BY BRIGHT JACOB
Ahead of the 2023 general election, the battle for the governorship ticket in the Ogun State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party is threatening to push the party into a gorge.
The party has continued to be assailed with twists and turns of political intrigues coupled with a truckload of shenanigans that have dangerously configured the country’s main opposition party in the state.
Stakeholders have, however, continued to link the inability of the opposition party in the state to take back power from the ruling All Progressives Congress to what they described as imposition of candidates by the National Working Committee of the PDP. This state of affairs has lasted for over one decade.
At the centre of the current political logjam are three political heavyweights and prominent sons of the state. They are Segun Showunmi, Ladi Adebutu and Jimi Lawal, all well-known chieftains of the party.
For the three contenders, there seems to be no place any longer for surrender or retreat as some have vowed to pursue their ambitions to a logical end, including seeking legal actions.
At the moment, there are many cases before the courts initiated by aspirants as well as party stakeholders and analysts have said that there may not be an end in sight yet.
Some Ogun State indigenes who spoke in different interviews with The Point noted that this could have been a good time for the PDP to actualise its dream, given the fact that the ruling party is also enmeshed in its own internal contradictions at the moment.
Former Governor of the state, Ibikunle Amosun, had publicly alleged that the incumbent governor, Dapo Abiodun, was rigged into office in 2019. Amosun had vowed that Abiodun would come up short in his quest to return to power in 2023.
Responding, the governor said he would not be distracted and insisted that the state was “not anybody’s father’s inheritance.”
Members of the ruling party in the state have also, in recent times, been reported to have moved to one political party or the other.
However, analysts have said that, as it is now, there may be no way the PDP in the state can profit from the seeming battle of wits and ego raging between the two APC bigwigs.
“LET THE CANDIDATES EMERGE THROUGH A DEMOCRATIC PROCESS. WHERE THIS FAILS, LET THE COURTS DECIDE. WE WILL EXERCISE OUR RIGHTS AND PICK THE BEST FOR THE STATE WITHIN THE LIMITED BUT FAIR CHOICES”
For the PDP, the road to the present face-off began with the party’s governorship primaries held in Abeokuta, the state capital.
At the end of a highly publicized gubernatorial primary held on May 25, 2022, at the Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Abeokuta, Showunmi defeated his two illustrious opponents to emerge winner.
He polled 554 votes to beat his closest rival, Lawal, who garnered 30 votes, while Adebutu polled only 15 votes.
In his acceptance speech, Showunmi appreciated the support given to him by party faithful in the state and also made a clarion call to the other aspirants to close ranks and work with him to salvage Ogun State from the APC.
“I humbly accept the nomination as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for Ogun State. I thank all the delegates, I thank all relevant authorities and the security for their efforts.
“I am particularly impressed by the orderly manner of the primaries. I wish to extend an olive branch of peace and camaraderie to my brothers, fellow aspirants. It is the beginning of a new dawn in the PDP and a sure step towards a defining moment in our beloved Ogun State,” he had said.
While announcing the primary election victory of Showunmi, Chairman of the electoral committee, Abayomi Daniel, declared that a total of 778 delegates were accredited, 702 votes cast and three votes voided.
And while pronouncing Showunmi victorious, Daniel said, “By the power conferred on me by the national leadership of our great party and as the Chairman, Electoral Committee of the PDP Governorship Primary Election in Ogun State, I hereby declare Hon. Segun Showunmi as the winner of the election, having polled the highest number of votes. He is hereby returned and elected.”
An intriguing twist was, not long after, introduced to the PDP ticket contest in the state when reports of gunshots at the venue of a parallel primary election of the party filtered in.
The State Executive of the PDP allegedly loyal to Adebutu and supported by the National Working Committee of the party, had conducted a parallel primary at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta.
In that particular contest, Adebutu, who once represented Remo North Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, emerged victorious.
According to Akase Sorkaa, Chairman of the electoral committee of that primary, Adebutu polled a total of 714 votes to defeat the two other aspirants – Segun Showunmi and Jimi Lawal – who, curiously, polled “zero” votes, respectively.
