CLEMENT JAMES reports on the recent by-election to fill the vacant Cross River North Senatorial District that was won by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the battle within the party
Ordinarily, one would have thought that the intrigues, scheming and maneuvering that preceded the byelection held in Cross River North Senatorial District on Saturday, December 5, should have been over after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Dr. Stephen Odey of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as winner of the poll.
However, the post-election outcry from the member representing Ogoja/ Yala federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, on the platform of the PDP, seems to tell a story of a house in dire need of repair. Prior to the December 5 by-election, there had been one court ruling after another.
The story that has brought the two hitherto “good friends” to the current face off is long and winding, yet triggered by, as usual, interest. The story started as a rumor last year that the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, was planning to decamp to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The narrative thickened this year and has since gained currency with the defection of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State to the ruling party. But Odey and Jarigbe would still have clutched to their friendship if there was no vacancy in the Senate, where the late Senator Rose Oko held fort until her demise.
Her death in March this year opened the door for Jarigbe to aim higher with a plan to move to the Senate from the House of Representatives. On his part, Odey who, until the death of Oko was the Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) felt he could try his luck by taking a shot at the Senate.
By this time, however, the rancor between members of the National Assembly and the governor had taken a new dimension, with the former taking on the later over allegation of poor administration and exclusion.
At a point, the battle for the soul of the party was so fierce that both the governor’s loyalists and the National Assembly members literally fought over the list of ward and local government delegates meant to choose party officials at the grassroots levels. In fact, because of the fight between the home front and the Abuja front, the state congress has not been held up till now as suspicion between the two parties persists.
In one of his interactions with journalists in Calabar, Jarigbe said:: “The governor wants him (Dr. Odey), as his stooge so that he can return to the Senate later but we cannot allow that. He (the governor) is a failure.
He has failed as governor; no infrastructure, there is nothing on ground in Cross River.” Since Odey is a die-hard loyalist of the governor, the story has been that Ayade was doing everything to plant him in the Senate, so that at the end of his tenure as governor, Odey would step down and allow him to take over as both are from the same senatorial district. Ayade is from Obudu, while Odey is from Yala.
This is notwithstanding the fact that Odey has vehemently refuted the allegation, maintaining that he cannot give out the peoples’ mandate to the governor “even though I am his boy.” In an interview with journalists before the by-election was postponed as a result of the #ENDSARS protests, Odey said: “I cannot have a mandate from my people and later hand it over to the governor even though I am his boy. I am a matured person and with my experience and exposure, I cannot hand over my mandate to anybody, including the governor.” Despite Odey’s stand, the story that he will surrender his mandate to the governor continues to surface.
Before the senatorial primary election held on September 5, in which Odey defeated Jarigbe as PDP’s candidate, the later had alleged a plot to disqualify him by party officials who had come from the national secretariat.
The journey to the court began thereafter, and each person, with different court ruling, laid claim to being the “authentic” candidate of the party. The courts visited by the two actors included the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt through a High court in Calabar and down to the Federal High Court in Abuja, where Justice Binta Mohammed ruled that Jarigbe did not supply any false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Form CF001 with regard to educational qualification.
The court, in suit No. CV/77/2020 filed by John Alaga, (complainant), also held that the Cross River North Senatorial primary election of the PDP wherein Jarigbe (1st defendant) was nominated as the Senatorial candidate was conducted with the authentic list of the Ward and Local Government Area Executives of the party.
The court therefore directed INEC, joined as the second defendant, to include and publish the name of Jarigbe on the list of candidates for the by-election. That did not sink into INEC as Odey was eventually recognized by the commission, thus forcing a former National Publicity Secretary of the party and Director General of Jarigbe’s campaign, Mr. Venatius Ikem to issue a press statement.
He said: “At the closure of the election, it was clear from all documents made available, that INEC had not reflected the decision of the High Court with respect to the candidature of Rt. Hon. Jarigbe Agom. “We are therefore surprised that the returning officer, unilaterally and without justification imported a name of a purported candidate of PDP as the winner of the Northern Senatorial by-election of Cross River State, even when INEC had not declared anyone candidate, prior to the election.
“We are aware of a similar situation in Imo north senatorial district bye-election where the issue of candidature is still in court, INEC Declared the party winner pending the determination of the court cases.”
He called Jarigbe’s supporters to remain law abiding as the campaign council had “resolved to follow all legitimate processes to redress the contrived injustice.” Clearly, the last may not have been heard of the battle for the Cross River North Senatorial District seat. If anything, the main fight has just began as Odey and Jarigbe get ready to head to the Supreme Court to prove a point. If that is the case, it might be difficult for Odey to focus on the work in the Senate.