From Judex Okoro, Calabar
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) blew the whistle for the commencement of the 2015 general elections, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) keyed into it and came up with its own guidelines on the conduct of its primary election especially for the governorship position.
With the release of the guidelines, over 20 aspirants including the incumbent governor, Ben Ayade signalled interest to occupy the Peregrino House in Calabar.
The aspirants traversed the length and breadth of the state selling their programmes and policies, first to the party members and then later to the rest of the electorate.
The campaigns were marked by horse-trading, intrigues, twists and turns leading to the reduction of number of aspirants to six who finally went into the primary election held on December 18, 2014 at the U.J Esuene Stadium, Calabar.
Apart from Ayade, others who were in the race on the PDP platform were former NNPC General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing, Mr. Goddy Jedy Agba, Rev. Father Francis Eworo, Dr. Peter Oti, pioneer PDP National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Ebeshi and Mr. Joe Agi (SAN).
According to the result as announced by the then Chairman of the electoral panel and Returning Officer, Chief Olusola Akanmode, Ayade scored 752 out of 782 votes cast, Agi had 11 votes, Jedy Agba and Rev Father Eworo scored five votes each while Peter Oti and Emmanuel scored zero votes. Ayade was subsequently declared winner by the electoral panel Chairman with Agi placed second.
And during the general election held on April 11, 2015, Ayade went ahead to win as declared by the INEC.
Beginning of legal tango
Not satisfied with the outcome of the party’s primary, Joe Agi, one of the aspirants, headed straight to the Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge the eligibility of Ayade to contest.
In a suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/25/2015 filed March 2, 2015 at a Federal High Court in Abuja, Agi (the plaintiff) sought the following reliefs, “A declaration that by virtue of section 8 (10) and (15) of the PDP constitution and article 13(a) of the Electoral Guidelines for primary elections 2014, the 3rd defendant (Benedict Ayade) with membership No. 6386497 ceased to enjoy the rights and privileges of PDP before and including the December 8, 2014 and so cannot validly vie and be nominated for any elective office on the platform of PDP.
“A declaration that the plaintiff, Joe Agi (SAN), who met the constitutional requirement of the PDP scored the highest number of valid votes cast at the Cross River State governorship primary election on December 8, 2014 and is the winner.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd defendant (INEC) from accepting or using the name of Benedict Ayade as the lawful candidate of PDP in the governorship election. A mandatory order compelling the 2nd defendant to replace the name Benedict Ayade with the name Joe Agi as the lawful candidate for the Cross River State governorship election.”
After reading through the written addresses and affidavits as well as arguments from counsels to both parties, the presiding judge, Justice Abdul Kafarati, in his judgement dated July 31, 2016 ruled that with regard to the payment of subscription fees by members of political party “is an internal affairs of the party concerned for which the court do not have jurisdiction to entertain.”
On the second issue bordering on criminality, to wit, forgery and perjury, the learned Judge ruled: “I do not want to waste time on this. It is trite that both forgery and perjury being criminal offences have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This suit was commenced by way of originating summons. It is impracticable to prove these by affidavit evidence.”
Continuing, he said, “Secondly, it was not pointed out by the plaintiff which document was forged. All these need to be properly investigated which had not been done. On the whole I hold that the plaintiff’s case has no merit and is designed just to waste the precious time of this court. In the circumstance, the suit is dismissed for being frivolous and lacking in merit. That is the judgement of this court.”
Not satisfied again with the Federal High Court judgment, the Senior Advocate, Joe Agi, moved on to Appeal Court and filed a suit no CA/A/518/2015. And after examining the submissions by both parties and the ruling from lower court, the lead judge at Court of Appeal, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA, ruled “…the error made in the year 1969 instead of 1968 in the circumstances of this case cannot amount to a device to browbeat the constitutional requirement of the minimum age of 35 years for the office of a governor.
