Edo state Governor Godwin Obaseki appears to be walking a tight rope as the Peoples Democratic Party (Thursday) holds its primaries Thursday in Benin City, the state capital.
Indication to this followed major decisions of two high courts of cognate jurisdiction.
For instance, the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court Tuesday though refused to grant the plaintiff’s prayer that the governor should be declared unfit to contest the primaries, but never ordered that he was fit either.
Rather, the trial judge, Justice E.A Obile ordered that a PDP governorship aspirant, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, who instituted the suit, should serve the defendants, including Mr. Obaseki the motion seeking to bar him (the governor) via newspaper publication.
Ogbeide-Ihama, who insisted on not stepping down for the governor, said Obaseki recently joined the party and that only those who purchased the forms during the stipulated window should be allowed to participate in the primary election.
Like the governor experienced in the All Progressives Congress (APC), the aspirant also called to question his academic credentials.
But in a clear term, Justice J. O. Okeaya-Inneh of the Edo state High Court, Ekpoma, Tuesday restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the PDP and others from preventing, removing, or purporting to exclude the governor from the primaries.
The judge also barred the defendants from removing the governor or any of other aspirants cleared by the party for the exercise.
The ruling is believed to have cleared the hurdles in the way of the governor ahead of the primaries.
The court ruling was sequel to a suit brought before it by Messrs Felix Irioh and Tom Irehobhude.
The applicants sought “an Order of Interim Injunction restraining INEC from refusing to recognize and/or accept the name of any of the aspirants named in paragraph 2 above especially Mr. Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki lawful aspirants.”
According to the applicants, Obaseki had been lawfully screened and cleared by the 2nd defendant (PDP) to participate in the 2nd primary election scheduled to hold on the 25th June, 2020.
Ruling on the application, the presiding Judge said: ” I find in my humble view that the applicants have satisfied the guidelines for the grant of the orders sought as enjoined in the celebrated landmark case of Kotoye v CBN (1989), 1 NWLR PT. 98, 419 at 441.
“The balance of convenience is in favour of the 1st and 2nd applicants and there is no undue delay in bringing this application. It is in that light that I find merit in this application.”
Justice Okeaya-Inneh adjourned the matter till July 1, 2020, for hearing of pending applications.
PDP heads for NJC
And suspecting foul play, the PDP immediately petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC), claiming Justice Obile did not approach the matter with circumspection.
The letter, dated 23rd June, 2020, was addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council, Mohammed Tako, and signed by Dakzel Longii Shamnas.
Titled “Petition Against Hon. Justice E. A. Obile of the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court in Respect of Suit No: FHC/PH/CS/69/2020″, the party said: “The Plaintiff in the above suit at the behest of some external forces has surreptitiously filed an action at the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court seeking to prevent the said Governor Obaseki from participating in the said election.
“In respect of the said suit, we note that Hon. Justice E. A. Obile did not approach the matter with circumspection. His Lordship thereby played into hands of unscrupulous politicians, notwithstanding the following red flags.
“The subject matter of the suit is the gubernatorial primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), therefore the PDP is the principal defendant as it would be most affected by any order to be made by the court. The headquarters of the PDP is in Abuja.
“The screening of candidates for the gubernatorial election which the Plaintiff is complaining of in the suit took place in Abuja. The headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Is in Abuja. On the other hand, the primary election is to take place in Benin City; and the 8th Defendant (Governor Godwin 0baseku) sought to be restrained from contesting the primary election is also based in Benin City. Thus there is no nexus between the facts of this matter and Port Harcourt.
“The Plaintiff lives in Benin City. His address in the affidavits in support of his motions for substituted service and interim injunction is 14 Adesogbe Road, Benin City, Edo State. But he went to Port Harcourt to file the suit when there is a Federal High Court in Benin City. This should have made Hon. Justice E.A. Obile to be cautious.
“The Headquarters of the PDP is not in Port Harcourt and the Rivers State Chapter of the PDP is not involved in conducting the primary election in issue, so the Port Harcourt Division of Federal High Court has no connection whatsoever with the subject matter of this suit but just chosen to make it impossible for the Defendants to have appeared before the court and to have fair hearing in the matter,” they alleged.
PDP prayers are that: “The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court be advised to reassign the suit to a Judge of the Federal High Court sitting at the Abuja Division of the Court; and immediate disciplinary action be commenced against Hon. Justice E.A. Obile of the Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court for invidiously assuming jurisdiction and taking sides in the political conflict in Ede State with a view to disrupting the political process”.
Primaries to hold
Notwithstanding the uncertainty arising from the seeming legal logjam, the PDP chairman in Edo state, Dr Tony Aziegbemi, insisted the primaries would hold Thursday as scheduled.
Aziegbemi gave the assurance in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Benin Tuesday.
“PDP is a family and we do not believe in legal issues to solve all our problems. We believe that we can sort out some of these problems through political means.
“And that is what we are doing at present. We are exploring both ways. Clearly, we will get this sorted out by Wednesday and we will have our primary on Thursday without any encumbrances.
But in another twist, Rivers state Governor Tuesday pulled out of the reconciliation efforts of the Edo state chapter of the PDP.
He told newsmen in Port Harcourt that some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP were sycophants and tax collectors who will never tell the truth.
He said rather than the NWC carrying everybody along in Edo state, they resorted to using the media to blackmail him.
The governor said this in a statement by the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Paulinus Nsirim.
He said: “I told them that in Edo State, we must handle the issue carefully and carry everybody along. They must respect human beings and not behave like tax collectors. They said because an order was obtained from a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, then I am responsible.
“I have had sleepless nights to resolve the issue in Edo state. The governors of Edo, Adamawa, and Delta states know what I have done to resolve the issues in Edo state.
“As a result of this senseless accusation, I have pulled out of Edo State settlement. My integrity matters. I have also directed my lawyer to write ThisDay Newspaper on the publication they made against me in their Tuesday, 23rd June, 2020 edition.
“I know the members of the National Working Committee of PDP who connived with ThisDay. They are tax collectors. Let them challenge me and I will come out with more facts. Nobody will rubbish me by raising false accusations against me. I will fight back”, he stated.
He warned that if PDP is not careful, the crisis in the APC would be a child’s play.
“I am brought up not to accept injustice, and that is why I keep speaking out on national issues. Nobody in PDP can intimidate Rivers State. Nobody can threaten me because I said things must be done constitutionally. I will always continue to satisfy my conscience. From now on, I want to concentrate on the development of Rivers State”, the governor said.
External forces at work –PDP
And in a reply, the PDP said no NWC member sponsored any media publication to “castigate and malign the person of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike”.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party described such publications “as the handwork of external forces and enemies of the PDP who are bent on sowing seeds of discord within the party”
“The NWC also wishes to place on record that none of its members has acted like a “tax collector” in whatever meaning the term represents either in the process leading to the Edo primary election or any other state, PDP noted.
“Our party holds Governor Wike and indeed all our PDP governors, who, of course, have been the pillars of our great party, with the utmost respect and had always consulted them on all party affairs.
“The PDP appreciates the efforts and sacrifices of our governors and will not allow enemies of our party, who are out to cause disunity in our fold by sponsoring baseless publications against our leaders, to have their ways.
“This time demands the unity of all our leaders in order to keep our political rivals, who are facing extinction, from importing their crises into our party.
“The PDP remains one indivisible family and our members are at alert and will continue to resist every attempt by external forces to divide our ranks at this critical time,” the party explained.