Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court boldly intervened in the struggle over the rightful governorship candidate produced by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi State for the 2023 general elections.
It pronounced Dr. Ifeanyi Odii as the authentic candidate. The apex court in a unanimous decision set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal that recognised Senator Obinna Ogba as the candidate on the ground that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Ogba’s appeal.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Lawal Garba, the apex court held that the failure of Ogba to obtain leave of court before appealing the decision of the Federal High Court Abuja rendered his appeal incompetent, and robbed the appellate court jurisdiction of entertaining the suit.
The ruling followed contentions that arose in the governorship primary held in the state on May 28 and 29 as well as that held on June 4 and 5th. Both primaries had produced results with Odii winning the first while Ogba won the second.
It was the cancellation of the primary on May 28 and 29 by the national leadership of the party and the call for fresh exercise that elicited the contentions. In cancelling the first primary, however, the party had claimed that the panel it raised to superintend it was not properly constituted.
Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had monitored the exercise and given its verdict of being successful and peaceful, the party went ahead and rescheduled the primary for June 4 and 5. Ogba won this second leg as Odii did not participate but rather headed for the Federal High court, Abakaliki.
On June 7, 2022, the Abakaliki High Court adjudicated the matter and declared Odii as the authentic governorship candidate of the party and directed the party to submit his name to the INEC.
Incidentally on the day the judgment was being read, the national leadership of the party was issuing Ogba a certificate of return. Days after, however, the party recanted and issued another certificate to Odii, apparently in compliance with the directive of the High Court.
Perturbed by the development, Ogba had appealed. The Appeal Court in her judgment recognised the two primaries held in the state but refused to pronounce the rightful candidate for the party in the election.
Last Wednesday however, the Supreme Court ruled against the Appeal Court on the ground that Ogba did not obtain leave of court before filing his suit. It pronounced Odii the rightful governorship candidate for the party in the polls.
Odii and the challenges ahead
ALTHOUGH the matter may have been laid to rest, the real battle Odii and the PDP have to deal with is how to recover the state it lost in 2020 to APC. PDP had controlled Ebonyi State until 2020 when the mantle shifted. It was not a result of a loss of an election. It was from the fact that Governor Dave Umahi whom it reelected using its platform in 2019 absconded with the mandate of the party to the APC.
Since the development, the governor has not rested in his determination to dwarf PDP and its dominance in the state. PDP has reeled from one crisis to another, some of it induced from outside. Currently, two people, Tochukwu Okorie and Silas Onu are claiming headship of the party and members are divided between the two. The House of Assembly, which it controlled after the 2019 general elections has been lost to the APC as the members jettisoned the party and joined Umahi.
Although the court had recently sacked the members, as well as Umahi for the decision to join APC, they have continued to operate on the platform on the strength of an appeal in court. While elections are fast approaching, it is unlikely that the matter may be heard again or determined in the life of the current dispensation.
Recently, there was a local government council election. The exercise returned only the APC. Despite the complaints and order of court asking the state government not to swear the alleged winners into office, it was ignored and the APC presently is boosted with elected chief executives at the grassroots. These are the behemoths Odii’s PDP would need to deal with.
Meanwhile, despite the Supreme Court ruling, within the PDP in the state, there is the challenge of integrating remnants of the membership who had pitched their tent with Ogba, as well as the dislocation created by the struggle over the chairmanship seat of the party between Onu and Okorie. While Okorie has found favour with Ogba, Onu has pitched a tent with Odii and both men are speaking differently over the party at the moment and hoping that the apex court would find merit in their case.
It was apparently in this regard that Ogba summoned his supporters last week to announce to them that all hopes were not lost despite the ruling of the supreme court over the governorship ticket that did not favour him.
Ogba who addressed his supporters at his campaign office on Sunday, September 18, 2022, said though the September 14, ruling of the Supreme Court did not favour him, he was however optimistic that a pending appeal at the Apex court would be in his favour.
“Let me tell you, anything God does not know does not happen, and it does not exist. My message is very simple. If it is the wish of God that I will be there, nobody can take it away. What has happened is a very simple thing, we have two cases in the Supreme Court, one has been decided and it’s not in our favour, we still have one in the court.
“But what is important is that as of today, the three senatorial candidates, the six members of Reps candidates and the 24 House of Assembly candidates are my groups.
