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Cross River guber poll: Another test for PDP

Published by Tribune on Fri, 24 Feb 2012

In the wake of the judiciary passing judgments on the Cross River State gubernatorial election scheduled to hold tomorrow, Charles Akinsete writes on the intrigues surrounding the election and how they affect the stakeholders in the state.Cross River State,in recent times, has been in the news for quite a number of politically-motivated reasons. Principal among these is the much-awaited Saturday, 25 February, gubernatorial election coming up tomorrow. The gubernatorial election is the last of the five rescheduled elections, a result of the recent Supreme Court decision, which sacked the governors of Kogi, Adamawa, Bayelsa and Sokoto and Cross River states. With Cross River being the last state, expectations are high, especially on the part of the people who are bent on witnessing effective governance in the state. However, speculations remain rife on whether the 25 February fixed date by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would remain feasible, given a court injunction which restrains the electoral body from conducting the election on the said date. An Abuja Federal High Court, through Justice Adbul Kafarati, gave the order on Monday, restraining the INEC from going ahead with the gubernatorial election in the state, based on an ex-parte application, which was filed by one of the opposition parties in the state, the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) and its gubernatorial candidate, Obol Okomiso.The party, through its counsel, Mr Nmerengwa Alozie, had argued that INEC's explanation that it brought the election forward because of the judgment of the Supreme Court which had caused the removal of five state governors from office was not justifiable in law, saying 'the Supreme Court judgment did not place any constraint on INEC to abridge or tamper with the timetable it had set on the 11 August, 2011 for the gubernatorial election in Cross River State, nor has it created any situation which the 1999 Constitution cannot cope with, as the governor and his deputy duly vacated their offices, pursuant to the judgment and the Speaker of the House of Assembly has taken over as governor, pursuant to Section 191(2) of the Constitution.'The court had, therefore, ordered that INEC should appear on Thursday (yesterday) to present its defence, while expecting that the electoral body would comply to its directive and forestall the proposed election for the number one seat in the state, until the case had been dispensed with. But there was a sudden twist in the case, as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, was reported to have directed Justice Kafarati to reverse his judgment on the ex parte order which he granted the ANPP, which was meant to prevent INEC from conducting the Cross Rivers gubernatorial election tomorrow. According to media reports, the CJN reportedly summoned Justice Kafarati and made it known to him, in strong terms, that he lacked the jurisdiction to grant the ex parte order.In response to the situation, INEC had insisted that there would be no going back in its decision to hold the Cross River gubernatorial election as scheduled.Meanwhile, the electoral body had reiterated its commitment towards ensuring that the election in Cross River would be free and fair to all participants. Speaking recently in an interview, the state's Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr Mike Igini, emphasised the role of INEC as an independent body in any given election, saying that the electoral body remained steadfast towards maintaining good outing in elections, just as it did in the April 2011 general election.'We are going to use Saturday's election to build or consolidate on the measure of success recorded in the last year (April 2011) elections; that was quite encouraging in terms of procedures and outcomes. The history of successful nations remains the history of the people that have achieved something in certain areas of collective goal and had something to improve on. 'We shall raise the ongoing zeal of the commission to conduct, credible and acceptable elections that synchronises with my often-stated and firm belief that an acceptable election is a product of a collective will and efforts to create electoral environment that allows the people to participate in and make unfettered choice of who should be the leader. This is a key step in the development of a country. While election in itself is only a means to the end of good governance, that end can only be attained and sustained if only there is a culture of conduct of credible and acceptable elections. On this, our commitment is unwavering,' he said.However, feelers gathered from opinion experts in the state indicated that the decision to revert the scheduled Saturday date many not be unconnected with the jittery stance of the opposition parties, as they were said to be uncomfortable with the much-touted potentialities of the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Liyel Imoke, who was among the five governors that were sacked by the Supreme Court judgment in January and who had been returned as the candidate of ruling party in the state. There is no gainsaying that the ousted governor remains a force to be reckoned with as far as politics in the state is concerned. Therefore, postponing the gubernatorial election in the state, according to reports gathered, may disrupt the strategy of the PDP and weaken the chances of its gubernatorial candidate.However, for some political watchers in the state, the PDP stands a good chance of clinching the gubernatorial seat in the state. In the first place, the party had witnessed victory in the four states, which it had hitherto lost to the Supreme Court judgment and this presents a good sign and further instils the much-needed confidence in the party faithful in Cross River. In addition to that, Senator Imoke had been earmarked by many as 'the darling of the people.' His mobilisation role during the April 2011 elections for the PDP cannot be overemphasised, as the party practically won almost all the legislative seats, right from the state House of Assembly to the senatorial districts.Imoke's dynamic campaigns during the election, indeed, made the difference. The PDP won the three seats in the Senate; Chief Victor Ndoma Egba, Central Senatorial District; Prince Bassey Otu won the South Senatorial District, while Professor Ben Ayade clinched the North Senatorial District. It was the same scenario during the House of Representatives elections, as Bassey Ewa won the Yakurr/Abi Federal Constituency; John Owan Enoh, Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency; Essien Ayi, Calabar South/Akpabuyo/Bakassi Federal Constituency while Chris Etta represented Boki/Ikom Federal Constituency. Others include Daniel Asuquo for Akamkpa/Biase Federal Constituency, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo for Calabar Municipal/Odukpani Federal Constituency; Dr Rose Oko, Yala/Ogoja Federal Constituency and Honourable Frank Adah for Obudu/Obanliku/ Bekwarra Federal Constituency. The ruling party dominated the state House of Assembly elections, winning 24 of the 25 Assembly seats contested. Given this unprecedented victory, it appears that the senator cum former governor, indeed, has the political structure of the state at his finger tips. With the tremendous support he received during the campaign rally in the state recently from principal PDP chieftains, such as President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, acting National Chairman Kawu Baraje, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Imoke could as well be heading back to the Government House. Still, the former governor would need to battle it out, hopefully tomorrow, with 11 political parties registered with the INEC for the Cross River gubernatorial election.Out of this 11, about three parties are said to be serious contenders for the seat. They include the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Labour Party (LP) and the ANPP. The ACN presently has Pastor Usani Usani has its standard-bearer. But the chances of the party appears dim, given the internal wrangling which led to the factionalisation of the party in the state. A disgruntled member, Dr Mike Ogar, has dragged Usani to court, claiming to be the party's standard-bearer for the election. The Labour Party has the only female candidate in the gubernatorial state. Being a relatively new party in the state, many have wondered if the party really has the political clout to win the people's mandate.However, one of the promising voices in the race, the ANPP candidate, Okomiso, has continued to reiterate his confidence in clinching the number one seat in the state. However, his party is considered to be politically docile in the state and perhaps too weak to make meaningful impact in the race. Hence, many believed that taking INEC to court proves to be part of the tactics needed for the party to reconsolidate for a better outing in the gubernatorial election.It remains to be seen where the pendulum of victory would swing tomorrow, provided there would not be another lurking hand of the judiciary, which could, once again, alter the timing of the election and political strategies of each contending party.
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