By Timothy Mgbeje
Reading Sam Omatseye’s commentaries has always been an excursion into knowledge, except in the few instances in which he himself has been poorly briefed about the subject matter, then Sam can easily become one of the actors in the comedy of errors that politics in Nigeria has, unfortunately, become. Such has been the case with some commentators recently mobilized to weigh in on the Cross River North senatorial debacle. Unfortunately journalism has been described as history in a hurry, allowing some practitioners limited time and circumstance for due diligence before publication. Like the story of the benighted king who could only hear with the left ear, some columnists are condemned to suffer the indignity of delivering judgement after hearing from the man sitting on their left, only to discover the full expanse of the truth in rejoinders. As Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, “Men may construe things after their fashion, clean from the purpose of the things themselves.”
The full story of Cross River North senatorial by-election reads like the Epics of Gilgamesh, of the ancient Greek Odyssey or Dante’s Divine Comedy, with accompanying sub-themes of heroism, chivalry…It is not a straightforward story as has been recounted in recent newspaper reviews that have, unfortunately, sought to inpugn the integrity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or the courts. It is the story of intrigue, grit, greed and blood. It is the tale of carpetbaggers storming through the city gate without a stitch of moral fibre or a whiff of political philosophy. It is above all a dramatic rehearsal of the battle of 2023 in its stark complications.
The narrative being circulated about thep rimaries of the Peoples Democratic PArty (PDP) in Cross River North mocks the true events and objective reality. For the innocent reader to follow the true trajectory of the tragic tale, one must necessarily have to begin from the beginning.
For the record, after the conclusion of the PDP elective congresses for ward and local government chapters in March 2020, some members of the party, acting at the behest of their paymaster, wanted the party to use a contrived list of delegates instead of the authentic list of elected statutory delegates from the March 2020 congresses for the Cross River North Senatorial District primaries.
Hon. Jarigbe went to the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt division, in suit no. FHC/PH/CS/125/2020, to ask for declarations touching on the validity of what list was to be used at the primaries. The suit was filed in Port Harcourt because the courts where on vacation at that time, and the Port Harcourt division of the Federal High Court had the jurisdiction to hear matters from Cross River State during the period of the courts’ vacation.
The court granted Jarigbe’s reliefs, as it found that the lists of delegates presented by him were the ones authenticated by INEC and approved by the national organising secretary of PDP.
The judgment was appealed against, and the Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt affirmed the decision of the lower court.
Following the judgment in FHC/PH /CS/125/2020, the PDP through its appointed five-member Electoral Committee, conducted its primary for the Cross River North Senatorial District with the authentic list of delegates approved by the court. The primary was monitored by INEC and Jarigbe won the said primary. INEC and the Electoral Committee prepared their reports, and both reports showed that Jarigbe won the primary and was the validly nominated candidate of the PDP.
Despite these reports, some members of PDP at the national level submitted the name of Dr. S.A. Odey to INEC. And this prompted Jarigbe to seek redress in court in suit FHC/PH/CS/137/2020, filed on September 11, 2020, in Port Harcourt, (still during the courts’ vacation). The matter was later transferred to Calabar after the expiration of vacation and the suit number changed to FHC/CA/CS/105/2020.
The innuendo that Jarigbe was forum shopping can only be baseless and mischievous. Rather, it was his opponent, Dr. Odey, who filed on September 21, 2020, suit number FHC/CA/CS/86/2020, in Calabar division in spite of the fact that the Calabar division was on vacation and not sitting at the time. He also filed suit number FHC/CA/CS/87/2020 (on September 28, 2020) and fraudulently obtained rwo ex parte orders for his name to be published by INEC as PDP’s candidate for the Cross River North Senatorial District by-election.
Dr. Odey filed these cases despite filing an application to be joined as a party in suit number FHC/PH/CS/137/2020, which later became FHC/CA/CS/105/2020. At the same time, a member of PDP sued INEC and Jarigbe in the FCT High Court, Abuja, praying the court to disqualify Jarigbe as a candidate for the senatorial district by-election. The court, of course, did not see any merit in the suit and dismissed it. The claimant, now appellant, appealed the judgment at the Court of Appeal, which in like manner also dismissed the appeal. The court of appeal affirmed Jarigbe’s candidature and consequentially ordered that he be given all the rights and privileges of the candidate of PDP. And by this token, the certificate of return, since his party, the PDP, won the Cross River North Senatorial District by-election.
It must be stated that in the Abuja cases both at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, Jarigbe was a defendant, and a respondent, respectively.
Jarigbe never complained that INEC did not monitor the primary. Rather, it was Odey who alleged that the state REC had the power to appoint monitors rather than the national headquarters of INEC. It is also important to note that the prevailing hackneyed narrative has failed to make mention of the burning issue of conflicting result sheets that emanated from the primary on September 5, 2020.
It must also be stated for the records that, Jarigbe was never disqualified to contest the primary and, by extension, the by-election. The Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal in the Port Harcourt division of both courts set aside any purported disqualification of Jarigbe.
This is the correct position of the facts as borne out by the records of the court and not the red herring that is being circulated in the media. What has become more interesting is that, while Odey is squabbling with Jarigbe, the judiciary and INEC, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the rerun election, Mr. Joe Agi, SAN, has filed a petition challenging the by-election in which the PDP emerged winner. Being abreast of the fine points of the matter, Agi has sued both Odey and Jarigbe as 1st and 2nd respondents with the PDP as the 3rd respondent. Simple legal jurisprudence will tell you that a party cannot win elections with two candidates. His first ground is that the PDP has no candidate, while the second is that Odey lied under oath since he claims to have unassailable evidence that Odey has a criminal conviction hanging over him like the sword of Damocles.
It is germaine to take a few salient and critical facts in our stride as we consider the merits of this case. The first is that before the primaries, a federal high court authenticated the delegates’ list that is legitimate and gave a direction for its use in the primaries. Unfortunately, Odey’s faction using the machinery of state and the police shot live ammunition at the authentic delegates who they sought to replace with their own hirelings. Secondly, the INEC monitor rejected the contrived delegates’ list as presented by the chairman of the Electoral Panel, himself a longtime friend of the governor of the state. Thirdly, Jarigbe emerged the winner of the primaries conducted with the legitimate delegates’ list. This is why the report of the INEC monitor and a faction of the PDP electoral panel returned the name of Jarigbe as duely elected.
The PDP in Cross River State stands today at the cusp of an implosion by a clash of authoritarian and liberal forces within its own self. So much bad blood has welled up in the confrontation that the APC can now quite easily seize the crown without breaking a sweat. Yet, members of the party can still work together as a family that they have always been by allowing justice and equity to prevail.
•Mgbeje, a civil servant, writes from Nyanya