Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe was recently inaugurated as the new senator for Cross River North Senatorial District. In this interview, he speaks on his emergence as a senator after a bye-election, challenges of his people and relationship with Governor Ben Ayade, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
Take us through your story, following the death of Senator Rose Oko and the bye-election on December 5, 2020, and how the outcome became a matter of litigation between you and former Senator Stephen Odey. What was the journey like for you?
A senator died and her seat was declared vacant, I’m a member of the House of Representatives and she was representing us in the Senate and I was representing the Federal Constituency, where she comes from. When she passed on and the seat was declared vacant, I opted to run for that seat.
The governor had his interest because he wanted to bring one of his appointees to take over that seat and a few of us were open for a contest.
Eventually, he tried to manipulate that process using the chairman of the party, the legal adviser and a few people who were on his side. When we went for screening, they attempted to screen me out by saying that I was disqualified but I was given the clearance to run.
The legal adviser called for an appeal panel to disqualify me and that was done. I took them to court and as expected from the judiciary, it did the needful and I was cleared to run.
Before then, we had issues that had to do with the ward chapter excos of the party in the state because the governor decided to manipulate that process but we resisted it and went to court. I actually went to court on behalf of my people and the court decided in our favour.
That case went all the way to the Supreme Court and we came out victorious. So, the governor became jittery on the day of the primary election though all those who presided over the election were nominated by himself because that was the handwork of the national chairman of the party and a few people there. We went for the primary but he decided that the authentic delegates would not be allowed access to the venue of the primary election.
Our people revolted against that and he instructed the commissioner of police that they should shoot at the delegates.
A young man was killed and another man was killed a day before in the house of the commissioner for local government. They did not show any remorse and the next day they shot at our people.
Some of them were maimed and they are still in various hospitals, receiving medical attention. These are party people and the governor never cared about them. He used the police and his personal guards to do all of that. When they were about using a conscripted list,
I told the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) representative that it should not happen because we had the certified list by INEC and the party. Eventually, we used the authentic delegates list and the governor used a fake list but INEC official actually observed and took report. I won the primary election conducted with an authentic delegates list.
The fight started when the party sent the name of the governor’s candidate, Stephen Odey, to INEC. But the fight wasn’t between SOdey and I but some people saw it that way because Odey was the one on the ballot. But the fight was with governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade.
The party sent his candidate to INEC and I went to court. It went on and on before another party man took me to court, questioning my eligibility to contest and to be the candidate of the party. I won that case.
He went to Appeal Court and I won the case. Odey, who was contesting against me applied to join in the case and the Appeal Court graciously joined him. And he appealed to the Supreme Court but unfortunately for him, the Supreme Court had nothing before them to deliberate on because the notice of appeal was defective and since an important document as notice of appeal was defective, the Supreme Court had nothing to do in terms of the substantive suit.
So, that matter was thrown out and so the judgement that was upheld was the judgement of the Appeal Court. In that judgement, INEC was ordered to give me a Certificate of Return. I was issued a Certificate of Return and that was transmitted to the Senate.
But I didn’t get swornin eventually because I heard that there was no formal letter to me and there was no consequential order granted by the Supreme Court. Incidentally, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate had gone to the tribunal and I was a respondent in that matter.
Odey was also a respondent in the matter. The case was decided at the tribunal in favour of Odey. The APC candidate now went to the Appeal Court and I cross-appealed and the case was decided in my favour based on the earlier judgement of the Appeal Court.
I was now issued another Certificate of Return and the court unequivocally stated that the Certificate of Return illegally issued to Odey should be withdrawn and that I should be issued a new Certificate of Return and that was done.
Odey applied for a review of that judgement at the Appeal Court and the Appeal Court in its ruling read by the President of the Court of Appeal, said that the court had concluded the matter and struck out their review.
The court asked that I should be given N1 million by Odey but that has not been done. The long and short of it is that the governor tried his best to manipulate everything but it didn’t work and I have been sworn-in as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Given your rocky road to the Senate, what is your opinion on the role of the judiciary in our electoral process?
The only discrepancy I saw was that the judge who was sitting at the Federal High Court in Calabar at that time knew that there was an existing matter, the same parties, the same issues and all of that but he went ahead to grant an expert order in favour of my opponent.
Those are the kind of issues the judiciary should look at. I think that right now, the Chief Justice of Nigeria is trying to look into the issues concerning the judiciary and we will be better off moving forward.
What is the relationship between you and Governor Ayade like at the moment and what is the state of your party in Cross River State?
You know the governor left my party for the APC and he said he wants to be with to the centre and bring dividends of democracy to the state. My relationship with the governor I would say unequivocally is not convivial at the moment because he has been very brutal to our people and I’m not part of that.
We have never had this kind of politics play out in our state. Even when he emerged, it was a very seamless process not because he was loved by everyone but because we had the same mind and we had a governor that was very democratic.
It is not enough to secure victory; what is more, important is what you will do for the people you will be representing. What do you intend to do for your people?
I’m a cognate member of the parliament and I have been in the House of Representatives. I was there in the Eight Assembly and came back in the Ninth Assembly. I have not been cut sleeping and snoring.
I have always had my ideals. I’m more basically interested in human capital and infrastructure development. I come from a very deprived community. My constituency, Ogoja/Yala,
happens to be one of the first provinces that have not become a state and there is actually no Federal Government presence there apart from our constituency projects and zonal interventions that we try to bring to our people.
So, objectively, I will be looking at human capital and infrastructural development as well as social amenities, and see how I can influence those things captured in the budgetary provisions in the years ahead just as we have always done.
Right now, I have projects in all the wards of my federal constituency and in terms of human capital development I have encouraged our people a lot. On the issue of job creation, some of them are employers of labour because of what we are able to attract for them. But in terms of employment, we are in trouble.
There are no job opportunities for our people and the government has to be deliberate on that.
You co-sponsored a bill for a university in your senatorial district, what is your view on the proliferation of federal universities that cannot be adequately be funded and the problems that arise from that. Why do you feel that your senatorial district needs its own university?
Just like I said, Ogoja in the centre of nowhere and the closest federal university or institution of higher learning is about 400 kilometres away from that part of the state. Our people are poor and people must get educated. The restiveness of the youth today is because a lot of people are uneducated but if we encourage our youths to go to school and get properly educated, they will be properly groomed and this radicalization and restiveness is going to come to an end. I think that if the university is closer to the people, they will manage to access the university because accessibility is something that is very important. And I think that the Federal Government has enough resources to fund the university if it is a priority.
The issue of accessibility of university is very important but the issue more genuine to your people is the issue of access to health, education like you said before and creating wealth or credit for business. I know you can’t do it alone as a senator but how are you tackling these issues, especially, in your constituency that has some level of remoteness?
As it concerns the provision of health facilities and all of that, I came up with a bill for the establishment of a Federal Medical Centre in Ogoja. That bill has gone through second reading and there was always a public hearing on it. I expect that it is going to go through the third reading.
But now that I have moved to the Senate, I’m going to transfer my bills and make sure that it sees the light of the day with the cooperation of my colleagues in the Senate.