Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) muddied its own waters when it shunned the rule of law to mishandle its party affairs in Rivers and Zamfara states

Few weeks to the 2019 presidential election, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) remains muddied in troubled waters, having failed in its several attempts to upturn decisions of the courts and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to field candidates in any of the 2019 elections that would hold in Rivers and Zamfara states.

Last week, the INEC Secretary, Rose Orianran-Anthony, in a signed document released the commission’s final list of candidates that would be contesting in next month’s Presidential and National Assembly elections with the ruling APC missing out in Rivers and Zamfara.

Sadly for the APC, in both states, the party won’t be fielding candidates for the 109 Senatorial, 360 House of Representatives, 29 Governorship and 991 State House of Assembly elections taking place on either of Saturday 16th February, 2019 and Saturday 2nd March, 2019.

In Rivers, businessman and factional heir to the party’s gubernatorial ticket, Tonye Cole, has made peace with fate. He no longer addresses himself as the APC governorship candidate for Rivers State, but “The Coordinator of the campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari in Rivers State.”

A suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state at a Federal High Court, had asked the court to compel INEC from recognising the APC candidates in the gubernatorial, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly to be held during the general election. Justice Kolawole Omotosho in the ruling favoured the PDP’s prayers.

In obedience to the court judgment which nullified the party primary that elected him candidate, Mr. Cole in a statement released last Friday by his media office, said since the courts only barred candidates of the state APC in the elections, he would go on to campaign for his party’s presidential candidate and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari.

The statement quoted him as saying that while he and other affected state APC candidates would “await judicial pronouncements on the matter,” he added that, “As loyal party members who are waiting for the decision of the courts, we shall campaign for President Buhari and the APC at this time. When we do, we shall not be campaigning for Rivers candidates.”

In Zamfara, the APC having been barred from fielding any candidate for the 2019 elections, continues to clutch on straws. While the party in the state has opted to support the reelection bid of Buhari, ironically the party still hopes on not only contesting but winning in the 2019 elections.

While receiving members of the Buhari/Osibanjo Continuity Group (BSCG), the state APC Chairman, Alhaji Lawal Liman, was quoted as saying, “We are working hand in hand with all stakeholders to ensure APC wins all elective positions in the state.”

The crisis in the Rivers APC makes a mockery of some members of the party who insist that their party is not factionalised. The court judgment barring Cole also barred his opponent, Senator Magnus Abe, from parading himself as a governorship candidate of the APC in the state.

Observers believe the state APC is the architect of its own undoing. Backed by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and national leadership of the APC, Mr. Tonye Cole, resigned his board directorship of a private organisation last September to contest the party’s ticket, and was alleged by his opponent to have won under controversial circumstances.

Reacting to his ‘victory’, Senator Abe, together with a faction of the party loyal to him, conducted a parallel primary, wherein he claimed to be the authentic governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers. But, as it stands, both primaries have been nullified by a federal high court, which then also restrained INEC from recognising any one of them.

The Rivers APC, it appears, muddied its own waters through its disregard for the rule of law. There was a pending suit before Justice Chinwendu Nwogu of the Rivers State High Court which required that all parties to the suit, including the state APC, to stay action until the issues were resolved, but the party disregarded the court judgment.

It was blatant disregard for the rule of law and court processes when during the tussle for the control of the state APC, Abe had taken the state APC as led by Amaechi to court in protest of him and his loyalists being excluded from participating in a congress sanctioned by Amaechi.

Justice Nwogu granted Senator Abe’s prayers restraining the Amaechi faction of the party in the state from organising the statewide congress. Rather than maintain status quo until the case was resolved, the Amaechi faction went on with the congress and elected a state party executive, with the chairman, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, being one of his ally.

The Flag-Amachree-led executive went on to defy the court’s order and proceeded with the primary elections which produced Mr. Cole as the APC governorship candidate, and the other candidates.

The case that began at the State High Court, has now moved up to the Supreme Court, but, while the matter remains pending at the apex court, the national chairman of the APC was caught presenting the party’s flag to Mr. Cole in Akwa Ibom state, recognising him as the governorship candidate of the party in Rivers.

The same Oshiomhole had insisted the APC would field candidates for all elective positions in the state in the 2019 general elections, despite a contrary decision reached by the INEC saying otherwise.

Expectedly, the main opposition PDP has been the first beneficiary of the unending crisis rocking the ruling APC in both Rivers and Zamfara.

In Rivers, the incumbent governor, Nyesom Wike, and other candidates of the PDP contesting for the Senate, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly seats, will be contesting largely unopposed.

For the 2015 presidential election, then candidate of the APC, Buhari, had managed to garner a meagre 69,238 votes, out of a total votes cast of 1,584,768, while the PDP had 1,487,075. If this happened when the APC in Rivers was more united as a party and in their drive to unseat the PDP, one wonders how the party would fare in the coming weeks.

Based on past elections which observers said were characterised by violence, rigging, breakdown of law and order, and an unnecessary show of federal might, the PDP in Rivers is relieved that the absence of APC in the coming elections in the state would minimise tension.

Observers had in recent past listed Rivers as one of the states to expect violence in the 2019 elections. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) 2018 electoral violence risk assessment on Nigeria, had named Rivers, along with Adamawa, Anambra, Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, and Plateau as states at “greater risks of election violence.”