“In the circumstances, the Appellant, Agi, also failed to substantiate his allegation that the 1st respondent, PDP, breached its guidelines to the advantage of the 3rd respondent, Ayade, and to the disadvantage of the Appellant, Agi, in nominating the 3rd respondent, Ayade, as its governorship candidate in the last elections. Determined to exhaust all legal avenues, Agi further headed for the Supreme Court seeking to upturn the rulings of the lower courts-High and Appeal- in a suit no SC/256/2016 received on March 31, 2016.
All other appellants in the case including PDP and INEC filed their brief of argument dated May 17, 2016 and May 24, 2016 respectively. And on September 27, 2016, the Apex Court heard the suit from counsels to Agi, PDP and Governor Ben Ayade.
However, the legal tussle between the duo took another turn at the Supreme Court during the parties’ pleadings. To the chagrin of the court, the counsel to PDP, Mr. N. Ibegbulam told the panel of five judges headed by Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour that he concedes to the appeal by Agi.
Ibegbulam had argued that Ayade violated the party’s electoral guidelines, and wants the court to apply Article 14b and Article 15 sub 2, adding that they are withdrawing the PDP brief of argument.
After listening to both parties, the Supreme Court fixed December 9 for ruling on the matter.
Lawyers react to the new twist
Since the drama at the apex court, uneasy calm seems to pervade the state as lawyers, party chieftains and stakeholders have continued to react.
The Special Adviser, Legal to Ayade, Mr Nehemiah Abang, said the position of the PDP counsel is only making a mockery of the matter, adding that it is impossible for PDP to approbate and reprobate.
Abang said earlier that PDP had filed court processes on oath and defending Ayade in Court of first instance being the trial Court and at Appeal and both courts dismissed the suit and validated Ayade’s mandate. According to him, these processes from these courts formed part of the records pending at the Supreme Court which the learned justices will definitely look at and take judicial note of. He contended that PDP’s conceding to Agi’s case does not in any way take off the evidence that is already an official documented before the court, insisting that the concession was not made by Ayade, who has joined issues with Agi in the case.
He further argued that having withdrawn from the case, the PDP brief was struck out, implying no response from PDP in reply to Joe Agi’s case.
Also reacting, Bar Ndoma Egodo, a member of Cross River state Law Reform Commission, said the lawyer’s submission at the Supreme Court is of no moment because appeal matters are not heard based on lawyer’s oral evidence.
But in a counter reaction, Utum Eteng, a Calabar-based legal practitioner, said the drama at the Apex Court is a novel situation and it is important that it is happening at this stage.
Eteng, a member of the newly-constituted electoral review committee, said “A situation whereby a party to a suit informs the court that it is withdrawing his briefs of argument and supporting the case of appellant is a new precedent. On the issue of a counsel speaking against his client which amount to ethical misconduct, he said: “It is not against the ethics of legal profession for a lawyer to come to court and withdraw his briefs based on the instruction of the client. A lawyer conveys the message of his client to the court and the message is superior,” he submitted.
Stakeholders read riot act
As the legal tussle between the governor and Agi, continues, the party’s stakeholders in Cross River state have said the mandate given Ayade is irrevocable.
The stakeholders from various chapters of the party including Bekwarra, Boki, Ikom and Ogoja as well as students’ leaders said though they have confidence in the ability of the Justices of the Apex court, the action of the PDP lawyer is an act of sabotage as the people of the state voted massively for him during the 2015 governorship election.
Speaking to newsmen on the plot to sabotage the court processes, the leader of the PDP in Boki chapter, Dan Osim Asu, threatened fire and brim stone, insisting that they will make the state ungovernable for anyone or group of people to try to manipulate the court processes. Asu, who doubles as the commissioner for Works, said the governor went through the primaries of the PDP and came out successfully before becoming victorious at the poll, which he noted was keenly contested.
