Nigeria: Rivers 2023 – Anxiety as Repeat of 2019 Scenario Looms

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Rivers wants to win all seats available in the state in the 2023 general polls.

Currently, the PDP has filed multiple suits in court aimed at disqualifying leading opposition parties and candidates in the 2023 elections with some stakeholders expressing fear over sincerity of the judiciary and the likelihood of a repeat of 2019 scenario when candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC, delisted from the ballots in Rivers.

Having benefitted hugely from the 2019 misfortune of the APC of being delisted from the ballots which eased PDP’s clean sweep of that year’s general elections in the state, the Rivers PDP is not hiding its intention of repeating the feat in 2023 and this time at a larger scale.

APC, LP candidates axed

In multiple suits, Rivers PDP is directly or indirectly up against different political parties to eliminate their candidates before the electorate queue to vote.

Already, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on October 25 nullified all primary elections conducted by the APC in Rivers over unlawful exclusion of some party members as delegates to the primaries.

Though Justice E A Obeli made the declaration in a judgement on a case instituted by one George Orlu and four others as plaintiffs against Rivers APC, who sought nullification of all the party’s primaries, many watchers of Rivers politics link the PDP to its outcome.

On November 4, in separate suits filed by Rivers PDP, Justice Stephen Daylop-Pam of Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt sacked three National Assembly candidates of the Labour Party, LP in Rivers. The candidates are for Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt City Constituencies.

Daylop-Pam, who had handled similar cases in the past ruled that the PDP proved that Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, did not monitor the primary elections in the affected constituencies and ordered the electoral umpire not to recognise the trio of Labour candidates for the 2023 general elections.

However, in a pending PDP suit seeking to disqualify all National and State Assembly candidates of the APC for the 2023 elections, Justice Daylop-Pam bowed to repeated insistence of the defendants to recuse himself from hearing the matter on allegation of his vested interest likelihood to favour Governor Nyesom Wike and the PDP if he decide the matter.

While the affected parties and candidates have all, almost immediately, appealed the various judgements, there are fears that the APC and other affected parties could suffer the same fate as APC suffered in 2019.

Stakeholders’ apprehension

Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, who is counsel for the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in another suit by Rivers PDP seeking disqualification of 15 assembly candidates of the party, considered the development unhealthy for democracy.

Falana said: “PDP sued the INEC, the SDP and 15 members of the SDP, challenging results of the primaries conducted by the SDP. And I think PDP is doing that to all the other political parties in Rivers State with a view not to have an election in this state for any position. The sole purpose of the case is an attempt by the PDP to be the sole contestant in all elections in Rivers State in 2023.”

PDP won’t succeed this time – Lulu-Briggs, Accord candidate

Dumo Lulu-Briggs, governorship candidate of the Accord Party in Rivers does not believe Rivers PDP would have its way this time with the meddling into internal affairs of other parties. “They claim they are big parties with big candidates. Why are they afraid of the Davids in so called small parties beating the Goliaths in their party? We are waiting for them. The judgement of the High court won’t fly, going by provisions of the electoral laws. We are ready for them.”

Judiciary pandering to Wike’s wishes –Beke, APC chairman

Chief Emeke Beke, Rivers APC Chairman, accused the judiciary in Rivers of pandering to the whims and caprices of Governor Wike, alleging that the High Court judgement which sacked all Rivers APC candidates in the state was predetermined weeks before it was delivered.

Beke said: “This judgement has been on the streets of Port harcourt more than three weeks before it was delivered. Everybody was aware of this judgement before it came. It calls for concern that today the judiciary has turned to where people will buy judgements. It’s total shame on the judiciary.”

Spokesman of the APC in the state, Darlington Nwauju, is optimistic that the appeal filed by the party against the High Court disqualification of t its candidates would succeed and upturn the judgement of the court of first instance.

Nwauju said: ‘The appellate court shall treat the matter dispassionately and deliver justice because this is not an action against the primaries of our party but an attempt at challenging the composition of our delegates list.

“We assure Rivers people that the attempt to rehash the 2019 episode in Rivers is already dead on arrival. Nothing will stop APC Rivers from being on the ballot in 2023. The Supreme Court has decided on a plethora of cases affirming that political parties are their own operating authorities and can regulate their own internal affairs.

“The subject matter for which Justice Obene granted reliefs of the plaintiffs is entirely our internal affairs, therefore it is travesty of justice as far as we are concerned.”

Ininasiya West, APC candidate, Akuku Toru/Asari Toru Federal Constituency, accused the APC national leadership of spurring Wike to intensify the determination to deny Rivers APC participation in next year’s poll by the party’s actions and inactions.

West said: “There are various court cases against Rivers APC candidates by Wike, hiding under PDP, again trying to win through the backdoor. He is pressuring the court to remove the party from the ballots as we suffered in 2019.

“I don’t know how the APC national has taken this. Perhaps the national APC has been blowing Wike’s trumpet and the man feels it is in support of him to go on with the matter. We want the national APC to be proactive. Let us not wait to take steps only after the deed has been done.”

APC has itself to blame — Gbemre

Speaking on the issue, Zik Gbemre, National Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition, said: “I don’t appreciate the inordinate audacity of Wike but the APC should have itself to blame. If Rivers APC has restored internal democracy in her primaries this time around, learning from the bitter 2019 misfortune, Wike will have no room to meddle in their affairs.

“By embracing the same imposition and dancing to the supremacy of the party leader above carrying everyone along, the party gave room to Wike to meddle. If they are not careful, they will suffer the same fate as 2019.”

I wish all opposition candidates bad luck –Wike

However, Governor Wike maintains that, “it’s PDP that will win this state, no other party will win. All those who want to run in other parties, I wish them bad luck because I don’t know why people would waste their money that they want to run for governorship in this state. What will they come and tell the people?”

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