By Mark A. Upaa
A Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, yesterday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to remove all candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Rivers State from the 2019 general election.
Trial judge, Justice Kolawole Omotosho handed down the order to INEC in its judgment in the suit by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, praying the court not to recognise any candidate of the APC in the state. Justice Omotosho, also ordered APC not to recognise, sponsor, nominate candidates or canvas for vote for all the candidates ahead of the general election. The judge, who relied on earlier ruling and orders of Justice Chiwendu Nworgu of the Rivers State High Court, maintained that the APC acted in disobedience to court orders and therefore, cannot benefit from same.
Counsel for candidates of APC, Emenike Ebete, said his clients would challenge the ruling even as the PDP’s counsel, Dike Udenna, lauded the court on representing the interest of the common man and urged INEC to comply with the ruling for the sake of justice. Meanwhile, the same court, on the same day refused to grant separate application by Senator Magnus Abe and 43 candidates of Peter Odike’s faction of Rivers APC, who sought to be declared as authentic candidates of the party in the state. The court instead held that the plaintiffs do not have legal standing to the effect that they placed their request on the ruling of the state High Court which nullified primaries done by the APC in the state. The plaintiffs, the court held, could not prove that the direct primaries they conducted were monitored and supervised by National Execution Council of the APC, adding that they did not participate in valid primaries, so cannot be considered. The court restrained INEC from recognising the candidates of the APC in the state for the 2019 general election, until the ruling of the court was set aside by a higher court.
Meanwhile, APC governorship candidate for the 2019 elections in Rivers, Tonye Cole, has said his party has enough grounds to reverse the latest court disqualification of himself and other candidates for the elections. Responding through Ogbonna Nwuke, spokesman to the Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation, TCCO, the APC flag-bearer said: “Although we were not favoured by the decision, our faith in the country’s judicial system remains unshaken. “We believe that we have sufficient grounds on which to appeal the decisions of the Federal High Court as well as the ruling of the Rivers State High Court.” On the matter brought before the Court by Abe and 43 others, he said: “It is clear from the ruling that Abe and his supporters have no locus.”
Spokesman to PDP in the state, Darlington Orji, has described the judgement as a victory for democracy, adding that the consequence on Rivers APC was self inflicted. He opined, the judgment has proven that the judiciary is still the hope of the common man, a proof that dictatorship has ended in Rivers politics, a situation where one man sits in his room to decide what happens in the state. The PDP spokesman further added; “The spirit of God has taken control of the political situation in Rivers State”. “Nobody can benefit from their own stupidity. They shot themselves in the foot and they cannot get out of it. The 2019 election is between poverty and making Nigeria work again.”
Meanwhile, National Publicity Secretery of the APC, Mallam Lane Issa-Onilu said in Abuja it was already studying the court judgment with a view to prescribing its next line of action. “We have received the news of the judgment of the Federal High Court regarding our candidates in Rivers State. We are currently studying the decision of the court. We will make our position public in due course.”
On its part, INEC also said it was “studying the court judgment with a view to acting accordingly.” INEC’s Director in charge of Voter Education, Publicity, Civil Society and Gender Liaison, Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzi has also gone on record, stating; “We (INEC) will study the judgment and act accordingly. You know it is the policy of the commission to comply with court judgments. So, we will study it and act accordingly.”