“As it stands now, time is no longer on their side, they can no longer appeal. I am not a desperate politician, if it pleases God that the second appeal did not favour me, I will be happy because all the Senate, House of Reps and House of Assembly candidates are mine.
“I belong to the common people and the hope of a common man is the judiciary. I still have hope in the judiciary”, he told his supporters.
It was gathered that the same structure that produced the lawmakers from the state to the national level, also produced Ogba.
The Guardian also learned that aside from the disenchantment created by the governorship ticket of the party, there is the issue of zoning. And this is how a single senatorial zone could hold onto power for 16 unbroken years. Incumbent Governor Dave Umahi is said to come from the same Ebonyi south senatorial district as Dr. Ifeanyi Odii. The rotation of the governorship seat that started with Ebonyi north in 1999 would have gone around the three senatorial zones by 2023.
Ogba, the senator for Ebonyi central and his supporters strongly believe that though it was not their turn (Ebonyi central) based on the arrangement, he (Ogba) ventured into the race because of the interest being shown by Ebonyi south. His group insists that power should return to where it started in 1999 and that allowing Odii was a means of distorting the arrangement.
This development has however formed a plank of the campaign against the PDP in the state by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
State Chairman of the APC, Stanley Emeagha who addressed reporters shortly after the Supreme Court authenticated the candidacy of Odii insisted that Ebonyi people would vote based on the principle of equity and credibility.
He had questioned the rationale behind Odii’s struggle to become governor after Umahi. “How can an intelligent and ever-conscious Ebonyi people allow a man who hails from almost the same local government area as the present Governor, Dave Umahi, to succeed him in office? The people are now wiser”, he said
On the other hand, Governor Umahi has continued to announce that it was an affront to the state, stressing that; he would never hand over power after him to someone from his senatorial zone.
Umahi, the APC candidate for Ebonyi south and who railroaded the party into nominating the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Francis Nwifuru as its governorship candidate, stated that there was no going back in returning power to the north.
Nwifuru, a two-term Speaker represents the Izzi West constituency in Izzi local government, Ebonyi north senatorial zone. It is Ebonyi north that produced the first governor in Dr Sam Egwu when democracy returned in 1999.
Governor Umahi believes that it would be unjust for him not to return power to the north, even against the wish of his brothers in PDP and is ready to deploy whatever he can gather against Odii.
He had told stakeholders recently that only equity and justice would prevail in the choice of his successor.
“If you are from the South and you are contemplating that after the South, another southern person will take over, it is not just, and we will start all over under divine guidance. What is normal and just is that this thing will start from the North again”, he said and urged the people to rebuff attempts by the opposition to rewrite history and plunge the state into confusion.
Odii not relenting
KALU Osita, a member of the governorship media committee of the PDP, has however insisted that the emergence of Odii was the greatest threat to APC in the 2023 general elections.
“Since the news broke out, the leadership of APC in the state has been running from pillar to post making statements principally aimed at consoling their very few salaried followers.
“One of such statements was by Stanley Emegha, APC State Chairman where he said that the emergence of our PDP Governorship Candidate, Dr IfeanyiChukwuma Odii is against equity and credibility.
“He is now crying over the internal affairs of the PDP, which shows his myopic understanding in the rudimentary politics of the state, which now yearns for a change of the status quo, for a government with a human face”, he said.
Kalu, who also spoke on the zoning arrangement added: “Zoning also doesn’t connote the enthronement of a mediocre and violence-driven candidate, one that will annihilate the people upon grabbing power.
“Zoning is about equity and when the equities are equal, the first in time prevails. All zones in Ebonyi State have had a shot at the number one office, so only an illiterate will be shouting zoning, equity etc.
“It is ultimately the voters who will make their preferred choice on who they want as the next Governor of Ebonyi State and APC is not even within the imaginary scale of their consideration.”
He stated that Odii understands the challenges ahead and is prepared to confront them.
On his own, Odii, stated that he would embrace every shade of opinion towards restoring the state for the party. He stated that he was not desperate for power and that his decision to join the governorship race was to lift the Ebonyi people out of poverty.
He disclosed that he has made imprints in almost every council of the state and was prepared to do more, adding that he does not believe in a zoning that could throw up a mediocre system.
Perhaps, the release of the list of governorship candidates by INEC and the unveiling of campaigns will further demonstrate how the PDP would tackle the challenges in the state.