Hon. Odein Ajumogobia, a former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and one-time Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Rivers State, emerged as one of the challengers to a former Minister, Chief Nyesom Wike, in the race for the PDP ticket to contest the governorship of Rivers State in 2015. However when it became obvious that the Wike campaign juggernaut hadgenerated overwhelming influence and control of the selection process, Ajumogobia went to court to attempt to halt the process.
On the day that Wike was being endorsed in a primary contest that appeared skewed against other aspirants, Ajumogobia was appearing at a High Court in Abuja to seek the interpretation of major issues in the PDP Constitution. The case has been adjourned to be heard on January 15, 2015. Lindsay Barrettsought to know the background and the consequences of this circumstance from Ajumagobia.
What was your objective in going to court?
My objective is twofold: firstly it is to seek the court’s interpretation of the power shift/ rotation /zoning articles of the PDP’s governing document – its 2012 Constitution (as amended) – and whether these provisions in the party’s constitution, which all aspirants to the office of governor undertook by declaration on oath to abide by, are binding and enforceable amongst members of the PDP, its leadership and organs.
This is not academic. It is a fundamental and far reaching legal issue. Directly stemming from the court’s answer to this threshold question is the related question of whether the relevant sections of the PDP Constitution have debarred any person of Ikwerre ethnic nationality from being an aspirant to contest the gubernatorial primary election and/or a candidate in the general elections in Rivers State, to succeed an incumbent governor also of Ikwerre ethnic nationality, elected on the ticket of the PDP in Rivers State and who would have governed Rivers State for two terms of four years each by May 29, 2015.
Secondly, I am challenging the process by which Chief Nyesom Wike emerged as the PDP flag bearer, whether or not the court were to find that he was an eligible contestant for the governorship of Rivers State under the PDP Constitution. This is on the basis that there was no properly authenticated or revalidated register of bona fide members of PDP in Rivers State after the original party register became invalidated following the defection of the incumbent governor and also a large number of erstwhile PDP members to join the main opposition party – APC, because the pre-existingregister then comprised both remaining PDP and the newly admitted APC members.
The new register created by the State party executive conveniently omitted my name, which was No. 001 in my original ward register, as I was then a serving Minister when a revalidation of members exercise took place sometime in 2009. The names of at least eleven other aspirants to the office of governor of the state and numerous other PDP members were similarly omitted in the newly created unauthenticated and contrived register of members. Without a valid register of members of PDP in Rivers State, legitimate ward congresses could not have been conducted or legally recognisable delegates selected.
Since the PDP in Rivers State claims to have conducted the gubernatorial primary in spite of protests by yourself and several other aspirants what do you intend to do now?
This is why I am in court. The fact that the suit that I filed was pending in court and the PDP, served with all the relevant court processes (including a motion applying to the court for an injunction to restrain the party from seeking to foist its will on the court, pending the hearing of the case), and that the party was represented in court by a learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria on December 4, 2014, four days before the purported primary election was conducted is significant.
Our Supreme Court has consistently ruled that in such circumstances, the court has the power to reverse whatever was done while the matter was already before the court. Indeed the learned judge in my case reminded parties of this hallowed principle that is backed by a long line of eloquent judicial pronouncements. We, therefore, intend to proceed to present our case at the earliest opportunity afforded us by the court and will await the court’ s judgement on the important questions that I have placed before it, which fortunately cannot be overreached.
Will the adjournment of your case affect the party’s fortunes in the race in any way?
Yes it could. This remains of great concern to me. We sought an accelerated hearing of our very simple claim which would have been heard on December 8, 2014, but for the multiple applications for joinder by Chief Nyesom Wike and others. To my surprise, accelerated hearing was resisted by the party’s counsel as well as the three other SAN’s appearing for Chief Nyesom Wike and four others who had applied to be and were joined in the case without objection. They asserted that there was no urgency.
To my astonishment, the learned judge agreed that there was indeed no urgency! This was despite the fact that our case is essentially an election matter and the strict INEC timetable closes the door to substitution of party candidates within a pre-determined and specific timeframe. The consequence of the unduly long adjournment to January 15, 2015 on account of the court’s Christmas vacation, commencing on Friday December 12, is the risk that if the court judgement is delivered any time after those strict timelines have expired, it is conceivable that the party may be unable to present a candidate for the election.
The APC has made the argument for a riverine candidate a non-issue by selecting one. The challenge and the risk that the APC has presented in choosing Hon. Dakuku Peterside as its flag bearer is this: If riverine Rivers really wants to produce the next governor of the state, and then they will in all probability line up behind Peterside independent of his party affiliation, if Chief Nyesom Wike remains the PDP flag bearer. This is likely to substantially diminish the vote for the PDP governorship candidate and the president.
The leadership of the PDP, on the other hand, apparently believes that if it must reclaim Rivers State for the president, as indeed it must – then it must line up behind Wike independent of his ethnicity because of the supposedly significantly higher number of the voting population in the non-riverine parts of the state coupled with his formidable political structure.
Therein lay the party’s dilemma but also the fallacy that Nyesom Wike, as a loyal PDP man, will agree to deploy his political structures only for himself as the flag bearer and for nobody else! Surely that is fallacious. But more to the point, it would become moot if the court were to accept our submission that he is ineligible to contest under the 2012 PDP Constitution (as amended). So, yes, the long adjournment of my case could affect the party’s fortunes in the race.
With the tacit support of the party executive and even that of the president seeming to have been secured by Nyesom Wike, what purpose will be served by your continued challenge?
