The jubilant mood in one camp of All Progressives Congress (APC) Rivers State, which soared after the Appeal Court halted stay of execution order disqualifying the APC from the 2019 elections has again diminished.
The Supreme Court ruling on Friday on the suit filed by Tonye Cole and others that the judgment given by Justice Chiwendu Nworgu, which nullified the congresses and primaries of the APC as a consent judgment has placed the APC in a precarious position.
Senator Magnus Abe who is seeking a court declaration that he be declared the authentic governorship candidate said the decision of the Supreme Court, which held that the Appeal Court ought to have dismissed the appeal by Cole and others, was victory for justice.
He said by virtue of the apex court’s decision, the candidates of direct primary election conducted in Rivers State are the authentic flag bearers of the party in the 2019 general elections.
But the Director Strategic Communications of Cole campaign organisation, Tonye Princewill said the apex court ruling was nothing to worry over.
“It was worse when I heard that the Wike and Magnus camps were celebrating. But after the beating they’ve received in recent weeks, any news is good news for them I suppose. Our two appeal court judgments remain valid, no one else has been declared candidate and the substantive matter has not even been touched. That will be coming up on Monday. So no cause for alarm,” he said.
Read More: Supreme Court upholds judgement nullifying Rivers APC primaries
While political parties were preparing to commence their electioneering campaign, a dark cloud of despondence descended on the APC as a federal high court in Port Harcourt granted an injunction which restrained the party’s nominees from parading themselves as governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly candidates for the 2019 General elections.
The court also restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to allow APC participate in the election based on a suit filed by the state PDP for the court to compel election umpire to obey the judgment of the Rivers State High Court nullifying all Rivers State APC congresses and primaries.
Amid the confusion, whether APC will participate in the elections or not, the PDP had taken advantage of the main opposition’s setback by stepping up its campaign, amid warning from Governor Nyesom Wike to his party’s strategists not to be tempted to get complacent.
By the decision of the appellate court to halt the disqualification of the APC from the general elections, the zeal to roll out drums for campaigns was temporarily lifted as the governorship and legislative candidates of the APC are expected to hit the campaign trail pending the determination of the substantive case.
There is no doubt that if the decision of the appellate court was to be sustained before the February 16 National Assembly and 2nd March 2019, governorship and state legislative elections, it was bound to dent political calculation of the contending forces in the state.
Although the APC celebrated halt of the stay of execution order, the decision never really portend electoral doom for the Peoples Democratic Party, which is the main and best organised party in Rivers politics.
But with no prospect of a genuine reconciliation within the warring factions in Rivers APC in sight following the bickering that has ensued after the stay of execution order by the appellate court, a prominent source in the party told The Guardian that the matter at the Supreme Court between Cole and Senator Magnus Abe’s factions constitutes a snag to the party’s quest to wrest power from the PDP.
“There is an obstacle to reconciliation at the moment. Except the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the Rivers State High Court, there will still be problem because most things are tied to the Justice Chiwendu Nworgu of the Rivers State High Court judgment,” he said.
As Rivers State braces up for the general elections and the political temperature seems to be on the rise, an APC chieftain and prominent member of the pro-Cole Rivers Unity House, George Chinda, has expressed optimism that the PDP will be routed out of power in the general elections.
“We are ready to replace the current administration. A change from crass ineptitude to a massive development anchored on: wealth generation and distribution; agricultural revolution; quality and affordable healthcare for the people of Rivers State; massive road infrastructure to connect the Riverine LGAs and those in the hinterlands and as well as the Urban and City Centres starting with the long awaited ground breaking of the Trans-Kalabari Road; revamping of the State Civil Service to meet up with global best practices; Low, medium and high cost houses for the people of Rivers State. The time may be short but all these we shall begin to give to Rivers people and make them understand that these things aren’t too difficult to achieve when mind is put to task,” he said.
But defeating the PDP in a free and fair contest will likely depend on how united the APC can organise itself.
Besides, its effort is likely to face an uphill battle given overwhelming disenchantment in the state against the federal government’s handling of the economy.
Wike, who has never taken the APC for granted is expected to ramp up the pace of his campaigning. Interestingly, he has since 2016 literally or better still, discreetly been on “permanent campaign.”
In an effort to further increase his vote share, the governor embarked on an aggressive campaign in May 2018 by inaugurating some infrastructure project and he has been promising more on his campaign tour across the State.
The prospect of PDP and APC contending in the general election had heightened security concerns owing to the fact that all elections conducted by INEC between 2016 and 2018 were characterised by wanton violence.
In fact, judging from the venomous political rhetoric by some chieftains of the APC and PDP, there is fear that the polls may be marred by violence.
The convener, Initiative for Credible Elections (ICE) Ledum Mitee, regretted that the history of elections in Rivers State in the recent past has been one characterised by electoral fraud associated with political tensions, crisis, and violence perpetrated by some political actors and unprofessional conduct of a few INEC staff and security agencies.
“The result is that the outcome of elections has been the subversion of the democratic process rather than its consolidation.
Indeed the INEC Report into the last Rivers Legislative Re-run elections indicated that apart from politicians, some security operatives and INEC officials that were expected to protect the electoral process, subverted it,” he said.
He said the starting point in festering these violence is obviously before the elections when violent languages and hate speeches by political leaders are deployed without regard to the implications for violent actions by followers.