• Stakeholders flay party organ, chairman over the process
• ‘Politicians may exploit COVID-19 to perpetrate electoral fraud’
The National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) came under criticism yesterday over its preparation for the June 22 governorship primary in Edo State.
The NWC had stipulated that the governorship primary would be conducted using the direct method. The state chapter, however, announced its preference for the indirect mode, with respect to the COVID-19 protocols contained in the recent gazette by the state government.
As the two major APC factions in the state continue to hold disparate stands over the mode of primary, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has since declared its readiness to align with the NWC.
Some stakeholders, however, expressed worries over INEC’s haste in taking sides without due consideration for the legal and other internal disputes within the APC, particularly the purported suspension of National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole.
The confusion over the mode of the primary was made worse by the intractable supremacy battle between the incumbent, Godwin Obaseki, and Oshiomhole. It has been gathered that the party might convene an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting with a view to resolving the stalemate.
The APC deputy national vice chairman (South/South), Chief Hillard Etta, was optimistic. He told The Guardian that the June 22 governorship primary would put an end to all the misunderstandings and conflicting positions.
He noted that the NWC’s decision to adopt direct primary was informed by two major reasons: the need to give a level-playing field to all the aspirants and also stay safe on pending litigations.
Etta said: “The June 22 primary will settle all issues. Direct or indirect method is in our party’s constitution. Direct or indirect was chosen by every state when we started the process of primary elections in 2019. The governorship election is a culmination of that process; we don’t have two different elections.
“The reasons we are adopting direct primary for Edo are two: the number one is that the state’s primaries for House of Assembly, House of Representatives and the Senate were through direct primaries and the governorship is just a culmination of those primaries.
“The second is that in any jurisdiction, where we have our members in court for one reason or another, we try not to imperil the candidature of our party by taking the decision to the people.
“If you look at our constitution, indirect primary presupposes that only officers of the party will vote. Now, what if we have a pronouncement of the court that says that a set of officers who voted at a particular point are not the right officers to have voted, what happens to the party?”
On the issue of first refusal being canvassed by supporters of the governor, Etta stressed: “Where have we ever given incumbent governors the right of first refusal? Is Obaseki from a different breed of governors? Don’t we have governors in the party?”
A chieftain of the party, Captain Muhammad Bala Jibrin, however, differed, saying that only the NEC and not the NWC is empowered to determine the mode of primaries for selecting a standard-bearer.
Jibrin, who was the deputy national auditor of the party under the Chief Bisi Akande-led Interim Management Committee in 2014, enjoined President Muhammadu Buhari and National Leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to prevail on Oshiomhole and the NWC to call for an NEC meeting, to iron out the issues relating to the mode of the primary.
He contended that the NWC’s decision to conduct the governorship primary through direct mode is illegal and antithetical to the dictates of the party’s constitution.
He warned that if Oshiomhole and the NWC were not called to order, the crises rocking the party could deepen beyond repair ahead of the 2023 general elections. He also alleged that Oshiomhole’s alleged preference for Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu does not qualify him (Ize-Iyamu) to contest the election on the APC’s platform until the NEC of the party had cleared him.
He said: “We have followed President Buhari’s political career since 2003, and the biggest problem he confronted and fought was impunity, manipulation of elections, rigging, and injustice. President Buhari himself was a victim of all these.
“Now, here we are. Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of his party is engaged in not only the abuse of office but is also trampling on the APC constitution, simply to perpetuate impunity and injustice just because he holds the office of National Chairman.
“We provide some instances. The APC’s NEC, not the NWC, has the final say on the mode of the primary election. Article 20 (IV) – Procedure for Nomination of Candidates (E) states, “Without prejudice to Article 20(u) and (iii) of this constitution, the National Working Committee shall, subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, make rules and regulations for the nomination of candidates through primary elections.”
Jibrin recalled how on August 29, 2018, the NEC delegated the function to NWC and the state chapters of the party only for the purpose of Osun and Ekiti primary elections, and not for eternity.
“Therefore, when we take the constitutional provision, and the decision of NEC together, it is evident that the NWC has no power whatsoever on these matters until they go back to NEC. However, both were flagrantly disregarded and disobeyed by the national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.”
A founding member of the party, Osita Okechukwu, urged APC leaders to be cautious, noting: “Comrade Oshiomhole is no longer a valid member of our party.”
He insisted: “We must call him to order, indeed stop him forthwith before the Zamfara or Bayelsa State fiasco become the lot of Edo. All his shenanigans of presiding over the affairs of our party, as a suspended member, may in the full glare of the law be adjudged null and void at the end of the day. It is a truism that the Appeal Court has not delivered final judgment on his suspension.”
Okechukwu said further: “Like a super king, being narcissistic as usual, he glossed over his suspension by his ward, forgetting that APC’s constitution is scant with time, for it allows only seven days for the offender to appeal.”
“Comrade Oshiomhole didn’t appeal until months after the gavel of Hon. Justice Danlami Senchi of the FCT Federal High Court knocked him off. Without prejudice to what may be the final judgment of the Appeal Court of Abuja Division, one hereby appeals that he steps aside to save the fortunes of our great party.
“Can we imagine the likely scenario of a court case challenging the legality of APC’s documents and candidates submitted by a suspended chairman? To me, the loss of Edo State will mean that APC has no foothold in the entire South/South geopolitical zone. Just as the loss of Ondo State would mean a dangerous penetration of PDP into our progressive base.”
Similarly, a member of the NWC, who chose not to disclose his identity, regretted how President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo and others have allegedly abdicated their responsibilities to Oshiomhole and some cabal currently behaving as “sole proprietors of APC.”
He expressed displeasure over the “singlehanded manner Oshiomhole and his cohorts” adopted direct primary without subjecting the decision to the ratification of NEC. “This in itself is a breach of our constitution and is challengeable in any competent court of law,” he said.
“The decision by Oshiomhole to adopt direct primary does not only contravene our constitution but it also erodes the power of ratification of any proposal by NWC vested in the NEC, and it is being done in a manner that suggests a particular candidate has been anointed to win the primary.”
Meanwhile, an election-monitoring group, Yiaga Africa, has warned against the likelihood of politicians hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic to perpetrate electoral fraud.
It said it was necessary that stakeholders contribute their quota to ensure that the electoral process is not manipulated, especially against the backdrop of COVID-19 containment measures.
Briefing journalists on its election project tagged, Watching The Vote (WTV), Executive Director Samson Itodo noted: “We will ensure that citizens’ votes count by deterring fraud and manipulation during the conduct of elections and collation of results, thereby building citizens confidence in the process.
“Yiaga Africa is also engaging the Independent National Electoral Commission’s policies for the conduct of elections amid COVID-19, to ensure the election is inclusive and meets the test of integrity.”
Director of Programmes Cynthia Mbamalu added that Yiaga Africa would observe the pre-election environment starting from party primaries and government’s response to COVID-19.
“We will be using various methods like physical observation, interviews and desk reviews to provide information on the conduct of political party primaries,” she said.