With less than a year to the 2023 general elections the race for the presidential ticket of political parties is getting more intense. As political parties strategize towards holding their party primaries, the issue of which of the 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria will their presidential candidate emerge has been a subject of national discourse. Equitable zoning of the presidency in the 2023 general elections by the two major political parties, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is currently one of the most contentious issues in Nigeria today. Although the concept of zoning electoral positions by political parties is not expressly captured in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) it is in tandem with the Federal Character Principle as enshrined in its Third Schedule, as a way of promoting equity, justice and fair play and giving every constituent of the Nigerian society a sense of belonging. Zoning or Power Shift is a veritable instrument for protecting the equality of citizens’ rights and guides against the marginalization of the ethnic minorities. It ensures societal harmony through the equitable devolution of power and allocation of resources.
Power Shift or Rotational Presidency has been a major cause of feud in the Nigeria polity since independence in 1960. It carries with it a strong moral force that can threaten the existence of Nigeria as a sovereign entity. Rotational Presidency is a pragmatic means of stabilizing the Nigerian democracy and has been an ideological norm formally adopted by many political parties prior to Nigeria’s independence. Problems of cleavage along ethno-religious lines can only be addressed by this power sharing arrangement which although unlegislated upon, has been in prolonged usage and widely accepted by the people and commands the conscious obeisance by the majority of its citizens. Of the 62 years post-independence Nigeria, the North has ruled for 37 years, mostly as military Heads of State, and some political analysts belief this would have conferred some advantage on the region, as in the absence of parliamentary scrutiny many critical national assets, establishments and appointments can be inequitably sited in this part of the country by military fiat. In the current democratic dispensation, the North-West has produced two Presidents from the same state, and aside from the middle-belt, the core north is homogenous for language and religion and can conveniently cohabit as single ethnic entity. Southern Nigeria on the other hand, has 2 major ethnic groups, the Yoruba and Igbo that are clearly identifiable with little cultural inclinations.
Since the advent of the fourth republic, apart from the South-East and North-Central, the other geopolitical zones of Nigeria have had a shot at the presidency. The two major Political Parties, the APC and PDP have already zoned their party’s National Chairmanship position to the North-Central and barring any ‘extenuating circumstance’ and from antecedents and ‘their body language’, would choose their Presidential flag bearer from the South and the Vice-President from the North-East. Going against this arrangement no matter what expediency and zoning the Office of the President to the North or micro-zoning it to a Geopolitical bloc in the south that had already had a shot at it in the current republic will make nonsense of the zoning principle and defeat the spirit of its intendment with dire consequences on the stability of the country. Thus, contrary to arguments that there was no order of zoning, Nigeria has religiously adhered to this bipodal sharing of critical political offices as evidenced by the major political parties restricting their presidential tickets to a Presidential candidate who is a Christian from the South with a Northern Muslim Vice-Presidential running mate in the 1999 elections or vice versa since then, and mandatorily fielding Gubernatorial candidates paired with a Deputy from a different Senatorial Zone.
Proponents of the anti-zoning mantra, argue that zoning has outlived its usefulness and has no place in the Nigerian Constitution. They hide under their perceived regional numerical dominance, to posit that the President should be picked from any part of the country based on competence or merit. This call by critics of Rotational Presidency is unpatriotic, sounds politically arrogant and devoid of statesmanship as no segment of Nigeria has a monopoly of talents and will breed regionalism and ‘ethnic hegemony’ since the section with the highest voter population will always produce ‘the best man for the job’. Equity and fair play demands the status quo be maintained until the position of President alternates or rotates between all 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria in full circle, before such proclamation can be made. Jettisoning zoning in the 2023 elections is tantamount to ‘changing the rules in the middle of a game’, and akin to the proverbial ‘elephant that breaks the pot after its turn to drink’. Besides, events in the Nigeria political space have shown that no geopolitical zone despite its voting strength can on its own meet the conditions precedent in the 2022 Electoral Act (as Amended) and score not less than 25% of votes cast in at least two-thirds of states in the federation to win the presidential election, especially with a stiff opposition from 3 or more geopolitical zones.
