The Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State has become a major subject of discussion ahead of the governorship election in the state following a Federal High Court order on the party’s candidate. James Sowole reports
Until Friday, October 14, what Mr Eyitayo Jedege needed to prove that he was the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State was the pronouncement of the Independent National Electoral Commission that it will only recognise the person that emerged from the primary election that the commission monitored.
Living up to its pronouncement, when INEC released the names of candidates of political parties that would be contesting the election at its headquarters in Akure, the state capital, Jegede’s name was listed as the PDP candidate.
To many people, what INEC did was right because the commission was present at the PDP governorship primary held on August 22 at the Ondo State International Event Centre, The Dome, which produced Jegede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The primary was supervised by a team set up by the national headquarters of the PDP led by the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson.
With the pronouncement of INEC in Ondo State that it was not directed by its national headquarters to monitor any other primary apart from the one held in Akure, it was hoped that the outcome of the exercise conducted at Premier Hotel, Ibadan, on August 29, and where the business mogul, Mr Jimoh Ibrahim, emerged would be of no effect. The hope of the PDP members, who held this belief, was also boosted by the decision of INEC to recognise the result of the primary election it monitored, as it did in the case of Edo State, where Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the Ahmed Makarfi-led PDP, despite a parallel primary held on June 29, which produced Matthew Iduoriyekemwen from the Ali Modu Sheriff faction.
Besides, the non-visibility of Ibrahim in Ondo State, apart from the opening of a campaign office on the popular Oyemekun-Adesida Road, was one of the reasons why many people believed he was not a serious contestant, that he was only making noise to distract the PDP, Jegede, and his supporters.
The first issue that created some confusion emerged during the process of the resolution of the PDP crisis at the national level between the Sheriff and Makarfi factions. That was when it was rumoured that as one of the agreements reached, the Sheriff faction had conceded the Edo State ticket of the party to the Makarfi faction in return for the governorship ticket in the case of Ondo State. This rumour, which was widely celebrated and circulated among Ibrahim’s supporters on the social media, was vehemently rebuffed by the Jegede camp.
The bubble, however, burst and state of confusion heightened throughout Akure metropolis and the camp of Jegede, when the order by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, came on October 14. The judge directed that INEC should recognise Ibrahim as the candidate of PDP in the forthcoming governorship election in the state.
The information sent jitters down the spines of all members of PDP that wanted Jegede to be their next governor, and it became a subject of discussion in the state, particularly, in Akure, where Jeegede hails from.
The Jegede camp, which includes the entire state government political machinery, became worried not because of the belief that the judgement would stand, but because of the effect that the order of the court could have on the supporters of Jegede even if he wins at the Court of Appeal. It was the belief of many people that the worst might come should the appellate court uphold the order of the Federal High Court even after the November election, which Jedege was working hard to win.
In order to prevent an ugly situation that may make supporters of Jegede to run to another political party, the PDP and the candidate embarked on a media campaign to try to calm their supporter. They assured supporters that the decision had nothing to do with Jegede and that he would win the election.
At a news conference addressed by the chairman of the party in the state, Clement Faboyede, PDP assured that Jegede remained the party’s candidate because he was not a party to the suit on which the Federal High Court, Abuja, gave judgement. Faboyede stated that the order could not stand because the originating suit upon which the order was based did not have anything to do with the November 2016 election in Ondo State but was on the state executives of the party in the South-west states.
According to Faboyede, the originating suit sought to determine the tenure and membership of the state executive committee of PDP in the South-west zone and in addition sought directions in respect of party primaries for 2019 general elections. He said the claimants essentially sought inter-alia a declaration that they were the people entitled to deal with nomination of candidates for 2019 general elections.
“It should be noted that the Ondo State governorship election scheduled for 26th November 2016 was not part of the plaintiffs claim and no reference was made to it in the claim,” he said.
Faboyede said the most surprising and shocking aspect of the suit was that the same counsel, Olagoke Fakunle (SAN), who took out the summon for the plaintiffs, also appeared for the defendants.
The PDP chairman stated, “In other words, he took out the summons for the plaintiffs on one hand and appeared as counsel for one of the defendants on the other. At the time of trial, most shockingly, the defendant’s counsel, O.O. Fakunle (SAN), who interestingly took out the writ against the defendants appeared in court and by his submission supported the position of the plaintiffs. In any case, this is not surprising, given the fact that he took out the summons.
“The case was concluded on 29th of June 2016 and the reliefs that had to do with election referred to were tied to 2019 general election. There is no nexus between the suit and 2016 Ondo State governorship election.”
He said the practice was shocking to the nation’s judicial system.
On the second suit, which led to the judgement in question, Faboyede said the anomaly in the first suit repeated itself, as the counsel from the same firm represented both the plaintiffs and a defendant.
The process, according to Faboyede, was dated September 29, 2016 by Clarisa Adaogbo Ebuseme of TRLPLaw.
“It is interesting also to note that the same style and modus operandi that was adopted in the first set of process was replayed here. Counsel to the second defendant also conceded to a claim filed by a counsel in his law firm, when he appeared for the second defendant.”
