There was palpable sense of relief and anxiety in the Edo capital, Benin City yesterday after an Edo State High Court, sitting in Ekpoma, issued a ruling restraining the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from excluding incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki from participating in the PDP governorship primary scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, June 25. The ruling came less than 24 hours after the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt on Monday, restrained Gov. Obaseki from participating in the PDP’s primary pending the determination of the suit filed by one of the PDP gubernatorial aspirants, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, praying for the exclusion of Obaseki, among other reliefs, from the PDP primary.
Justice JO Okeaya-Inneh, ruling in a suit filed by Felix Irioh and Tom Irehobhude, equally restrained INEC from preventing Obaseki and any of the aspirants cleared by the party for the primary from participating in it. In the suit which has the Edo PDP chairman, Tony Azeigbemi, PDP, Andy Ikhajiangbe, Peter Akhimien and INEC as 1st to 5th defendants respectively, the applicants had sought an order of interim injunction restraining INEC from refusing to recognize or accept the name of any of the aspirants named in paragraph 2 above, especially Obaseki as lawful aspirants having been lawfully screened and cleared by the party to participate in the primary, pending the hearing of the motion on notice.
The court ruling came as efforts to reconcile and resolve grievances arising from Obaseki’s late entry into the race for the PDP governorship ticket, suffered a setback yesterday as Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, withdrew from the process, saying he has been wrongfully accused and maligned. Wike, according to PDP sources, was seen as the hidden hand behind Ogbeide-Ihama’s lawsuit, which curiously was filed in the Rivers state capital Port Harcourt; whereas the issue in contention and all the interested stakeholders was in Edo state. Wike vehemently denied masterminding the court injunction restraining PDP from allowing Obaseki to contest the primary; accusing some unnamed members of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) of blackmail; describing them as “tax collectors.”
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, said in a statement in Port Harcourt that members of the NWC behind the allegations were sycophants and tax collectors who would never tell the truth; and have resorted to using the media to blackmail Wike. 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.”
However, the NWC refuted Wike’s allegation that those he described as tax collectors were behind the accusation linking him to the restrained order against Obaseki. In a swift reaction, the PDP said no member of its NWC sponsored any media publication to castigate and malign the Wike. The party in a statement by National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it wished to place on record that none of its members acted like a “tax collector” in whatever meaning the term represents. “Our party holds Governor Wike and indeed all our PDP governors, who, of course, have been the pillars of our great party, with utmost respect and had always consulted them on all party affairs.” The PDP said that it appreciated the efforts and sacrifices of its governors and would not allow enemies of the party, who are out to cause disunity in the PDP.
Wike’s withdrawal from the reconciliation process threw a spanner in the works and raised the stakes. Three PDP governors – Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and chairman of the PDP Governors Forum; Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State; Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, of Adamawa State are expected in Benin City later today to douse the rising inferno and plead with the other governorship aspirants to step down and provide a safe landing for Obaseki to secure the PDP gubernatorial ticket.
The PDP however petitioned Justice Emmanuel Adema Obile of the Federal High Court Port Harcourt, over what the party said was his sinister role in the governorship primary crisis in Edo State. Justice Obile issued the order restraining Obaseki but PDP, in a letter dated June 23, 2020, addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Justice Tanko Muhammad, and signed by Dakzel Longi Shamnas, demanded a probe into the judge’s conduct, for failing to exercise due diligence and circumspection.
The letter read in part: “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 Obaseki) 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 an appearance before the court and to have a fair hearing in the matter.”
The PDP urged the chief judge of the Federal High Court to “reassign the suit to a judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja Division; and immediate disciplinary action be commenced against Justice Obile “for invidiously assuming jurisdiction and taking sides in the political conflict in Edo State with a view to disrupting the political process.”
Meanwhile, amid the attendant conflicting court orders arising from the multiple cases filed by the contending forces, INEC has said that it is closely monitoring pre-election litigations from the courts and vowed to only obey genuine court orders. In a statement issued by INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Voters Information and Education, Festus Okoye, the electoral umpire said: “the commission is closely monitoring the cases arising from the administration of political parties, the conduct of primaries and nomination of candidates. This notwithstanding, the commission restates its avowed commitment to continue to obey all orders and judgments from properly constituted courts in accordance with the rule of law.”