Naysayers also argue that since the return to democracy in May 1999, by the end of the current regime a northerner would have occupied the Office of the President for only 10 out of the 24 years, and that the north would have held power under the PDP Government for just 2½ years. Therefore, to strike a balance, there is the need for the Office of the President to remain in the North for additional 4 years, making 12 years back-to-back. This view is jaundiced, bereft of logical reasoning and has no historical basis. The unfortunate demise of President Umaru Yar’Ardua in 2010 was an act of providence and Nigeria as an independent nation has been in existence for 38 years before 1999. Therefore, for the sake of the country’s current fragile democratic governance and in the interest of natural justice, there is the need to run a politics of inclusion and all political parties should as a matter of exigency zone their Presidential ticket come 2023 to the South. This resolution of the Southern Governors Forum has been re-echoed by some prominent Northern political leaders such as Governors Babagana Zulum and Nasir El-Rufai of Bornu and Kaduna States respectively and some regional socio-political groups. The pros of zoning clearly outweigh its cons and therefore jettisoning it will be a dangerous precedent for the country’s nascent democracy and an affront on the collective will and peaceful coexistence of the people.
With the expected power shift to the South at the end of President Buhari’s statutory 8-year tenure, equity and national cohesion demands that the Office of the President of Nigeria be ceded to the South-East. This is because, the South-East is the only geopolitical zone in the south that is yet to produce a President or Vice-President since the return to civilian rule in 1999 and remains the most deprived of the Presidency. Therefore, in the eyes of equity it is imperative that all political parties rise above partisanship and regional sentiments and field presidential candidates from the South-East in the forthcoming election. This is within the tenets of democratic norms and ideals especially in a pluralistic society like ours. Egalitarianism cannot be fostered when a major component of society is nursing a feeling of discontentment. Hence, the collective interest and sanctity of the Federal Republic should be of paramount concern over the political interest of a few individuals, groups or political party. A political arrangement like zoning must accommodate the emotions and sentiments of those it is intended to serve for if not to out leave its usefulness.
The clamour for a President of Nigeria of Igbo extraction has continued to attract the attention of political actors in the build-up to the elections. This has received measurable support from the apex Igbo socio-cultural group the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other regional bodies such as the Arewa Consultative Forum, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Afenifere and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF). The Igbo are indigenous to South-East Nigeria and aside the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba are the third largest ethnic group, accounting for about 19% of its population. An Igbo President will assuage the feeling of real or perceived marginalization among them, guarantee their full re-integration into the post-civil war Nigerian state and end their agitation for socioeconomic and political emancipation, as happened to the militancy struggle in the South-South with the election of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as President in 2011. It will give the civil war veterans including former Heads of State a sense of fulfilment, seeing their dream of a truly unified Nigeria which they have fought for, materialize in their lifetime.
Ndigbo have been blamed for being their own detractors and architect of their misfortune. Igbo political leaders including the South-East Governors have been accused of not showing enough commitment towards the actualization of this regional agenda because of personal political interest and considerations. This was exemplified in their irregular attendance to crucial meetings of the Southern Governors Forum where issues critical to Igbo survival and advancement such as Zoning of the 2023 Presidency, Anti-Open Grazing Law and Regional Security Outfits, are discuss, even when the meeting was hosted at their doorstep in Enugu. The vacuum created by this lack of directional leadership is affecting the Igbo political struggle for self-determination and expressed in their “taking their destinies into their hands” in form of agitations for restructuring and struggles for outright secession.
Pundits have also argued that the South-East lack the voting strength to swing the pendulum in any direction in the political dynamic. This pessimistic view has made Ndigbo resign to second fiddle by playing the ‘spoiler role’ for political parties. They have been admonished for not being united, forming a common front and speaking with one voice. ‘Power they say, is not given but taken’ and in a multi-ethnic democracy like ours, the only way to win political power through the ballot is for the Ndigbo to close ranks, form an alliance and embark on constructive engagements with counterpart regional bodies through negotiations and persuasion in order to gain their confidence. They should remain politically active and consciously mobilize their electorate in order to boost their power of negotiation.
As political activities and permutations gather momentum ahead of 2023 election, most presidential hopefuls have commenced behind the scene consultations across the country. Others have deployed proxy groups and cronies to begin grassroot mobilization, while others have openly declared their intentions to contest the highest office in the land. Yet, their performance as politicians over the years and how they have fared in their respective parties is another issue to be considered in the zoning discourse. While we expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a free, fair and credible election that will respect the aspiration of the Nigerian masses, there have been debates on key attributes the presidential candidates are expected to possess to make them suitably qualified to occupy the coveted office. Nigeria at this precarious time needs a detribalized leader that will foster unity, put the interest of all Nigerians above sectional interest, fight endemic corruption frontally, tackle widespread insecurity pervading the land headlong and prosper the lives of its citizenry through economic emancipation and job creation.
