The Centre for Credible Leadership and Citizens Awareness has said it has noted that the Cross River North Senatorial district election was not carried out with a commitment to strengthen democracy neither did it comply with laid down laws, principles, and the rule of law.
The Centre which is a coalition of over 100 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) stated this in Abuja today in a roundtable on the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the judiciary in the electoral system.
Addressing participants, Dr. Gabriel Nwambu, the Chief Executive of the Centre said it is onerous on them to analyze the role of the important stakeholders with a view to properly appraise them in terms of stipulated rules and laws enacted for the purpose of conducting elections in Nigeria.
This, according to him, essentially is targeted at the degree of compliance of the electoral Management body and other stake- holders towards progressively attaining a more transparent, free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
Dr. Nwambu stressed that by-elections were conducted in some states of the federation to fill the vacant positions in state Assemblies, House of Representatives and the Senate on the 5th of December, 2020. But the events that has followed the Cross River North Senatorial District by-election from the primary election till the time of the round table is rather embarrassing to Nigerians because the template seems to be reversing Nigeria 40 years backward.
“Two fellows were the key contenders in the PDP primary for candidature of the senatorial district. One is Dr. Steve Odey and the other Hon. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe. A five-man panel was set by the political party, the PDP, made up of the chairman, secretary and 3 other members. INEC’s representatives from the 5 Local Government Areas that make up the senatorial district were present.
“The police were also present at the party primary. Midway into the exercise, Hon. Jarigbe stormed out of the venue alleging that INEC was not present. All the INEC officials stood up to affirm their presence. This did not deter Hon. Jarigbe who moved to another hotel in Ogoja with 2 out of the 5 members of the panel to conduct his own primary and there he declared himself the winner.
“Nonetheless, the chairman of the panel, the secretary and one member of the panel continued the process of the election where Dr. Steve Odey emerged the winner of the primary election having scored 450 votes against his closest contender Hon. Jarigbe who scored 90 votes.
“Hon. Jarigbe had challenged the delegate list for the primary in a court. Dr. Steve Odey was affirmed by the court as the winner of the primary election hence his name sailed through the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party in Abuja.
“Dr. Odey was then issued a nominations form provided for the PDP’s candidate by INEC headquarters, Abuja. Same was submitted to INEC headquarters by the PDP and acknowledgment obtained from the commission. Hon. Jarigbe did not fill any nominations form. Meaning that Dr. Odey is the authentic candidate of the party. Inspite of this, INEC would not publish Dr. Odey’s name as the party’s candidate for the election. Odey proceeded to the Federal High Court in Calabar to compel INEC to do the right thing. Hon. Jarigbe went to court or better still, somebody went to court to sue him in an FCT High Court in Apo, not over the list, not over that he won the primary election, or whether INEC was present at the primary. The FCT High Court does not have jurisdiction over this matter. He did not tell the court under Justice Binta Mohammed that he had declared himself winner at a fake primary conducted by himself. One John Alaba sued Jarigbe over a forged certificate, and that Jarigbe could not be a candidate with a wrong certificate. He didn’t event sue Dr. Odey. He did not join Odey, or even the PDP in the suit. Jarigbe’s name was not submitted to INEC as a candidate, yet INEC presented a lawyer at the court. The substantive issue was not addressed.”, Dr. Nwambu emphasised.
He also pointed out that, The Justice did not question Alaba’s ‘locus standi’ as lawyers say. The Judge did not ask for Odey, nor did she ask for the representative of the political party (PDP). It was a red- herring of judgement. A fiction alternative story was created by Jarigbe and lies became truth. Another certificate of return was issued to Jarigbe. What an “Abrakatabra” of a judgement. But before then, the authentic certificate of return had been received by the Senate President and Dr. Steve Odey had been sworn in as the Senator representing Cross River North Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
The rest of the text of his address reads:
Now, here are some germane facts here.
1. Dr. Steve Odey participated in a primary conducted by the PDP and signed by the chairman, the secretary and a member of the panel. Hon. Jarigbe declared himself winner of a self-conducted election.
2. All the ballot papers used in the authentic primary won by Dr. Odey was submitted to the PDP headquarters in Abuja. Jarigbe’s primary had no ballot papers.
3. A candidate form sent to the PDP by INEC was filled by Dr. Odey and submitted to the INEC Headquarters by the party. Jarigbe did not fill any nomination form.
4. The provision of section 285(13) of the 1999 constitution as amended is very clear and unambiguous. It provides thus:
“An election tribunal or court shall not declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person has not fully participated in all the stages of the election.” Jarigbe did not participate in the primary election conducted by the PDP. He stormed out mid-way, vacating the venue of the authentic primary election. Dr. Steve Odey participated fully in all the stages of the election and was declared winner of the primary election.
5. The PDP in a letter signed by the National Chairman and Secretary communicated INEC in writing stating clearly that Dr. Steve Odey is the authentic candidate for that election. Jarigbe was not recommended by the party he claims to fly its flag. Instead he ambushed with alternative fiction stories and deceived the court even while on oath to obtain judgement.
6. The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of Cross River state who monitored the primary election that produced Dr. Steve Odey wrote a report to that effect affirming Dr. Odey’s victory.
Now, as a coalition that has collaborated with INEC for over a decade, we are aware that Prof. Mamood Yakubu is a man of impeccable integrity who has pioneered several resounding visionary innovations in terms of ensuring a transparent, free, fair and credible elections as well as adherence to rule of engagement in Nigeria. INEC under Prof. Yakubu has remained unbiased as an electoral management body saddled with such responsibility. But with profound respect to the Chairman and National Commissioners, the template which has played out in the Cross River North Senatorial district by- election does not depict fairness. It does not depict unbiasedness. It does not depict neutrality. The entire scenario does not absolve INEC as a commission of complacency. The implication of this is grave to the great height already attained by the current leadership of the commission and indeed our electoral system.
However, we thank God that this matter is before the Supreme Court where eminent Jurists would do justice proving once again that the Judiciary is the hope of the common man.
We hereby advice the INEC Chairman to continue his good works but should be weary of some desperate politicians whose target is to win elections at all cost. The entire situation in the Cross River North Senatorial by election indeed raises a lot of questions. We urge the chairman to set up a panel of enquiry to ascertain some the afore mentioned observations.
For the matters that were before the FCT courts, we wonder if the Judges do not read the news and do not follow currents in their society. Judgements are not about law, but about the society. If they read, they would have known about the background. The several issues of obtaining judgements in courts in Abuja even when such courts clearly do not have jurisdiction over such matters is impacting negatively on our electoral system. This is putting our electoral system in an auto-reverse 40 years backward. We need our institutions to be stronger than individuals.
Finally, it is worthy of mention that while the Nigerian youths are clamoring for the participation of Youths in Nigerians politics, Dr. Steve Odey, a vibrant young lawyer and a doctorate degree holder should be let alone to effectively continue the representation of the good people of Cross River North Senatorial district who have unanimously elected him in a resounding victory to continue with his effective representation.