Like Showunmi, Adebutu also pleaded with the other aspirants in his acceptance speech, wooing them to join hands with him to unsaddle the APC in the state.
“We will continue to encourage the other aspirants that this journey is for the sake of mankind, and the impoverished people of Ogun State. It is not for a particular person and it’s the sacrifice that we need to all make,” he said.
Rejecting the pleas of Adebutu to have the unalloyed support of the other candidates, Jimi Lawal quickly registered his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the election. He urged the national leadership of the party to cancel the exercise in the state and organise another primary to choose its gubernatorial flag-bearer.
In his shocking disclosure, Lawal alleged that the genuine list of party delegates who participated in the election was manipulated to contain names of people that were not elected at the State Ward Congress, and threatened legal action if the party failed to address his grievances.
A part of the petition he wrote through his lawyers, and seen by The Point, complaining about the irregularities read, “This use of the fake and manipulated delegates’ list was first observed during the just concluded primaries which were held on the 21st of May 2022 to elect the party’s candidates for the State House of Assembly elections.
“Thus, the authentic list was manipulated to include new and unfounded names that were not elected at the State Ward Congress, thereby giving rise to two lists, one that is authentic and containing the truly and correctly elected delegates as against the other list that was manipulated and relied upon by the national officials of the party that conducted the primary election in the state.
“The concern therefore is that the said fake list was used in the just concluded governorship primaries, which mars the whole exercise, makes it illegitimate and would be subjected to litigation if the national leadership of the party does not immediately investigate and confirm the irregularity and nullify it.”
In its usual alleged controversial practice, since the days of Late Buruji Kashamu, the NWC promptly presented the certificate of return to Adebutu as the winner of the gubernatorial primary election.
SHOWUNMI’S COURT JOURNEY
An intriguing angle to the governorship ticket crisis began when Adebutu confessed in public that the State Working Committee bought his nomination form for him.
With that revelation, Showunmi said he was convinced that the SWC was not an impartial entity and that this would always sway the decision of the NWC in the former Rep’s favour.
With that conviction, the factional governorship candidate approached the State High Court in Ogun State and instituted a case with suit number AB/267/2022 on the grounds that the State Exco members were biased in obtaining a form for one of the aspirants.
Showunmi also sought an order barring the entire members of the Ogun PDP State Executive Council from conducting the primaries of the party, as well as an order to compel the national body of the party to constitute a three-man caretaker committee to conduct the party’s primaries for fairness.
However, the presiding judge, Abiodun Akinyemi, ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear the suit and struck out the case.
Unfazed, Showunmi headed to the Court of Appeal. At the Appeal Court, in a case marked CA/IB/243/2022, Showunmi filed a suit against the PDP and Adebutu, wherein he sought a determination of the question: “Whether considering the oath of office in the second schedule to the constitution of the PDP, 2017 (as amended) and the provisions of section 14(1), 15(2) (E), 16(1), 24(1), (2) (b) of the constitution, the executive committee of the PDP, Ogun State chapter, have not shown bias, conflict of interest and breach of trust by contributing money to purchase nomination form for Adebutu to contest for the seat of the Governor of Ogun State.
Showunmi also prayed the Appellate Court to determine whether his complaint before the lower court was a pre-election matter and whether the Federal High Court had exclusive jurisdiction over pre-election matters, assuming his complaint was a pre-election dispute, and whether the suit before the lower court was incompetent for non-joinder of the PDP (Ogun State).
Delivering his judgement last week Monday, Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa, while addressing the grounds mentioned in the appeal, ruled that the matter was not a pre-election matter, and the lower court erred in the judgement.
“The action that gave rise to the appeal is not a pre-election matter. Section 258(14)(a-c) did not include the purchase of nomination form for an intending aspirant of a political party, which is clearly the issue at hand. If it was intended, the section would have said so,” Uwa had declared.
The appellant court also ruled that it didn’t have exclusive jurisdiction over the matter and that the State High Court was wrong to have declined jurisdiction to entertain the matter on the basis of non-joinder of the State Executive members of the PDP.
In all, the Court allowed his appeal and set aside the judgement of the lower court, pointing out, however, that the issue of dissolving the Exco could only be done by the party itself.
