By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
The All Progressive Congress, APC, is fast becoming a house of commotions, where things seem to have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold.
Or how else do we describe the present situation in Edo and Ondo States, where the ruling party is at loggerheads with itself over its flag bearers for the coming gubernatorial elections in those States?
When a party in power is waging war against itself, the Yorubas call it mystery (edi). The crisis of primary elections has become the undoing of the APC in many States. On Friday, May 24 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the impunity of APC by putting a final death knell on the fate of all its candidates in the National Assembly, Gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections in Zamfara State. In one fell swoop, the APC lost all elections in that State, to the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), no thanks to the internal wrangling within the APC.
The same thing happened in Rivers, Imo and some other States, where the Courts annulled the electoral successes of the APC, due mainly to the primaries of imposition, violence and bloodshed, conducted by the ruling party.
Presently, there are not less than eight hundred court cases arising from dissatisfaction with the primary elections of the political parties. It has been some kind of windfall for the opposition in States that should ordinarily have been swept clean by the ruling party, all because of impunity. The APC is treading the same ominous path in Edo and Ondo States, all over again, almost in the same fashion.
Impunity reigns in any situation where rules are broken with reckless abandon, where an individual is exempted from the consequences of the breach of law or due process, and where a person holds out himself as above the law and is thus immune from punishment that should ordinarily have been the consequence of his action.
It is actually the bane of leadership in Nigeria, where some of those who hold power in trust for the rest of society take it upon themselves to impose upon the people, without giving a hoot as to the effect of such, on the general psyche of the people or even corporate governance.
If people give due regard to the processes established by law for general human conduct, then there will be less crisis, less conflicts and indeed less court cases, although some of my colleagues have corrected me that this should not be the wish of any serious lawyer, since conflict in itself is part and parcel of human development and progress.
Now how did it all start, in Edo State? The incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, fell out with his presumed godfather, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, the national chairman of his political party, the APC. It was a fall out of the usual contest for power between the incumbent governor and the ex-governor, as it happened in other States, even within the PDP.
In this case, it became a game of two power mongers, one wielding executive powers and the other commanding national influence, both virtually tearing the party apart. My own questions have always been these: who is advising governor Obaseki? Why go this far just to make a point?
Locking a former governor out of the State that he once governerned, stopping him from political campaigns, declaring him persona non grata and going ahead to physically prevent him from entering the State, but for the quick intervention of the police, or even requesting for clearance before a citizen of Nigeria is allowed access to his own home State.
That was rather extreme, on the part of His Excellency. Is it true that some House of Assembly members have not been sworn in to assume their constitutional responsibilities many months after they were elected by the people?
And what do we say about the Comrade Chairman, who portrayed somebody as incompetent four years ago and he is presently busy trying to present the same person as a saint? Who on earth changes a winning team? If Governor Obaseki in 2020 has no academic qualifications to aspire to be the candidate of APC, how then was he screened to run in the previous election that ushered him into office as governor?
Did he just graduate from school today? Are Oshiomole and APC not aware that the case of APC gubernatorial primary election for Edo State is in court? If a man is in court to challenge a process, do you then go ahead to screen him out to spite the court case, where it was directed that parties should maintain the status quo? What could have led a ruling party to waste so much time, energy and resources on a process that is evidently lis pendens and subject to judicial review? It was the same scenario that played out in Rivers State, where rival APC factions dragged themselves to court to stop the party primaries.
The APC has enough precedents to guide it in the choice of actions to be taken in relation to party primaries and internal wranglings. I fully support the need to assert the supremacy of the party in all cases, as indiscipline in any organization will spell doom for its progress and advancement. In this regard, we had all expected that the elders in APC would wade in to bring the governor and Comrade Chairman to a roundtable.
As it is presently, Governor Obaseki has no choice than to seek his political ambition on another political platform, the lesson being that you do not bite the fingers that fed you, even though in this very case, those fingers were all along infected and poisonous.
The Constitution in its section 221 has accorded the political parties the pride of place in the determination of candidates for any election. However, section 87 of the Electoral Act prescribes that “a political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions” and that “the procedure for the nomination of candidates by a political party for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.”
The Supreme Court has now put the matter of party primaries beyond controversy, as a matter purely for the internal affairs of the party and therefore not justiciable. In the recent case of APC v. Lere, the Supreme Court, on Friday, May 10, 2019, held as follows: “Candidates are expected to obtain expression of interest and nomination forms, present their certificates for verification and appear before a Screening Committee. This is the stage at which the domestic or internal affairs of the political party are not justiciable. The court will not dabble into how a member of the party is screened, or why a member was not cleared by the party to contest the primary.
Put in another way, before a member of the party is cleared, the party has the power to disqualify their member, and is answerable to no one including the courts. A dissatisfied member’s remedy is to leave the party and seek his political ambitions somewhere else.”
Without any doubt, the fate of Governor Obaseki as far the APC gubernatorial primary election in Edo State is concerned, is for all times sealed. The question now is this: won’t the party pay for this wrangling at the polls or in court? That is if the polls will be determined by the will of the people and judges are allowed to rule without pressure.
The various examples of impunity that permeate the APC is only a symbol of its true character as the ruling party, as in several other examples, names of candidates were cancelled, removed or withdrawn at the very last minute, whereas in some more distasteful cases, death certificates were forged for some candidates in order to substitute them.
In the end, the APC had more pre-election cases in court than in the election petition tribunals. Where does this lead us? Whatever affects the head will surely flow to the other parts of the body. And if what we have witnessed within the APC is anything to go by, Nigerians should very well brace up for greater impunities from the ruling party, in more critical and fundamental areas of our national life.
And this goes to the credibility of the coming elections in Edo and Ondo States, as no political party would be so bold to embrace these manipulations and contestations, if votes matter and if that party has no other means of claiming victory in the general elections.
But in all of these, President Buhari, who is by status the official leader of the APC, is the overall winner and loser. In Rivers State, the matter went
up to the Supreme Court and he never interfered in the process at all, at least openly and to our knowledge.
Similarly in Zamfara State, he didn’t show any sign of much personal concern, in the judicial process that eventually buried the fate of his own party, other than to cancel his campaign rally in the State. He has maintained the same neutrality in Edo State.
But there is a little snag. How can the President be parading credentials that his own party does not possess? How come he has not been able to influence his own party to respect the rule of law and due process? We all wait on the APC for the answers.