There is tension in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Akwa Ibom State chapter, as a Federal High Court begins hearing today, Monday, in a suit against the governorship candidate of the party, Pastor Umoh Bassey Eno.
The suit against the PDP candidate borders on alleged forgery of West African Examination Council, WAEC, certificate and date of birth.
Ever since the governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel announced Pastor Eno, the then Commissioner for Lands and Water resources as his preferred successor, things have not been the same, with protests coming from several quarters.
The party’s ward congress of April 30, as well as the convention of May 25, respectively in the State, had been mired in controversy, leading to two groups who felt that things were not done the right way, dragging the party to court
Friday Iwok and 30 others in a suit No, FHC/ABJ/CS/606/2022 against the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, PDP and elected ad-hoc delegates had sought the nullification of the Congress over reported irregularities and disenfranchisement during the exercise.
The matter was, however, dismissed on July, 15 by Justice Obiora Egwuatu for lacking in merit.
The court held that the plaintiffs did not prove that the PDP disenfranchised any of its members and failed to show any evidence of people shortlisted for the ward congress, adding that the plaintiffs didn’t show how their rights were breached
Though the ruling was a victory to the State PDP, the party still has another bridge to cross, which is the case of certificate forgery and false age declaration against the governorship candidate, Pastor Umo Eno.Before the primary, two frontline governorship aspirants of the party, Senator Bassey Akpan and Rt. Hon Onofiok Luke had withdrawn from the exercise, leaving three others Mr James Bassey Iniama, Ide Owodiong-Idemeko and Idorenyin Bassey Umo to stand for the elections, where Pst Eno emerged as the winner, having polled a total of 993 votes out of the 1018 accredited delegates
Luke, a former Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and member representing Etinan/Nsit Ubium/Nsit Ibom Federal Constituency had explained that he would not participate in the party primary due to the party’s decision to use adhoc delegates to conduct its primaries, stressing that his support base was on the statutory delegates, which Section 84 (8) of the Electoral Act 2022 excludes from voting at the primaries.
Similarly, Senator Akpan said his withdrawal from the primary was based on the subsisting order of the court to maintain status quo antebellum, though the Senator few days ago resigned his membership in the party to try his gubernatorial ambition in another political party.Mike Enyong, who scored one vote had gone a parallel way, conducting a parallel congress where he emerged as candidate, whether such will be recognized is subject to judicial interpretation.
But, before the emergence of pastor Eno as the candidate of the party, there had been a lot of criticisms against the governor’s choice, especially from the people of Itu/Ibiono as they felt it was their turn to produce a Governor in 2023 for the sake of equity and fair play.
The people were of the opinion that it was not enough to zone the ticket to Uyo Senatorial district, but should be micro-zoned to the area, as Etinan (where the Governor’s anointed candidate is from) and Uyo have taken their shots in the persons of Obong Akpan Isemin and Obong Victor Attah, respectively.
Those dissenting voices were never enough to deter the governor’s mind, which was already made up.
But, the party’s greatest challenge is the pending forgery case.
Some opinion leaders are of the view that Pastor Eno should honourably withdraw and fresh primary conducted if PDP wants to make any headway, citing section 33 of the 2022 Electoral act which stipulates that a “political party shall not be allowed to substitute or change the name of its candidate whose name has been submitted under section 29 of this Act except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate:
“Provided that in the case of such withdrawal or death of the candidate, the political party shall within 14 days of the occurrence of the event hold a fresh primary election to produce and submit a fresh candidate to the commission for the election concerned.”
They noted if Eno withdraws, the party should reconduct its primary among the three who stood the first election and the name of the winner among them should be sent to INEC for substitution, otherwise the opposition party may take advantage of the challenge to win the State.
The Chairman of Civil Society Organisations, Harry Udoh has described the case as a delicate one, advising that the PDP should manage the situation well or risk not fielding a candidate in 2023.He said “the court judgement is dependent on how the counsel to the plaintiff is able to prove his case and if the PDP is not careful, it will not have a Governorship candidate in 2023.”
If the allegation is something to go by, pastor Umo Eno’s political career is on a highway to the grave.
According to information gathered, it may not be a smooth sail for even Mr. Okon, having allegedly flouted the undertaking he signed when he obtained his Governorship Nomination form, which stated that aspirants should abide by the outcome of the primary and should not drag the party to court at any circumstance, which he duly signed and agreed.The clause at paragraph 16 of the nomination form reads: “That I undertake to abide by the decision of the party as final and will not subject it to any litigation whatsoever of adjudication by any body, including the court of law.”
Okon was said to have thrown the undertaking to the wind and went ahead to sue the candidate after uncovering ‘reported certificate forgery.’
Some persons who spoke with DAILY POST claimed that even if Okon wins in court, PDP may not give him the flag, having reneged on the undertaking he signed in the Governorship nomination form, rather the pendulum may swing around the sides of the three other aspirants who stood for the election and had remained loyal to the party .A political analyst in the State, Otuekong Franklyn Isong, in his views, noted that the scenario is a pre-election activity where a normal politician who is not favored in a trial court will always seek the help of a higher court.
He stressed that each camp would like to appeal its case and probably reach the Supreme Court to exhaust every window.
His words, “it is a pre-election matter that will end at the Supreme Court. Whichever side wins at the trial Court, the other has the constitutional rights of appeal.”
In his contribution, a lawyer, Elijah John (Esq) said PDP had no right to substitute Okon if the judgement turns in his favour unless on appeal, saying that such would amount to contempt of court.
”The position of the law is very clear even though there is undertaking binding him, it will be contempt of court for any person not to act on court mandate. The party can simply appeal and it’s the Appeal Court that can upturn the judgement of the lower court,” he said.
He further noted that under Section 29 subsection 5 and 6 of the Electoral Act 2022 which stipulates that: “Any aspirant who participated in the primaries of his political party who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by his political party’s candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate in relation to his constitutional requirements to contest the election is false, may file a suit at the Federal High Court against that candidate seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false,” Okon was right to file the suit.
He added that subsection 6 of the Electoral Act 2022 says: ”Where the Court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit is false only as it relates to constitutional requirements of eligibility, the Court shall issue an order disqualifying the candidate and the sponsoring political party and then declare the candidate with the second highest number of valid votes and who satisfies the constitutional requirement as the candidate.”
The lawyer noted that if at the end of the day, the court finds Umo Eno guilty, the next highest scorer will be considered as the candidate, adding that based on the agreement Mr Okon, as well as other aspirants had with the party not to drag it to court, the party may use that against him and give the ticket to the next person that did not take it to court.
”Court is not a father Christmas, you have to tender your evidence and prove. The party can only disqualify Akan Okon on appeal based on the undertaking he signed. But the court must first of all declare him as the candidate as the next highest scorer after pastor Eno,” he posited