Having won at the Appeal Court, Showunmi’s lawyers said with the first leg of the case cleared, they were certain that he was the authentic candidate of the party on the basis of the alleged bias of the state Exco.
Media reports, however, misinterpreted the victory at the Court of Appeal to mean that Segun Showunmi was the authentic candidate, according to analysts.
After the judgment, the man at the centre, Showunmi, told journalists in Abuja that he would continue to fight to the end and be on the ballot. He added that he would not allow himself to be bullied into conceding defeat where he “is the winner”.
He said, “For the health of democracy, Nigeria should have passed that stage where imposition of candidates will be the order of the day.
“I went through the right channels right from the beginning even before the primary election, to draw the party’s attention to the anomaly going on in Ogun.
“I want to put it on record that no one can intimidate me into conceding defeat where I am a winner.”
“I will fight this battle to the end and will be on the ballot. No individual has a monopoly of wealth,” he avowed.
Also at the weekend, Showunmi’s counsel, Monday Mawah, insisted that the ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case between Segun Showunmi Vs. PDP and Two Others was clearly in favour of the Appellant.
His clarification came on the heels of what he described as deliberate attempts by “desperate persons” to “rewrite” the judgment which was very clear.
Mawah, who said this in a statement he signed and made available to journalists on Saturday night, noted that the issue brought by Showunmi before the Court of Appeal was whether or not the Ogun State High Court, sitting in Abeokuta, was right to have declined jurisdiction to entertain the matter brought before it.
“THE ACTION THAT GAVE RISE TO THE APPEAL IS NOT A PRE-ELECTION MATTER. SECTION 258(14)(A-C) DID NOT INCLUDE THE PURCHASE OF NOMINATION FORM FOR AN INTENDING ASPIRANT OF A POLITICAL PARTY, WHICH IS CLEARLY THE ISSUE AT HAND. IF IT WAS INTENDED, THE SECTION WOULD HAVE SAID SO”
The Court in an unambiguous judgement allowed the Appeal and set aside the ruling of the lower court as stated in the Certified True Copy of the judgement, he reiterated, warning mischief makers against misrepresenting the judgement.
“Our attention has been drawn to desperate attempts by some persons to rewrite the clear pronouncement of the Court of Appeal that allowed the appeal of Segun Showunmi in his case against the Peoples Democratic Party and others, and set aside the judgement of the lower court.
“The issue brought by Showunmi before the Court of Appeal was whether or not the Ogun State High Court, sitting in Abeokuta, was right to have declined jurisdiction to entertain the matter brought before it.
“The Court of Appeal in a considered judgement held that the lower court was wrong to have declined jurisdiction, ruling that the matter brought before it was not a pre-election matter.
“The Court went further to hold that the lower court was also wrong to have declined jurisdiction on the grounds of non-joinder of the Ogun State PDP Exco.
“On the whole, the Court of Appeal allowed the Appeal and set aside the ruling of the lower court.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we want to put it on record that our client, Segun Showunmi, won his case at the Court of Appeal.
“Mischief makers should desist from misrepresenting the judgment,” the statement read.
Adebutu’s lawyers have also said that they will be heading for the Supreme Court, according to reports.
‘LET THE PROCESS BE FAIR’
A group referred to as Gateway State Professionals, made up of sons and daughters of Ogun extraction, in a statement made available to The Point on Sunday night, appealed to political parties in the state to make the various elections free and fair, starting from the issue of the controversial party primaries.
“We must put an end to imposition of candidates by any party. Ogun State is a state that sets standards. It is not for sale. Let the best present himself and we should be left to decide. No individual has the authority to say, for instance, that a governor would not return, and no party should impose a flagbearer on his party.
“Let the candidates emerge through a democratic process. Where this fails, let the courts decide. We will exercise our rights and pick the best for the state within the limited but fair choices,” the statement, signed by the President of the group, Dr. Adetunji Ojo, said.
However, with the back and forth from the different camps in the opposition party, it may be safe to say that eventually, if the soul of the PDP in Ogun State does not end up in the ditch, the legal fireworks for it may have just commenced.