the nominee of a faction of PDP led by Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, as the party’s candidate. Abang gave the order while ruling on an application for the enforcement of his earlier judgement delivered on June 29.

Friday’s ruling came after INEC had accepted the nominee of the Ahmed Makarfi-led PDP national caretaker committee, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, as the party’s candidate for the November 26 governorship election in the state.

But chief press secretary to the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Mr. Rotimi Oyekamni, said yesterday that the commission would abide by the order to accept Ibrahim when served with the valid court judgement, and if there was no overriding ruling from a superior court. Oyekamni said INEC, as a creation of the law, would obey any order validly made by a court of competent jurisdiction.

He told THISDAY, “If, indeed, the court has asked us to replace the PDP candidate, we have no option than to obey. That is the tradition, if the court order comes and we get the judgement, then we will substitute because that is a court order. But I am not sure that we have received that judgement. If we have, definitely, we will obey.

“Again, if there is another court order that is superior to the earlier one, we will also reverse our action. As you can see in similar cases, we normally put the prefix, ‘court order’ beside the candidate’s name to indicate its status. I want to assure you that if there is valid court judgement on any issue, INEC will obey.”

In the June 29 ruling, Abang had ordered INEC to accept only the names of candidates sent by the faction of the Ondo State Executive Committee of PDP led by Biyi Poroye and Ademola Genty, which has the backing of the Sheriff-led National Working Committee.

Poroye and Genty, who applied to the court for themselves and on behalf of the Ondo State chapter of the PDP, said the post-judgement application was informed by INEC’s refusal to accept their candidate, as directed by the court.

However, the PDP national caretaker committee said Jegede remained the party’s candidate for the forthcoming election, stressing that the issue of candidacy is not a matter in the case in question. The Makarfi leadership may also be relying on the position that INEC adopted in a similar dispute in the just concluded Edo State governorship election, where the commission recognised its candidate, Pastor Ize Iyamu, rather than the candidate nominated by the Sheriff faction.

In a statement issued by its spokesman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, on Friday night, the caretaker committee said Abang’s ruling had no effect on Jegede’s candidacy.

Adeyeye stated, “The ruling of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, today, Friday, does not in any way affect the matter of the PDP candidacy in the forthcoming Ondo State governorship election. The issue of Ondo governorship was not the matter before Justice Abang in the suit. The matter before his Lordship was in relation to the 2019 general elections.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Hon. Eyitayo Jegede remains the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party in the Saturday, November 26, 2016 Ondo State governorship election. We, therefore, call on all our members, teeming supporters and the electorate in Ondo State not to allow this ruling to distract them; but should continue with the guber campaigns to ensure the victory of our flag bearer, Hon. Eyitayo Jegede, in the election.”

The Ondo State chapter of PDP also said yesterday that the ruling by Abang could not stand, insisting that Jegede, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, is the PDP candidate. The state chairman of PDP, Mr Clement Faboyede, who addressed a news conference yesterday in Akure, said Jegede was not a party in the case on which the judge ruled.

“It should be noted that the Ondo State governorship election scheduled for 26 November 2016 was not part of the plaintiffs claim and no reference was made to it in the claim,” he said. “The case was concluded on 29th of June, 2016 and the reliefs that had to do with election referred to, and were tied to 2019 general election. There is no nexus between the suit and 2016 Ondo State governorship election.”