A formidable contender from the South-East is the current Honourable Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who has been an indigene of 3 South-Eastern States (Imo, Abia and Ebonyi) at different times. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu’s political career, like that of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar spans over 3 decades, and he is the most senior political office holder amongst all the aspirants currently jostling for the Office of President. He was elected the first civilian Governor of the old Abia State in 1991 and became the first Chairman, Conference of Nigerian Elected Governors. He is 70years old, sound in mind and body and is one of the most educated aspirants. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu is a First Class honours graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos, with a PhD from the reputable University of California, Berkeley, USA. He was the pioneer Head of Department of Chemical Engineering and Member of Senate and Governing Council of the University of Port Harcourt before his foray into politics.
Dr Ogbonnaya Onu is a foundation member of the All People’s Party (APP) that metamorphosed into the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) for which as National Chairman in 2013 he carried the ANPP flag to the union with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to form the APC. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu was the presidential flag bearer of the APP in 1999 but forfeited his presidential ticket to Chief Olu Falae who contested under the AD/APP joint platform. This move was to assuage the feelings of the Yoruba in their yearning for the presidency due to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election convincingly won by Chief MKO Abiola. As National Chairman, most of ANPP’s presidential candidates were Northerners, and Dr Ogbonnaya Onu stands out as one of the very few politicians pre-2015 that remained in the opposition despite its deprivations, because of his diligent and consistent nature. It is noteworthy that of the three major political parties that merged to form the APC, the ANPP stock appears to have been most short changed in the tripartite power sharing equation.
A multicultural society like Nigeria requires a nationalistic leader like Dr Ogbonnaya Onu that can be entrusted with its unity and treasury and can provide a transformational leadership devoid of sentiments and rancour. He has never had any brawl with the anti-corruption and security agencies, and this gives him the moral justification to fight corruption. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu prefers meritocracy to nepotism as a way of earning the confidence of the people. He has demonstrable capacity to work with every Nigerian irrespective of religious or tribal persuasion and his political sagacity, requisite experience, managerial acumen and comportment will earn him the respect of the government and people. The APC should therefore put its best foot forward and adopt Dr Ogbonnaya Onu as its consensus presidential standard bearer in its legitimate quest to retain power at the centre post-2023, as he is not only acceptable to the Ndigbo and APC, but to all Nigerians due to his broad appeal for which the majority of voters will coalesce.
Those in support of a President of Nigeria from the South-East have harped on the need for Igbo Elders, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other Igbo socio-political groups and Opinion Leaders to make a clarion call to all Igbo political leaders, especially present and former Governors, Federal Ministers and Legislators, to synergize, pull resources together, build bridges across party lines and rally support from the various regional interest groups for Dr Ogbonnaya Onu. He has been projected as the ideal President for Nigeria come 2023 as he belongs to an endangered species of statesmen who can galvanize all facets of this country and provide the much needed modern day progressive leadership. The election of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu as President will pull Nigeria back from the brink and sustain its existence as an indivisible entity. This worthy course if left to slide can only be realised in the next 16 years with the sustenance of the current democracy. I rest my case!
Prof Hakeem Fawehinmi
Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
University of Port Harcourt, 08037076033
NASS welcome moves to amend Electoral Act 2022
By Ehichioya Ezomon
Many Nigerians agreed – and had hoped – that the amended Electoral Act 2022 would be a game changer in terms of its dynamism and innovation to cure obvious lapses in the electoral system, and ensure credibility and transparency of elections.
But as shown in the process, outcome and aftermath of the February-March 2023 General Election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a lot of loopholes and wiggle room still exist in the system.
Trust politicians, they’ve exploited these flaws for selfish ends. Even those that’d long shot – or no shot at all – at the offices they vied for, have taken undue advantage of the inadequacies in the electoral law to blame their opponents – and not themselves – for their defeats at the poll.
Particularly excoriated are INEC and the All Progressives Congress (APC) for alleged connivance – that’s largely unproven in courts when the accusers were given opportunities to do so – to deny members of the opposition the reported mandate Nigerians gave to them on poll day.
Hence the refrain, “We will retrieve our ‘stolen mandate’ in court,” which they failed to achieve, as the courts dismissed most petitions and/or appeals as “incompetent and lacking in merit” – judgments that’ve given rise to further allegations of compromise of Judges handling electoral matters.