This case is not only about the governorship election in Rivers State even though that is my current interest and the central focus of my complaint. It is about sustaining our democracy and the rule of law on which it has to be founded. It is indeed primarily about the meaning and efficacy of our party Constitution. It is about my abhorrence of impunity and the negative impact of the absence of the rule of law and transparency on the fortunes of our country.
It is a very important challenge which calls into question the credibility of established principles & processes together with the apparent absence of strict adherence to equity, justice and fairness. My dilemma however is that I am a loyal party member and I am therefore at the same time mindful of not pursuing any strategic intent that may adversely affect the fortunes of the party and the president – in Rivers State.
What are the most important issues that should be considered in seeking a solution to the situation created by the perceived hijacking of the process by Chief Nyesom Wike?
As I said to you when you first interviewed me on why I decided to throw my hat into the ring in the Rivers State governorship election, Nyesom Wike as Minister of State for Education was the arrowhead of the campaign to re-establish and reorganise the party in Rivers State following Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s defection to the APC. In openly campaigning to rally party members, long before INEC had sanctioned political campaigns and rallies, Chief Wike had a significant head start on every one of us.
No one complained about this because it was ostensibly in defence of and for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Few people however would even remotely have contemplated then, that he would consider the governorship for himself given the geo-politics of Rivers State, and the time honoured zoning policy of the party. Consequently, a great many of us, PDP members, contributed financially and otherwise to re-establish the PDP in the state under his acknowledged leadership.
I personally contributed financially to Grassroots Democratic Initiative (GDI) which was the organisation Chief Wike floated as the vehicle for this very important and most successful campaign. My tacit support of and financial contribution to GDI is perhaps unknown even to Chief Wike himself… Certainly all,or most, of the aspirants would have done the same and contributed to these efforts which undoubtedly and perhaps inevitably, were justifiably led by Wike as a serving Minister.
The success of GDI was thus a collective effort to secure the substantial Rivers State vote for Mr President. Those efforts would not have been as successful without the active and enthusiastic support of thousands of unnamed prominent and not so visible party men and women. These are issues that should be considered when elders like Chief Ferdinand Anabraba suggested that Nyesom Wike singlehandedly re-established the PDP in the state and should therefore be ‘rewarded’ with the ticket of the party as the only person that can defeat the APC candidate in the next general election, even in violation of the clear expression of the party Constitution on zoning, power shift and rotation amongst the diverse peoples of Rivers State.
It should be considered and recognised that our state is essentially a PDP state. However on account of the geo politics of the state and the well-established upland and riverine dichotomy, the party jettisons the policy of power shift and rotation, at great risk to its own fortunes during the coming elections in the state.
What is the most effective way to restore unity to the PDP in Rivers State?
I believe that by reversing the current outcome of the purported primary election, implementing the party’s zoning, power shift and rotation policies and creating a level-playing field for an eligible aspirant to emerge as the party’s flag bearer, the party would restore unity which is founded on fairness, equity and justice. I am certain that Chief Nyesom Wike, as a senior lawyer himself, recognises this. He must however be acknowledged and handsomely compensated for a job very well done in being the effective arrowhead of the enormously successful efforts to reposition PDP to retake Brick House from APC in the coming general elections.
Will you continue to participate in party activities in Rivers State if Nyesom Wike indeed becomes the governor?
Rivers state is my state. I love the State and its people. I lived with my maternal grandparents-Rev. Canon A. M. Wokoma and Mrs M.A. Wokoma-in Buguma and Abonnema where they were stationed as clergy in the Anglican Communion during my formative years and have always been committed to the development of the state.
However, over 34 years ago, I chose to pursue my professional career in the private sector. Thus hitherto, other than during my time as Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the state between 2003 and 2007 and as a Minister representing Rivers State between 2007 and 2011, I did not actively participate in party activities. My action in court though clearly aimed at disqualifying Chief Nyesom Wike is not on account of any personal animosity towards him.
On the contrary, I greatly admire his tenacity and his formidable credentials as arguably the most influential politician in the state and an outstandingly effective grassroots mobilizer.
I believe that there is mutual respect between us. Indeed I have issued a directive to my supporters to be respectful to all contestants in this race and that I will not tolerate any insults or disrespect towards Chief Wike in particular in the course of this campaign. So I intend to participate in party and political activities in Rivers State towards the development and betterment of the state and its people henceforth, regardless of who emerges as the governor of the state.
What role, if any, would you be willing to perform, and why, if you are asked to help restore the party’s credibility and ascendancy in Rivers State?
I would be willing to perform any role that is commensurate with my experience and standing. I believe that the state can do much better than it has done so far but it will take all hands to be on deck. Mine will always be available. But at this time I seek to lead the effort to transform Rivers State as governor of the state.
The opposition party has appealed to disgruntled PDP members to join its ranks; will you consider this an option for yourself?
That is a highly unlikely option. I have a tendency towards brand loyalty! The PDP brand is solid and powerful. In spite of its real and perceived flaws, our party continues to evolve – developing, maturing and regenerating itself. I am indeed in this race to try and improve the PDP brand in Rivers State. But much in future depends on what the Courts will say about the meaning of our Constitution. I have to say that I would be a most reluctant member of a political party which endorses or entrenches ethnic dominance in the governance of my State or the country, especially in violation of the pronouncement of the Courts.
What is your message for the people of the state under the present circumstances?
I would ask them to remain stoic, patient and calm and let the judiciary perform the crucial role that was assigned to it in s. 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, in the case of H. Odein Ajumogobia v Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Nyesom Wike & others, and accept the ultimate outcome in good faith. I certainly will.