With APC not on the ballot, Lulu-Briggs of Accord Party sacked by the court, and with 58 other candidates endorsing him, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, may be coasting home in his re-election bid, writes Ernest Chinwo from Port Harcourt.
Barring anything that could stop elections holding in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike, may be returned as governor without any strong opposition.
The major opposition party in the state, the All progressives Congress (APC) earlier shot itself on the foot when it allowed internal squabbles grow to the level it was de-listed from the ballot by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on orders of the court. The Supreme Court had also upheld the annulment of the congresses that led to its primaries to choose its candidates, thus effectively ruling it out of the National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly elections.
While the party has been struggling to enlist itself on the ballot using different courts, the INEC has refused to budge insisting that it would not go against the Supreme Court judgment. The APC is still making moves but how and if it would get enlisted one week to the polls is yet to be envisaged.
Again, last Thursday, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered the removal of Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs as the governorship candidate of the Accord party in Rivers State for the 2019 Governorship Election.
In a three-hour judgment, the Presiding Judge, Justice Emmanuel Obile, declared that Precious Baridoo, who was duly nominated during the October 4, 2018 Accord party governorship primaries is the authentic candidate of the party.
Obile stated that Lulu-Briggs did not participate in the party’s October 4, 2018 Governorship primary and so could not be the party’s candidate.
He ordered INEC to remove the name of Dumo Lulu-Briggs as the Rivers State Governorship Candidate for Accord Party and enlist the name of Precious Baridoo as the candidate of the party.
While the judgment did not delist Accord from the ballot, Lulu-Briggs, who defected from the APC with his followers after the adoption of Tonye Cole as the party’s gubernatorial candidate, is seen by analysts as stronger opposition than Baridoo.
Lulu-Briggs has however vowed that he would not succumb to “diversionary tactics of opponents” in his quest to become the governor of Rivers State.
He also accused Governor Nyesom Wike of being behind the legal tussle over the party’s gubernatorial ticket in the state because of his (Wike’s) fear of standing election against any credible opposition.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, Lulu-Briggs said he is still in the race for the office of the governor of the state despite the judgment of the Federal High Court.
He said: “My quest to liberate Rivers State from the shackles of wicked politicians who want to continue to punish and impoverish our men and women, instigate our youths into violence and bloodshed and deny our children quality education, is still on track.
“Dumo Lulu-Briggs is still in the race by the grace of God. I have no godfather but God the father, and by the grace of God and the will of Rivers people, we shall triumph and start the process to secure the future of every Rivers man, woman and child.”
Describing Baridoo as a surrogate of Wike, he said his legal team has already approached the Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the Federal High Court as well as to seek for a Stay of Execution order over the judgment.
Added to the above, governorship candidates of 58 political parties in the state last Friday re-affirmed their endorsement of Wike’s re-election.
The candidates, under the aegis of Coalition of Governorship Candidates, also declared that they would work for Wike’s success during the Governorship Election on March 9.
Unarguably, the APC remains the main opposition party in Rivers State. While the PDP remains the party with vast majority in the state, the APC was expected to use “federal might” to try to unseat Wike. The experiences during the last Presidential and National Assembly polls in the state where the army and security agencies were alleged to have aided chieftains of the APC in their quest to return President Muhammadu Buhari lends credence to the belief that the APC would do anything to unseat Wike.
Also, Lulu-Briggs is seen by some analysts as the next best option for APC to unseat Wike since the major opposition party in the state is not on the ballot. The belief is that Lulu-Briggs could be used to unseat Wike as a better devil, being a member of the Buhari family. The Accord adopted Buhari as its presidential candidate and actually campaigned for him. Besides, Baridoo is seen as Wike’s surrogate, having led the coalition of governorship candidates to adopt Atiku and Wike as presidential and governorship candidates respectively during the PDP Presidential rally in Port Harcourt.
Incidentally, both the APC and Lulu-Briggs blame Wike for their travails, an accusation the governor has consistently denied.
The APC accused the governor of destabilising the party using the Senator Representing Rivers South East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Magnus Abe and factional Governorship Candidate of the party to destabilise the party in the state. The APC said Wike sponsored all the court cases that led to the de-listing of the party by the courts. The governor denied involvement in the crisis rocking the APC in the state. He however blamed the Transportation Minister and leader of the APC in the state, Chibuike Amaechi, for failing to resolve differences in his party and his impunity in imposing a governorship candidate on the party to the exclusion of other aspirants for the party’s woes.