No court – from the High Court to the Supreme Court – is spared these odious allegations bandied by defeated candidates, their cronies, supporters and political parties because there’re no sanctions – and if there’re, no one has been held to account – for such spurious charges against political opponents, the governing party, Judges and the entire Judiciary.
To the extent that lately, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, was hard-pressed to urge Judges not to abandon the law for “emotions of the mob” in the consideration of matters before them.
At the swearing-in of 58 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja, Justice Ariwoola said: “I expect every judicial officer to work very hard and also be very honest and courteous to the litigants, witnesses and members of the bar, and discharge all your judicial functions with all the humility at your command.
“Even while doing this, it is still necessary to have at the back of your minds that public opinions, sentiments or emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases that come before you.
“The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to severe the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.
“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.”
Nonetheless, the moves by the National Assembly (NASS) to review the Electoral Act – soon after the courts have put to rest the virulently-contentious February 25 presidential poll – should appease those aggrieved over the fallouts from the elections.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Electoral Matters, Sharafadeen Alli, on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily on November 21, hinted about the Senate musing on extensive review of the Electoral Act 2022.
Senator Alli (APC, Oyo South) – affirming that the 2022 Act was a game changer, and yet, not a perfect legislation – listed some areas (for amendments) that drew the ire of the electorate during the 2023 elections.
They include, mandatory conclusion of pre and post-election matters before inauguration of election winners; binding electronic transmission, and upload of results to the INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal realtime; and conclusion of petitions and appeals before swearing-in of poll winners.
He said: “I must say this, there can not be a perfect legislation. After every legislation, you see gaps and that is when power that is given to the judiciary will tap into this clause.
“We must praise the 9th (National) Assembly under Senator (Ahmad) Lawan (former Senate President) for coming out boldly to pass the Electoral Act; it is the fundamental change in our electoral system.
“BVAS (Biomodal Voter Accreditation System) machine is like a game changer, unlike the Card Reader. When the card reader does not work, we will fill the incident form, and we knew (what voters) used that for. But as soon as you bypass the BVAS this time around, the election is null and void. That is one of the things that we are doing going forward.
“And whatever we say on every legislation, there has been an improvement on the previous ones, and we say things are getting better (even if) there are errors there as well.
“Under the current law, it is not mandatory for INEC to upload (poll results). That is what the courts have said: ‘Enter the law.’
“But as we are going forward, it (upload of results) is going to be mandatory. It is just to ask INEC to make sure we improve our technology and ensure that the thing is there.”
The Senate, in its retreat in Akwa Ibom State in October – which precursored the Lagos retreat by the Joint Committee of the National Assembly on Electoral Matters – set up a committee to attend to electoral reforms in advance of the 2027 polls.
Rising from the three-day Lagos parley, the committee – which demonstrated the seriousness of observed lapses in the Electoral Act, and the importance of remedying them for the 2027 electons – resolved to pursue and conclude the amendments before the end of 2024.
In the course of its deliberations, the committee took cognisance of, and reviewed recommendations from local and international election observers, who elaborated on citizens’ experiences with the 2023 elections.
Areas for amendments include: * The challenge of appointment of non-partisan persons into INEC that hinders its independence and integrity. * Issue of minimum educational qualification of candidates for elective offices. * Conflicts arising from decisions of the courts over pre or post-election matters.
Others are: * The use of BVAS technology in electoral process. * INEC’s recourse to reconfiguring the BVAS machines (wiping prior data) before fresh election. * Lack of clarity in documentary proof of non-compliance with the electoral law. * Operational challenges in INEC as per electoral offences. * Issue of internal democracy that splinters parties, and breeds anti-party activities.
To success in its task, the Joint Committee will carry out extensive consultations with constituents, the public, and other stakeholders, to ensure inclusive participation; collaborate with the NASS Constitutional Review Committee, to address areas of elections that require alteration to the amended 1999 Constitution; and work with technical experts to prioritise and articulate issues for amendment.
The NASS leadership has given the assurance for a timely amendment of the Electoral Act, to enhance transparency and accountability in the electoral processes.
The November 29 commitment comes in Abuja at a “Citizens’ Townhall on Electoral Reform,” organised by Yiaga Africa in collaboration with the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Electoral Matters.
Senate President Godswill Akpabio said: “For the electoral process, we are committed not only to go along with the people on the call for reforms on electoral framework, but at the same time protect the independence of the electoral commission and restore the trust of the people in the electoral process.
“This administration is ready to work with anyone and everyone that is interested in the progress and development of this nation. This is not only on issues on electoral reform, but also in formulating initiatives and policies that will revamp our economy and put us on the driving seat of industrial and economic advancement.”