Expressing dismay at the sudden turn of events, the President Bekwarra Solidarity for Ayade, Egrinya Eneji, said: “I can tell you that what some members of PDP are trying to do to upturn the people’s mandate through the court is very unfortunate and faulty. We condemn it and the state is together and solidly behind the Governor Ayade. We are sure at the end, the court will do justice. We rather advise him to remain much focused.”
As Cross Riverians wait earnestly for December 9, date fixed for ruling, there have been all sorts of speculations and lobbying going on within the political class.
The rumour mills have it that some PDP big wigs including members of his cabinet, who are said to be dissatisfied with the administration of Ayade, have started lobbying for position in Joe Agi’s camp in the event that the ruling favours him.
It was also learnt that some top elected members especially at the National Assembly from the state and past PDP leaders are said to be keeping sealed lips in this matter as they are also not happy with the way the governor’s men not only relegated them to the background but treated them as outcasts.
Many are alleged to still have an axe to grind with the governor over the conduct of the last party congresses which saw most of them losing their political bases, an indication that they are not wanted in the party again.
While still licking their wounds, some of them have decided to adopt ‘sidon-look’ attitude believing that whosoever wins at the Supreme Court is beside the point as they are also battling for their own survival.
But those loyal to Ayade are also not resting on their oars as they have organised rallies in Calabar and moving from one local government to another in solidarity with the state’s number one citizen.
Royal fathers, state House of assembly and members of the exco have also pledged total support of the governor. To them, God knows best and would do justice in bringing their leader back on December 9.
In the state now, the sing-song is beware of December 9.
Nigeria can be fixed –Ntoh
By Orji, Sunday Sylvester
World Bank Consultant and Provost, Abia State College of Education (Technical), Dr Philip Ntoh believes that Nigeria could get out of recession if the right strategies are adopted. In this interview, he speaks also on Nigeria at 56, prospects and challenges.
Nigeria at 56 the prospects and challenges?
We are glad that Nigeria is 56 and you know we have passed so many challenges. After independence, barely six years, we had the first civil war which means it was not easy for Nigeria to take off ab initio. So after the civil war, we have also had other type of wars which may not be civil war but economic war. We have not been able to make it economically though the prospect is there as a nation, given the population size which is an indication of market size. So, by implication a country with such magnitude of population should be able to excel economically but this won’t come until you do the right things. If you look at it from the area of agriculture we have the land mass, not just land mass but fertile and arable land but we have not fully tapped from that particular potential. We also have very good climate condition which is also conducive for agriculture. So I wonder why a nation with this kind of potential is not able to diversify into agriculture because a situation where you have good climatic condition from rainy season, you enter the dry season. There is nothing like snow, you know snow is not conducive for agriculture. If you go to some temperate regions, they equally convert the snow into rain. Nigeria is the only country where if you lick an orange, paw- paw or anything and throw it away, it germinates. This is not so in the temperate region. If you go to Israel or even in the United States, it’s not possible.
It means we have not been able to tap on that. We also have a country endowed with so many minerals, we have the solid minerals but unfortunately, we only place emphasis on crude oil mineral resources; that is the major problem of Nigeria. A country that only place its economic emphasis on only one product will face economic doom; that is why we are in this problem today. The recession they are talking about is because greater proportion of our GDP is from crude oil. What is recession? It is when the real GDP is on the negative growth for two consecutive quarters. And why do we have negative GDP in two consecutive quarters?
From what we can see, government is not doing much to revive the economy towards the part of growth because a situation where the emphasis is being majorly placed on how to increase oil production, everything only on oil, then I don’t think there is prospect in that direction.
The only thing I may say is that we must diversify the economy. Let us strengthen the other sectors of the economy especially agriculture. Somebody from Europe was telling me that the price of honey there is about 400 dollars for a barrel while the price of crude oil is 47 dollar per barrel, so which one will make better economic sense? The potentiality is there to tap from the bee farming. What should we then do? As a nation, what we should do is to subsidize that sector, subsidize the production towards that direction but you see the problem with Nigeria is that we subsidize consumption instead of production. A situation where you subsidize consumption without caution, you create a situation where you have a lazy people and the people will be reluctant to work. That is part of our problem. That is why our economy is not productive.
