PETER DADA writes about the implications of a Federal High Court judgment recognising Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the forthcoming Ondo State governorship election
As the much awaited governorship election in Ondo State draws closer, virtually all the prominent political parties that will be participating in the election are currently dealing with one internal issue or the other. Though some of the affected parties are on the verge of resolving their crises in order to stand a good chance of winning the November 26 election, the situation is more complex for members of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state.
Less than two months to the election, the PDP in the state is still struggling to have a clear direction as the party’s two factions- Ahmed Makarfi faction and Ali Modu Sheriff faction- are locked in a legal tussle over which of them should present the party’s candidate for the poll.
The immediate past Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), is the candidate of the Makarfi-led faction of the party, while a businessman, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, belongs to the other faction.
The political pendulum in the party swung on Friday, October 14, in favour of the Sheriff-led faction when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, declared Ibrahim as the authentic candidate of the party. The court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission to drop Jegede, whose name had earlier been submitted to it, and replace it with Ibrahim’s name.
Some members of the party were shocked by the ruling as the primary that produced Ibrahim was neither held in Ondo State nor supervised by INEC, even though it was learnt that the commission was notified about the exercise.
Jegede’s camp is believed not to be happy with this development, although, it had started its campaign programme scheduled to take the team to the 18 local government areas of the state.
However, the Chairman of the Makarfi-led faction of the PDP in Ondo State, Mr. Clement Faboyede, insisted that the judgment would not affect Jegede’s candidature and added that his faction would challenge the judgment at the Appeal Court.
According to Faboyede, the suit filed by the plaintiff only sought to determine the tenure and membership of the State Executive Committee of the PDP in the South-West zone and the direction the party would take in respect of its primaries for the 2019 general elections.
The state factional chairman of the Ondo PDP also vowed that the party would petition the National Judicial Council and Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee over the matter.
He said, “By the originating summons, dated and filed on June 7, 2016, the claimants, who were nine in number, sought certain reliefs from the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice O. E. Abang.
“The suit sought to determine the tenure and membership of the State Executive Committee of the PDP in the South-West zone and in addition, seek directions in respect of party’s primaries for 2019 elections.
“The claimants sought a declaration that they were the people entitled to deal with the nomination of candidates for 2019 general elections. It should be noted that the Ondo State governorship election scheduled for November 26, 2016, was not part of the plaintiff’s claim and no reference was made to it in the claim.
“There is no nexus between the suit and 2016 Ondo State governorship election.”
He said it was wrong for the court to direct INEC to honour the State Executive “against the backdrop of numerous decisions of Supreme Court that it is the National Executive Committee of a political party that has the responsibility to submit names of candidates to INEC.”
On the other hand, the Chairman of the Sheriff-led faction of the PDP in Ondo State, Mr. Biyi Poroye, maintained that the faction had secured a favourable court judgment, which could only be upturned by a superior court of law.
He said the court judgment proved that his faction of the PDP was the only authentic one in the state.
“If they said they are not affected by the judgment, why are they appealing it?” he asked.
“We do not have issues with one another in the party; we have issues with INEC and the court has told the electoral body that Jimoh Ibrahim is the candidate of the PDP in Ondo State. It is not my duty to tell Jegede that he should not parade himself as PDP candidate again; I have no business with him.
“If they are campaigning, let them go ahead; they are mobilising for my party and making my job easier. They are campaigning for our candidate.
“The most important thing is for Jimoh Ibrahim to resume at the State House on February 24, so any group of people that wants to hold a rally should go ahead and do so.”
While the legal tussle is set to continue between the factions, Jegede and his campaign team have stepped up their campaign across the state, while assuring their supporters that the Appeal Court would dismiss the judgment of Justice Abang.
Already, some people in the state, who had made up their minds to vote for Jegede in the forthcoming election, have been confused following the court judgment that went in favour of Ibrahim.
It was learnt that Ibrahim and his team, who had not yet begun any campaign in the state, were counting on the support given to PDP through Jegede to win the election.
Some members of the faction believe that Jegede should continue with his campaign while Ibrahim would be sworn in as the governor by the court if the PDP eventually wins the election.
Owing to the situation in the Ondo State chapter of the PDP, there is a political school of thought that is already envisaging a replica of the scenario that played out in Rivers State in 2007 between immediate former Governor of the state, Rotimi Amechi, and Celestine Omehia.
Amaechi had won the PDP primary in the state for governorship election in 2007, but his name was substituted by the party, an action which he challenged in court.
Omehia won the governorship election, but he was removed from office after about five months following a Supreme Court ruling that Amaechi was the rightful candidate of the PDP and winner of the April 2007 governorship election in Rivers State, even though, he did not contest in the election.
Therefore, the target of some PDP members in Ondo State is to first work hard to win the forthcoming election and should that happen, the legal process can then decide who eventually becomes the governor of the state.
However, there is a belief that if the current PDP crisis is not well managed, it may affect its chances of winning the election as some analysts have observed that many pro-Jegede supporters in the party have been considering supporting candidates of another party if INEC obeys the court order.
According to a source, the candidates of the All Progressives Congress and Alliance for Democracy, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), and Chief Olusola Oke, respectively, may benefit from the internal crisis in the PDP.
It was learnt that some members of the ruling PDP in the state, which belongs to the Makarfi-led faction of the party, were already considering supporting other candidates in the election.
The source said that Oke, who was once a PDP chieftain before his defection to the APC and later, the AD, had begun to win some key members of the PDP in the state to his side.
Similarly, Akeredolu is said to be making attempts to win some aggrieved members of the PDP to his side ahead of the poll.
To this end, some political analysts said the disagreement within the PDP leadership on the issue of candidacy could spell doom for the party in the election unless the leadership took a drastic step to resolve the crisis before the deadline by the INEC.
In his own view, a lawyer, Mr. Yemi Adetoyinbo, said there was need for the two factions of the PDP to come together and settle on either Jegede or Ibrahim to stand a good chance in the forthcoming governorship poll.
He said, “If INEC removes Jegede’s name for Jimoh Ibrahim’s name, the supporters of Jegede will, as a matter of protest, vote for another party and if Jegede’s name is retained, Ibrahim’s supporters may support other candidates.
“The way I see it, if the crisis is unresolved before the election, it is Olusola Oke of the AD and Rotimi Akeredolu that may be the beneficiaries of the crisis and the PDP would totally lose out in the election. That is why it is better for the two factions to settle the matter amicably.”
Another analyst, Mr. Segun Alao, said everything should be left for INEC to decide since it had the judgment in its possession and had extended the deadline for the submission of names of candidates for the election to October 27.
“I think INEC has done well by extending the deadline and asking the party to resolve its issue before October 27. It said its legal department is still studying the judgment in order not to goof on its decision.
“But the INEC, in law, should be able to accept the court judgment. It is an appeal court that can set it aside. If INEC does not accept Ibrahim’s name and could not go ahead with Jegede’s name, in law, that means the PDP will have no candidate for the election,” Alao said.