Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress faces a tall order Saturday as it hopes to wrest the governorship seat of Bayelsa State from the Peoples Democratic Party. The party is dogged by unresolved internal crises and litigations.
Ahead of the polls, the APC enjoyed some momentum occasioned by the goodwill of Bayelsa people and the internal crisis of the PDP which has led the state since 1999.
But barely 48 hours before polls open, the federal high court in Yenegoa, the state capital, ruled that the APC had no candidate for Saturday’s polls.
The APC registered David Lyon, 49, as its governorship candidate, but former Minister Heineken Lokpobiri has disagreed, insisting he is the party’s authentic candidate who won the primaries. Mr Lokpobiri asked the court to declare him the candidate of the party.
The court ruled that the primaries took place in contravention of the party’s rules and guidelines and, consequently, produced no candidate for the party in Saturday’s election.
To the APC’s relief, the electoral commission, INEC, on Friday said the development will not stop APC from being on the ballot.
“APC will participate in the election in Bayelsa State,” Festus Okoye, INEC’s spokesperson, said Friday morning. “Court ruling does not say APC should not participate in the election,” said Mr Okoye. “APC will be on the ballot paper. The court only says the two candidates are not eligible. But we don’t have candidates on the ballot papers. We only have logos of parties and those are what will be there.”
Some lawyers disagree with the interpretation. A lawyer and political analyst, Nzube Akunne, said if the court ruled that the APC did not have a candidate, it means the party is not eligible to contest in the polls and therefore, INEC is bound by law to obey the ruling of the court.
The Lagos-based lawyer said INEC gave its own interpretation perhaps because the judge did not back his ruling with an order.
“There is a difference between a ruling and an order. The court is expected to give a ruling then make an order because a ruling does not go in a vacuum. There should be an order directing INEC to adhere to the court’s ruling,” he said.
“When the court makes an order, it can only be countered with a stay of execution by another superior court. I think the judge did not make an order here that is why INEC gave its own interpretation.”
Like Rivers, Zamfara?
Some analysts argue that Thursday’s ruling may have set the APC on the path it trod during the governorship elections in Rivers and Zamfara States in March. In both states, internal crises following disagreements over election primaries led to litigations and ultimately denied the party participation in the elections in the two states.
In Zamfara, before the election, INEC said it would not allow the APC field candidates because the party did not hold primaries within the stipulated time.
The APC could not hold primaries in the North-west state within the stipulated time because of a dispute involving leaders of the party.
Muktar Idris of the APC would later win the governorship election having won in the 14 local government areas of the state.
But the party was stripped of all the seats won in the 2019 ballots as the Supreme Court ruled that the party held no valid primaries to nominate its candidates.
The court held that the parties that took second in the relevant categories of elections took over from APC candidates.
The decision meant that the APC, which won all the elections in the state, was stripped of its governorship seat, three senatorial seats, seven House of Representatives seats, and 24 House of Assembly seats.
The main opposition, PDP, was the only beneficiaries of the ruling.
In Rivers, the court foreclosed INEC from accepting candidates from APC because of a power tussle between a faction of the party loyal to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and another loyal to Magnus Abe, a senator.
The duo had been in court over the conduct of congresses by the party until the deadline for the submission of the names of candidates.
When the APC realised its legal challenge of its disqualification by INEC had reached a dead end, Mr Amaechi urged party loyalists to vote for the African Action Congress candidate, Biokpomabo Awara, who eventually lost to the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike.
Legal Hurdles, Unresolved Internal Crisis
In Bayelsa, there could be similar challenges. Although INEC gave APC a lifeline of contesting in the polls, the legal hurdles and unresolved internal crisis within the party may put a shadow on the chances of the APC to oust the PDP.
Party loyalists will face the dilemma of deciding who to cast their votes for when the polls open Saturday morning.
The party’s disqualified candidate, Mr Lyon, a relatively unknown name in the political lexicon, purportedly defeated five other aspirants, including Mr Lokpobiri, a former minister of state for agriculture and rural development, who was seen by many as a front-runner in the race.
Mr Lokpobiri scored 571 votes, the second-lowest in the primary, while Mr Lyon, who had the backing of the Minister of State for Petroleum and former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, had 42,138 votes.
The outcome of the direct primaries was adjudged to be fraught with irregularities, pitting the winner against other aspirants.
Many party chieftains said the primaries left much to be desired, accusing the party national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, of conducting another undemocratic election.
Mr Lokpobiri with the backing of other aggrieved aspirants approached the court, asking it to declare him, and not Mr Lyon, the authentic candidate of the APC.
The former minister kept campaigning for the party while challenging the outcome of the primaries.
But the party leadership under Mr Oshiomhole made little attempt to address the issues raised by aggrieved party members.
According to The Nation, meetings convened to reconcile the aggrieved parties were treated with levity as it was shunned by many bigwigs, including Mr Sylva, a former governor of the state.
“The issues were serious; it bothers on the internal democracy of the party and there was no need to trivialize it. People bought forms at very high cost out of their sweat and because they had trusted the chairman to do the right thing. It is not something you call a meeting and start laughing about it or make it look trivial,” Preye Aganaba, one of the aspirants was quoted as saying according to the report.