The case is no different in the Zamfara APC. There are reports of members of the party decamping to other parties in the state, having rightly suspected that the APC won’t be participating in the general elections.

Over 400 supporters of the APC in Zamfara were reported to have visited the residence of  the governorship candidate of PDP, Dr. Bello Mohammed Matawalle, in Gusau, asking that they be welcomed into the PDP.

It appears even smaller opposition parties in Zamfara, parties one wouldn’t expect, are reaping from the APC’s whirlwind of troubles.

Gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in Zamfara, Alhaji Sani Abdullahi Shinkafi, says no fewer than 5000 unverified APC and PDP supporters have so far defected and joined his party.

“Just recently I have received, more than 5000 supporters from APC, PDP and other political parties in the state who joined our party, APGA and we are still expecting more supporters every day,” Shinkafi said recently while speaking with newsmen in Gusau, the Zamfara state capital.

It is being alleged that the opposition parties in the state, headed by the duo of Matawalle and Shinkafi are closing rank to frustrate the APC from compromising INEC to renege on its decision disqualifying APC, having failed to meet the stipulated deadline to field candidates.

The APC’s undoing in Rivers stems from the party’s national leadership failure to tame the personal ambition of Amaechi. Being the immediate past governor of the state, Amaechi, in hoping to correct the impression that his failure to deliver the APC’s candidate in the 2015 governorship election was not because he was incapable, threw decorum to the wind when he installed his allies to lead the APC in the state. But Amaechi’s followers have argued that all he wanted was a break from fielding a ‘core’ politician as the governorship candidate of the party in the state. An agreement on this was supposedly reached by interested parties like Dakuku Peterside and Dumo Lulu-Briggs to permit the emergence of a technocrat and an ‘unusual’ politician, in the person of Tonye Cole. However, Abe insisted he wanted a chance to test his popularity at an internal party contest.

The crisis in Zamfara, like in Rivers, is also as a result of the governor’s selfish ambition to be the sole arbiter of the party leadership in the state, sidelining his deputy, Malam Ibrahim Wakkala, and some other state APC members that make up an opposing group called the G8.

The Zamfara APC crisis began with the dispute between the governor, Abdulaziz Yari and the G8 members on whether to conduct a direct or indirect primaries in choosing candidates that would represent the party at every level of elections in the coming elections. While Yari wanted indirect primaries, the G8 members favoured direct primary.

QUICK FACTS:

*The APC has failed in its several attempts to upturn decisions of the courts and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to field candidates in any of the 2019 elections that would hold in Rivers and Zamfara states

*INEC has released its final list of candidates that would be contesting in next month’s Presidential and National Assembly elections with the ruling APC missing out in Rivers and Zamfara

*A suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state at a Federal High Court, had asked the court to compel INEC from recognising the APC candidates in the gubernatorial, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly to be held during the general election. Justice Kolawole Omotosho in the ruling favoured the PDP’s prayers

*In Rivers, the court judgment barring Cole also barred his opponent, Senator Magnus Abe, from parading himself as a governorship candidate of the APC in the state

*Backed by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and national leadership of the APC, Mr. Tonye Cole, resigned his board directorship of a private organisation last September to contest the party’s ticket, and was alleged by his opponent to have won under controversial circumstances.

Reacting to his ‘victory’, Senator Abe, together with a faction of the party loyal to him, conducted a parallel primary, wherein he claimed to be the authentic governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers

*Both primaries have been nullified by a federal high court, which then also restrained INEC from recognising any one of them

*There was a pending suit before Justice Chinwendu Nwogu of the Rivers State High Court which required that all parties to the suit, including the state APC, to stay action until the issues were resolved, but the party disregarded the court judgment

*Abe had taken the state APC as led by Amaechi to court in protest of him and his loyalists being excluded from participating in a congress sanctioned by Amaechi. Justice Nwogu granted Senator Abe’s prayers restraining the Amaechi faction of the party in the state from organising the statewide congress. Rather than maintain status quo until the case was resolved, the Amaechi faction went on with the congress and elected a state party executive, with the chairman, Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, being one of his ally

* The Flag-Amachree-led executive went on to defy the court’s order and proceeded with the primary elections which produced Mr. Cole as the APC governorship candidate, and the other candidates

* The main opposition PDP has been the first beneficiary of the unending crisis rocking the ruling APC in both Rivers and Zamfara

* For the 2015 presidential election, then candidate of the APC, Buhari, had managed to garner a meagre 69,238 votes, out of a total votes cast of 1,584,768, while the PDP had 1,487,075

*In Zamfara, there are reports of members of the APC decamping to other parties in the state, having rightly suspected that the party won’t be participating in the general elections. Over 400 supporters of the APC in Zamfara were reported to have visited the residence of  the governorship candidate of PDP, Dr. Bello Mohammed Matawalle, in Gusau, asking that they be welcomed into the PDP

*The crisis in Zamfara is as a result of the governor’s selfish ambition to be the sole arbiter of the party leadership in the state, sidelining his deputy, Malam Ibrahim Wakkala, and some other state APC members that make up an opposing group called the G8