What do you suggest as short time measure in this time of recession?
I am an economist that don’t always subscribe to short time measure; I believe mostly in long term but that notwithstanding, there is nothing wrong in government providing palliatives in the area of food to reduce hunger in the land. In the case of long run for instance, the Premier of Eastern region provided a lot in the area of agriculture but was not built upon by subsequent governments. This is the sad case in some other parts of the region. The truth is that if you remain with the short term measure, you will still see the problem knock at your door. In long term measure, you only suffer for a while. Several developed countries suffered the same fate we are passing through now. Short term measure may imply borrowing which is what the Federal Government is talking about. I don’t believe in borrowing unless if it’s on production purpose. If you borrow without using the money judiciously, you are still postponing the evil day which will definitely come. Unless if you borrow to diversify the economy, to invest in infrastructure but not to borrow to consume. See a situation last year when the CBN released bailout for states, what happened? I believe the states should face their economic challenges and come out of it.
But one thing is that our people are resilient but after a while, you will find out that this recession will be like part of us. What I mean is that a bag of rice now is about N20,000. Within the shortest possible time, people will begin to see it as a way of life, as part of them, they will absorb the shock.
We are even lucky in our region that Nigeria alone is experiencing recession and that may be even a serious advantage to come out of the situation quicker.
A situation where so many countries around your region are having recession, who will then help the other? It is like a situation where you come to a family and everybody is sick; it will be difficult to help one another. But since it is only Nigeria that is sick economically, it is easier for funds to be injected or borrowed from other countries, for investments to be moved from other countries to Nigeria. But one thing I will continue to say is that let our economic team find out what really is the root cause of this recession because from my own perspective, it is multi-faceted.
Do we then blame the economic team on ground now?
Nobody knows it all. The economic team may not be the best but they can consult. When they consult with other experts they will come out with the best solution to our situation. A medical doctor that owns a hospital may not be the best, In fact, he simply specializes, that is why when he gets a complicated case he invites other consultants to come and assist. Let the economic team consult widely. One thing I think they have not done perfectly is to find out the cause of the recession. If you have a patient in the hospital, the first thing that you do is to diagnose the root cause of the ailment. It is only when you know the root cause that you begin to consider appropriate economic policy to put in place that will help us come out of the mess. From my assessment, this recession in the country is a bit complicated as a result of chains of issues. Our population, our unemployed youths, our banks are not working, interest rate very high, inflation going up, security challenge, political underpinning, etc. So, when you have all these problems coming together, you will find it difficult to address them. We need a multi-dimensional approach. All the ministers, not just the minister of finance, or budget and planning, must be involved in the policy formulation. It will help their various ministries to know how to handle their own peculiar problem.
I still think government needs to consult widely. Ministers alone cannot know everything but when you consult the right experts, you get the solution that you need to implement. CBN management should also consult so as to come up with best monetary policy. Same with the finance ministry so as to come up with good fiscal policies. If you don’t strike the right synergy, there will be a problem. We need a multi-dimensional approach if we are to come out of this recession.
The present government is accusing the past PDP administration as responsible for the present woes in the land. Do you share in this view?
I don’t believe in dwelling on the past rather, I believe in being futuristic. I am an economist that believes in the future. The past is only there to assist you determine how you will go but for you to now dwell on the past for me, that does not make sense. I prefer talking about tomorrow because it is more important than the present.
It is from the past you have the present and then the future. The challenge as a leader is to take responsibility and rise up to the challenge rather than apportioning blames. The hallmark of a good leader is to foresee a problem before it becomes an emergency. This country can be fixed and that should be our concern rather than buck passing.