A Port Harcourt court yesterday voided the election of officers and candidates of the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
But the party said it had appealed the judgment and requested a stay of execution.
The ruling is a culmination of the crisis between Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Magnus Abe over the leadership of the party.
Abe, ran a parallel congress which picked him as the governorship candidate. The Ameachi group, with the endorsement of the National Secretariat, picked Mr Tonye Cole as candidate.
Cole is recognised by the national secretariat.
In spite of yesterday’s sack of Rivers APC Chairman Ojukaye Flag-Amachree, and the nullification of the party’s ward, local government and state congresses of May 19, 20 and 21, by Justice Chiwendu Nworgu, the Amaechi group insisted that the APC officials remained duly elected.
Justice Nwogu said all actions taken by the APC during the pedency of the suit had been set aside because “they are illegal and unconstitutional.”
Justice Nwogu declared that all those who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses were entitled to contest the ward congresses of May 19, but were unjustly excluded by the party.
He said: “The Rule by might must be checked by the rule of law. We must restore the hope of the common man in the justice system”.
Justice Nwogu, who based his judgment on the Amaechi versus INEC Matter of 2007, noted that having studied the submissions in the matter, he was bound to make consequential orders to ensure that justice was done in the case.
Justice Nwogu declared that all those who purchased nomination forms for the ward congresses were entitled to contest the ward congresses of May 19, 2018, but were unjustly excluded by the party.
Rivers APC through its Publicity Secretary Chief Chris Finebone, at a news conference yesterdaysaid the judgment had been appealed, with stay of execution already entered.
The APC also noted the support inside the Rivers High Court, Port Harcourt by Governor Nyesom Wike’s aides “in full collaboration with Abe.”
Senator Abe’s loyalists: Ibrahim Umar and 22 others in the 23 local governments of Rivers, State approached the court, stating that they were excluded from participating in the congresses. This was upheld by the court.
Justice Nworgu in the judgment that lasted over one hour, also set aside all the primaries of Rivers APC, including the indirect election that produced Cole, a billionaire businessman, as the governorship candidate.
Adddressing his supporters yesterday at a rally, Senator Abe hailed the court’s judgment, declaring that Prince Peter Odike remained the Rivers Chairman of APC and that since he emerged through direct primary, backed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, he was the standard bearer of APC in Rivers.
Abe said: “When he (Amaechi) came to me and said I should not run (for governorship in 2019), but I asked him what he wanted, he said he would bring Tonye Cole. Rivers people will not follow anybody that they do not know. We are fighting against a sitting governor (Nyesom Wike of Peoples Democratic Party), who has resources and he is a politician. They told the world I am a betrayer, a bad person and I am not loyal. No, it will not work.
“They said they would retire me from politics, if I refused. I would wear the retirement as a badge of honour, because Nigerians would know that when it was time to tell the truth, I opened my mouth and I spoke the truth. How would they retire me from the minds of my people in Rivers State? They also said they would bring money and everyone would leave me and go home. Let them bring the money, I will still stand here alone. We will not leave APC, because we built the party. We cannot leave our inheritance for anybody. The trouble will not end.
“Over 148,000 Rivers people, across the 319 wards of the 23 local governments of Rivers State, during the direct governorship primary election of APC, came out and cast their votes for me. We are interested in the progress of this party, we are ready to work for the progress of this party, but the party must show respect to its members. We are being treated with disrespect. You do not do that in politics. People cannot sit down in Lagos and choose a governor for Rivers people.
The Rivers chapter of APC, however, stated that it was not surprised that the Rivers High court, presided over by Justice Nworgu, set aside the May congresses.
Amaechi’s allies in Rivers APC said: “The judgment did not come to us by surprise. It brings to an end, the collaboration between Senator Magnus Abe and Governor Nyesom Wike to destabilise the APC in Rivers State.
“There had been many overt and covert partnerships between Wike and Abe, using the Rivers State Judiciary on the matter to scuttle the electoral fortunes of the APC in 2019. Today’s (yesterday’s) judgment is a culmination of the evil collaboration.
“The grand rally staged today (yesterday) by Abe was carefully planned and scheduled by both the Senator and Wike to coincide with the Rivers State High Court judgment, details of which they were already privy to. It was not surprising when Abe gleefully announced the exact judgment of the court on the rally rostrum, just about when the judge was still reading his judgment in court.”
Rivers APC also urged members and sympathisers of the party in the state and across Nigeria to remain calm.
It noted that despite the fact that aspects of the matter were already before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the lower court in Port Harcourt still went ahead to decide on the matter being challenged at higher courts.
It said: “Nothing will happen to the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led State Working Committee (SWC) of the party, as it is further protected against any action by the perpetual injunction granted by Abuja High Court 14, presided over by Justice A. O. Musa, on September 4, 2018, in which it restrained the APC and its National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole (1st and 2nd Defendants), from tampering with the mandates of the elected officials/delegates elected at the 1st Defendant’s ward, local government and state congresses in Rivers State on May 19, 20 and 21, 2018 respectively, either by nullifying, removing or in any way refusing to give effect to the outcome of the said congresses or by purporting to conduct another congress in respect of Rivers State.
“It is also important to emphasise that the entire 319 wards and 23 LGAs executives of the party in Rivers State are, by implication, protected against the ruling by any court of coordinate jurisdiction with the Abuja High Court that granted the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led Rivers State executive a perpetual injunction. We urge everyone to go about their duties without let.
“It must be mentioned that if the entire collaboration between Abe and Wike on this matter is to nullify actions the party recently took relating to its mandate, by seeking to invalidate the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led executive, such an exercise has failed. For example, the primaries so far conducted in Rivers State were done by the national executives/ national leadership of the APC and not essentially by the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led executive in Rivers State. Seeking to invalidate the Ojukaye Flag-Amachree-led executive cannot in anyway invalidate the primaries.
“We commend the Special Adviser to Governor Wike on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwankaudu, for his efforts at the court today (yesterday) in furtherance of the collaboration between Abe and the Rivers State government. We also commend the presiding judge for the ‘industry’ put into the process.”
Rivers APC also urged members and supporters of the party not to lose sleep over the matter, while asking Wike, Abe and their supporters to continue to fool, delude and ridicule themselves.