Enyeribe Ejiogu (Enyeribee2yahoo.com)
Dr Alex Egbona, the member representing the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency of Cross River State in the House of Representatives is one person who believes very strongly that victory is sweetest when the battle that produced it was hard and feisty. That somewhat sums up his disposition as he heads to the Court of Appeal to challenge the tribunal judgement that nullified his election in the 2019 National Assembly polls. In this interview he talks about this and his activities as a legislator in the last few months.
What are your thoughts on the petition against your election, which the tribunal has nullified?
It is one of those things. You know in every competition, in every battle in life, in every game, once there is a contest, there will always be a winner and there will be a loser. The most important thing that matters, as far as I am concerned is, whether you lost properly or whether you were robbed of victory. The signs that things were not okay at the tribunal started showing early during the trial. A situation where there was clear bias in the course of the trial was an indication to us that there was an agenda that the panel came to execute in Cross River State as far as my case was concerned. On a particular day for example, in the course of the trial the tribunal chairman was even helping a witness and telling him what to say and how to respond to questions from my lawyer. At some point in the course of the trial, the chairman refused to take notes while our lawyers were talking. He would say go ahead and talk, I am listening, and he would not take notes. So, I knew the man was up to something. There was even a moment when my opponent’s witness was fumbling and contradicting himself and the tribunal chairman got angry and drew the attention of their lawyers to the mistakes, querying why they were there watching the witness fumble. That is the same man that said in his judgment that my opponent’s witness never contradicted himself, whereas in his own record of proceedings, he indicated areas of contradictions on the part of my opponent.
But the good news is that there is an appeal court. And I am going there to challenge the black market judgement they bought in Calabar. You can imagine a situation where the tribunal overlooked the evidence we brought before it to talk about other things to enable them arrive at the judgment, to justify what they collected.
I want to believe that you listened to the appeal court judgement on the case between Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari. You heard what the court said about the use of card readers. The argument we canvassed at the tribunal was also what was canvassed at the Appeal Court on the issue of card reader. But the tribunal chose to look the other way and decided in favour of the PDP candidate.
Look at the issue of my candidacy. The tribunal invented its own laws and ignored the position of the Supreme Court on that subject matter. So, the entire judgement was a piece of thrash and we are going to deal with it at the Court of Appeal.
You said something about candidacy and I recall that INEC had removed your name and those of other All Progressives Congress (APC) members a few hours to the election.
Yes, you are right. That is what happened. There was a High Court judgement that said other candidates of the APC and myself were not candidates of the party. That was as a result of the internal issues we had in the party. But the Court of Appeal properly set aside that judgement. And in law, to the best of my knowledge, though I am not a lawyer, once a higher court has nullified an action or order, that order is deemed not have existed at all. That is the law. But the tribunal overlooked that and ruled that the Court of Appeal judgement came a little too late. This is another aspect that the Appeal Court will look into. In the eyes of the law, my nomination by the APC as candidate for the election was and remained intact as at the day I was elected member of the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency. I have a firm belief in the Appeal Court that the wrongs of the lower court will be corrected.
Have you filed your appeal then?
We are in the process of filing. We are getting the necessary documents and court processes that will enable us file a good case. We are still within the time allowed in law. When we file, the whole world will know. This is not just a battle that Dr Alex Egbona is pursuing. It is a battle for the Abi/Yakurr people. Recall that I was the only person in the APC in Cross River State that won an election during the last general elections. From state assembly, governorship to the National Assembly elections, I was the only one that won. Despite all the intimidations, my people stood by me and we defeated them with all the money and soldiers they brought to harass us. My election was like war. My former boss came to my village on the eve of the election and told my people not to vote for me. A town crier was engaged to announce that the APC should not be voted for in the election; that it will be a big disgrace for him if his candidate of the PDP did not win. What I am telling you now was reported in the media. But my people stood firm and resisted everything and I won.
Now, there is serious pressure on me not to go on appeal. They are intimidating and harassing my family. Just about 24 hours after the tribunal nullified my election, men who dressed as soldiers were sighted in my village. They were patrolling my village, my community and I asked, if you are beating a child, can’t you allow the child to cry? They say they defeated me at the tribunal and they went to my village to make sure the people did not cry.
And after that some gunmen went to my Calabar home in the dead of the night and shot sporadically. They have been calling me, threatening that they would deal with me if I went on appeal. They are worried that I am challenging the tribunal judgement. Is it a crime to challenge a tribunal judgement in a higher court? I have told them that they cannot stop me. Nobody, I repeat, nobody can stop this moving train. My people deserve a better representation and that is what I owe them. They have chased me from day one till now and we keep winning and we will continue to win. This battle is not mine, it is the Lord’s and we will win. I have been very loyal to my former boss but he is not comfortable that I am climbing the ladder. He wants to pull it down. I still see him as my leader. I do not understand why he feels this threatened by my rising profile in the political space. In other climes, political fathers encourage their children. See what our APC leader, Ahmed Bola Tinubu is doing in the southwest. Look at all his political children and how he is helping them to grow. That is a man that knows that the rise of his children means his own rise too. But in our own case, it is not like that. I only hope and pray that God will touch him to know that he needs to encourage and not destroy his children. We come from the same local government. My village is not far from his. I would have thought that as my former boss, he would be very excited that his son is going into the National Assembly. But he was proud to come to my village to campaign that my people should not vote for me. And when I won, he was proud to say that I would lose at the tribunal. God is still on the throne. Let us see between him and God, who has the final say. One thing I have told myself is that he remains my boss and I will never insult him. I remain loyal to him and I will forever give him all his due respect as my boss. Anyone who knows him should please tell him that he remains my boss and leader, but that he is not God and he should not equate himself with God.
You have been in the House of Representatives for some months now. Are your constituents feeling your impact?
They can answer for themselves. I cannot boast in myself and begin to about what I have done. But for the sake of this question, just know that I have done my best and will continue to do so. My duty is representation as a legislator. I do not control any votes. But in just a little over two months since I have been in House, I challenge you go to my constituency and hear things for yourself. I have done what people have not done before. I am adopting the bottom-top approach in my representation. I have undertaken a tour of the entire constituency and taken a census of all the projects that need to be executed. The people have also told me what they will want me to focus on as part of my constituency projects. It will interest you to note that I hired consultants to compute this and this will form part of the things that will be handled under next year’s budget. I do not want to talk about the number of people I have so far assisted to get jobs everywhere. I do not like to blow my trumpet, so let me leave it at that. My left hand is not supposed to know what my right hand has done, even though because of the kind of politics we play, we tend to ignore this biblical injunction. But I can tell you that things are no longer the same in my constituency. I gave my people my word that I will make a difference and that is what is guiding every action that I take. You can take it to the bank that I, Dr Alex Egbona, will leave the Abi/Yakurr Federal constituency far better than it used to be.