Similarly, the governor has distanced himself from Lulu-Briggs’ travails in the court.
A statement issued last Friday by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications and spokesman of Rivers State PDP Campaign Council, Emma Okah, said Wike has no hand in the disqualification of Lulu-Briggs as the Accord party governorship candidate in the State.
He stated that Lulu-Briggs, as a lawyer and a seasoned politician, ought to know that the steps he took to annex the governorship slot of the Accord party when there was an existing candidate, were wrong and against the letters and spirit of the Electoral Act and extant laws and therefore has himself to blame and not Wike.
While commending the courage of Lulu-Briggs in “dumping the APC at a time when impunity reigned supreme in Rivers State Chapter, Okah said it is wrong to condemn impunity in one party and go to another one to perpetrate it.
“It is therefore wrong for Chief Lulu-Briggs to assume that Governor Wike sponsored the oppressed candidate in court simply because the victim of injustice is not a man of stout means,” Okah said.
But while the coast seems clear for Wike’s re-election, there are palpable fears that the APC, using security agencies and the INEC, might scuttle the elections in the state.
Wike had accused the 6 Division, Nigerian Army of working with Amaechi to cause chaos in the state and ensure that governorship and house of assembly elections did not hold in the state next Saturday.
Addressing journalists on the last Presidential and National Assembly elections, Wike accused the army of aiding the disruption of the electoral process at collation centres in the state and plotting to same in the coming elections in favour of the APC.
The governor also said the army was planning to assassinate him and blame the police.
“I know what they are plotting now; they want me to come out and there will be a shootout on me and they will kill me and claim it is the police that shot me. That is what they are plotting,” he said.
The Coalition of Governorship Candidates in Rivers State also accused the APC and INEC of plotting to sabotage the Governorship and State Assembly elections in the State.
Addressing journalists in Port Harcourt, Chairman of the group, Samuel Ihunwo, said credible intelligence at their disposal indicates that the APC has compromised INEC to deliberately exclude the name and logo of one of the political parties from the ballot papers for the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections in Rivers State.
Ihunwo said based on the intelligence, the affected political party would proceed to the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to inevitably nullify the outcomes of the March 9 elections in the State.
He stated: “We are astonished at INEC motivations for becoming an accessory to such treacherous acts, which offer the most simple but lethal legal ground and weapon to any mischievous person or political party to nullify the said elections and terminate the rights of Rivers people to enjoy the fruits of their votes in the Governorship and Houses of Assembly elections.
“Equally worrisome is the report that where INEC fails to effect the exclusion of the designated political party from the ballot papers by Wednesday 6th March 2019, the alternative plan is to resort again, to the use of the army to disrupt, disorganise and scuttle the distribution of election materials from the State Registration Area Centres to the various wards and units across the entire State.
“Furthermore, in the event that the elections manages to hold, the plan also includes using operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to harass and force electoral and collation officers to cooperate and comply with the rigging template and directives of the APC.”
There are also fears in the state that the APC might use other means to perpetrate violence that could be used to cancel elections in the state.
Trending in the social media is a message that the APC plans a four-day march in the state to ensure that Wike does not come back as governor.
The trending message reads: “Violence looms in Rivers, as “operation kick Wike out” an APC launched four-days mass protest led by the transportation Minister himself, Chibuike Amaechi, begins on Monday – Thursday 4th – 7 March 2019.
Please those of us on the roads should be mindful and security conscious while walking, in case of anarchy don’t run on the roads rather take cover in safe places until it’s safe to avoid stray bullets. Please be safe!!! They will gather at Isaac Boro Park every morning from 9: am daily.”
While the message has not been confirmed as authentic, it casts more doubt on the minds of the people and will definitely affect voter turnout in the state.
It is therefore obvious that while Wike may have a smooth ride in Saturday’s governorship election, the APC may just throw a surprise that may ensure that elections do not hold in the state, or that even if it holds there are loopholes that may create grounds for its annulment. The events of the next week will definitely state where the state is headed.