- Orders INEC to remove names of candidates from ballot
- Party, Cole head to appeal court
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared illegal, null and void the direct and indirect primaries conducted by factions of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State.
The court also restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognising any candidate of the APC for the 2019 general elections in the state and ordered the commission to remove the names of all APC candidates from the ballot and other electoral materials.
The court took the decisions in its judgments in two separate matters brought before it.
In the suit brought before the court by Senator Magnus Abe and 48 others against Rivers APC, the presiding judge, Justice Kolawole Omotosho, in his judgment declared that both the indirect and direct primaries conducted by factions of the APC were illegal as both took place during the pendency of the matter before the state high court.
He said the APC must bear the consequences of her disobedience of the law.
According to the court, the APC conducted the indirect primaries in gross disrespect of the pending suit before Justice Chinwendu Nwogu of the Rivers State High Court.
He noted that the judgment of Justice Nwogu nullifying the primaries of the APC in Rivers State is yet to be set aside by an appellate court, hence it remains valid.
The court, therefore, held that the names sent by the faction of the APC controlled by the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC to INEC for the general elections were illegal and should be disregarded.
He also said the direct primaries conducted by the Senator Magnus Abe faction were illegal because the NWC of APC did not monitor or participate in the processes.
Justice Omotosho added that Justice Nwogu was clear when he nullified all primaries and congresses held during the pendency of the suit, which included the direct primaries conducted by the Abe faction.
He said both the Abe and the Amaechi factions have no leg to stand in view of the judgment, hence both factions are disqualified from participating in the elections.
The court held that the APC in Rivers State has no power to nominate and sponsor any candidates for the general elections.
In another suit filed by the Rivers State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asking the court to compel INEC to obey the judgment of the Rivers State High Court nullifying all Rivers State APC primaries and congresses, the court granted an injunction stopping all candidates of the APC in Rivers State from parading themselves as candidates for the general elections.
He said the Rivers APC would not participate in the governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly elections holding later this year.
Omotosho also granted a mandatory injunction directing the INEC to remove all APC candidates from ballot papers and other electoral materials.
Omotosho declared, “An order is made stopping Rivers APC nominees from parading themselves as candidates for the 2019 general elections.”
He re-affirmed his directive in the suit between Abe and others versus Rivers APC that INEC cannot recognise any candidate presented by the APC for the general elections.
He added that all the primaries conducted by the Rivers State APC having been nullified by the state High Court remains invalid because the judgment has not been set aside.
Therefore, Justice Omotosho said that the APC in Rivers State has no right to nominate any candidate for all the elections.
The court warned against willful disobedience of court orders, saying that it is detrimental to the rule of law.
Counsel to the PDP, Mr. Dike Udena, expressed happiness with the judgment. He said since the APC failed to comply with the Electoral Act, they cannot participate in the elections.
Counsel to Abe, Mr. Henry Bello, said the court emphasised obedience to court orders, saying that the nullification is the consequence of the imposition of candidates. He, however, said Abe and others would appeal the judgment.
Also speaking, counsel to APC, Mr. Emenike Ebete, said the APC would challenge the two judgments. He added that the APC would also file papers for stay of execution of the judgments.
He expressed dissatisfaction that the court barred Rivers APC candidates from parading themselves as nominees for the elections.
Reacting to the judgments, the state chapter of the APC, while expressing satisfaction that the court did not declare Abe as the governorship candidate of the party, said it would challenge the judgment barring it from presenting a candidate in the general elections.
A statement signed by Mr. Chris Finebone of the Media and Publicity Department of the party said, “Firstly, we totally agree with the court that Senator Magnus Abe and the 48 other members of the party, who claimed to have emerged through an alleged direct primary election, were not and, therefore, could not be declared candidates of the APC in the 2019 general election in Rivers State.
“This was because the national body of the APC never authorised or conducted the alleged direct primary as required by its constitution and guidelines neither did INEC monitor same.
“However, we do not agree with the court that the Davies Ibiamu Ikanya and Peter Odike-led executive committee of the party in Rivers State was still subsisting. The APC has the powers to dissolve its executive committee and that power was exercised on 21st of May, 2018. The APC having dissolved that exco, it ceased to exist and could not be resurrected, even if the court finds, albeit wrongly, that there was no valid congress to replace the dissolved exco.”
By the PDP, Finebone said the issue of nomination of candidates of a political party remains the exclusive right and preserve of that political party, and any dispute arising thereto also remains within that of political party and its aggrieved members.
“It is on this note that we strongly believe that APC will get victory in the superior court. We have accordingly instructed our lawyers to review the case and file the appeals immediately, in order not to temper or jeopardise with the already existing legal rights of our candidates before INEC.”
The Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation also said it would appeal the judgments, insisting it hoped the superior courts would favour it.
A statement issued by the spokesman of the organisation, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke, said, “Our position, after consultations with our lawyers, is that we shall challenge the order in an appellate court. Although we were not favoured by the decision, our faith in the country’s judicial system remains unshaken.”
In his reaction, APC National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a terse message said the party was still studying it.
He said, “We have received the news of the judgment of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt regarding our candidates in Rivers State.
“We are currently studying the decision of the court.
“We will make our position public in due course.”
But the Rivers State PDP Campaign Council said the judgment was a victory for the rule of law and the people of Rivers State.
In a statement issued in Port Harcourt by its Director of Information and Communications Emma, Okah, the council noted that the verdict would douse tension and promote peace in Rivers State as the APC’s past involvement in elections in the state had been characterised by recurring violence, rigging and breakdown of law and order.