The PDP chairman said the judgement from the suit contradicted numerous decisions of the Supreme Court, which said, “It is the national executive of a political party that has the responsibility to submit names of candidates to INEC.”
He added, “It should be noted that it is a contempt proceedings against Independent National Electoral Commission, but wherein the presiding judge directed INEC to receive the nomination papers of Jimoh Ibrahim from the applicants as state executive of the PDP against the backdrop of numerous decisions of the Supreme Court that it is the national executive of a political party that has the responsibility to submit names of candidates to INEC.
“His Lordship’s order made no pronouncement in respect of the status of Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) as the candidate of PDP, neither did he make reference to the list of candidates published by INEC on the 29th day of September, 2016 subject of the governorship election.
“Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), the PDP governorship candidate in Ondo State was not a party to any of the processes filed, no order was also made against him. Jimoh Ibrahim referred to in the latest decision was also not a party to the two cases. How then did Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim now become a beneficiary of the decision of His Lordship?
“Other than the ‘Cooperation’ that pervades the entire processes and proceedings in the case, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) remains the lawful and only candidate of PDP to the office of the governor of Ondo State in the November 2016 election.”
However, he added, “Despite the inherent weakness and obvious ineffectiveness of this judgement against the candidature of Jegede, legal steps have been taken to affirm the validity of his candidature and expose the flaws in the decisions of the court that are targeted at subverting the will of the PDP and the generality of the people of Ondo State.
“The attempt to re-write the judgement by changing the date of 2019 general elections as contained in the earlier judgement of 29th June, 2016 and linking it with the governorship election of 2016, which was never the subject of the earlier suit, would certainly be a subject of investigation by the appropriate statutory authorities.”
He described the development as “a mere distraction,” saying, “The good news is that there is no judgement against Jegede, who remains the governorship candidate of our party in Ondo State.”
But the camp of Ibrahim became elated again on account of Abang’s ruling and various statements were issued and disseminated on the social media hailing the decision of the court.
In one of the statements, the director of publicity and communication to Jimoh Ibrahim Campaign Organisation, Mr Sola Akinuli, said the judgement had come not only as a validation but also a consolidation of an earlier rule by the same court recognising the Poroye-led executive in the state.
Akinuli stated, “Today’s verdict is not only an elegant testimony to the beauty of the rule of law, but an eloquent evidence to the uprightness of our judicial officers. The judgement has put a seal on all controversies on ‘who is what’ in the political architecture of the PDP in Ondo State which expectedly will usher in its attendant peace and tranquillity to the beleaguered party.
“We salute the courage of Justice Okon Abang who stood on the side of the rule of law despite the present ‘cloud’ over the integrity of our judges. We praise him for his Davidic courage which has informed this Solomonic judgement.
“This epochal verdict, we hope, will act as speed breaker to the gale of impunity that has pervaded the party-a malignant cancer the Sheriff executive has come to heal. We also want to put on record our salutation to our candidate, Dr Jimoh Ibrahim, for his doggedness and absolute confidence in the nation’s judicial system.”
The hope of Ibrahim’s camp was enlivened when INEC said it would abide by the decision of the court when the commission is served. The commission also said that it was only the order of a superior court that could make it to change its decision once it was taken sequel to a court order.
In line with the INEC statement, Ibrahim on Tuesday served the judgement on the commission and it was also advertised in a national newspaper.
Expectedly, the judgement has elicited different reactions from various stakeholders.
The Coalition for Stable Democracy, an alliance of pro-democracy groups, has urged the National Judicial Council to take urgent steps to ensure that justice was served in the matter regarding the PDP candidacy in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State. CSD warned that the judiciary should not allow itself to be used to subvert people’s will.
In a statement, the group also warned about dire consequences should NJC allow the decision of the Abuja court to go without scrutiny.
The statement jointly signed by the coalition’s national coordinator and secretary, Victor Aderibigbe and Abdullahi Sanni, respectively, said the judiciary should not allowed itself to be used to truncate people’s will.
The group alleged that the Abuja court ruling was part of an unfolding plot to deprive Jegede of his candidacy in order to brighten the chances of the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming governorship election.
It stated, “Let it be made clear that Ondo State is a peaceful state, but we are hasty to warn that the people there should not be taken for granted. With the experience of the political crisis that engulfed the state during the Ajasin/Omoboriowo saga, Ondo election should be treated with utmost caution.
“We are, therefore, calling on the National Judicial Council to pay serious attention to allegations contained in the statement of Faboyede concerning the court order.”
The coalition said it was on record that Ibrahim had publicly renounced his membership of the PDP and was now a member of Accord Party, alleging that his ward chairman has also said he is yet to return to PDP.
Though, the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has been appealed and assurances have been given to Jegede and his supporters, many believe the case has put PDP in a state of uncertainty with regard to the Ondo State governorship election. There are calculations that the Alliance for Democracy, which has one of the aggrieved APC aspirants that left the party, Chief Olusola Oke, as its candidate, and the APC, which has a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, as candidate, may be the greatest beneficiaries of the uncertainty in PDP.