Similarly, House of Representatives Speaker Tejudeen Abbas said: “There is no gainsaying the fact that credible elections are the bedrock of any democracy, and Nigeria stands the risk of reversing the gains of the last two decades if we do not fix our elections.
“The 10th House of Representatives is committed to championing legislative initiatives that promote fairness, transparency and accountability in our electoral processes.”
Critics, who, in the wake of the 2023 elections, shredded the entire Electoral Act 2022, have the opportunity now to contribute their quota to making the law a “perfect” one of their dream.
This is as Nigerians, and the global community look forward to the NASS, to translate its zeal, commitment, and timely commencement of reforming the electoral process into enhancing credility and acceptability of our elections.
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan: Beauty, brains, brawn on eve of 44
By Tunde Olusunle
She was a breath of fresh air when she joined the political fray in Kogi State. She’s an attorney who is reputed for her efforts in advocacy. She is also a multitasking entrepreneur and dedicated philanthropist. She certainly was not the first woman to aspire to elective office in the “confluence state,” an alias which derives from the convergence of Nigeria’s largest two rivers in the capital of her state. She came, however, with distinctive flair, style, guts, grit and elocution. The trademark veil over her head re-echoes memories of the iconic former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazair Bhutto. Like Bhutto, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan is cerebral, self-confident, articulate, charismatic and strong-willed. Recall she outrightly rejected the congratulatory message of Yahaya Bello, outgoing governor of Kogi State, after she floored Sadiku Ohere, the former’s candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial seat at the appellate court weeks ago. Akpoti-Uduaghan alluded to attempts on her life by Bello’s henchmen in the run-up to the February 25, 2023 general elections. On that occasion, she ran for the Senate on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), against Bello’s candidate, Ohere, who contested on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, (APC).
Akpoti-Uduaghan started out years ago as a member of the APC in Kogi State. She aspired for the governorship ticket of the party in the lead up to the 2019 poll to no avail. Frozen out of the APC scheme, she moved over to the Social Democratic Party, (SDP), and made serious waves on her campaign outings. As she prepared to launch out on her second political advent and participation in the 2023 polls, Bello, according to Akpoti-Uduaghan, offered her the sum of N50million to jettison her ambition. She turned it down without batting an eyelid. She was similarly unimpressed with Bello’s increment of his offer to N70million. She told him she was not in politics for primitive fiscal acquisition, but was driven by a genuine conviction to serve her people. Bello, she confirmed, was furious at her unbending resolve.
And so she was back again on the campaign dais like the proverbial phoenix ahead of the 2023 political cycle. The proverbial ram in Yoruba folklore which took a few steps backwards in a contest with its challenger did not back out of the duel out of cowardice. No. It retreated to gather more steam and velocity to fight more pointedly and more determinedly. Akpoti-Uduaghan undertook due diligence about the most appropriate political vehicle to help the actualization of her quest. Despite efforts to annihilate the PDP at all levels by the incumbent APC, she was convinced that that party would serve her purposes. And so, she was on the road again, repeatedly touring the five local government areas in her senatorial district and spreading the gospel of the kind of impact she would bring to bear on her people if voted into office. She severally toured Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okehi, Okene and Ogori-Magongo council areas within her senatorial catchment sensitising her people and requesting their support for her bid.
The APC was paranoid on the eve of the February election on account of Akpoti-Uduaghan’s ever rising political profile. Totally bereft of ideas about how to stop the rampaging amazon, agents of the APC excavated all three accesses to the PDP senatorial candidate’s home. The idea was to prevent electoral officials from reaching her community and its environs, with the aim of disenfranchising that critical constituency in the poll. Akpoti-Uduaghan also noted that that orchestrated action could compromise her personal security and the safety of her people in the event that they had emergencies. Bello would thereafter concur to the act, saying the action was taken in the PDP senatorial candidate’s best interests, to prevent intending terrorists from attacking her on the eve of the election, a most unintelligent alibi.
After the senatorial election of Saturday February 25, 2023, the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), declared Abubakar Sadiku Ohere of the APC as winner of the contest. INEC’s Returning Officer for Kogi Central, Rotimi Ajayi, a professor at the Federal University Lokoja, (FUL), stated that Ohere garnered 52,132 votes, while Akpoti-Uduaghan secured 51,763 votes. Ohere was thereafter issued a Certificate of Return by INEC and sworn in as a Member of the 10th Senate early June 2023. Undaunted and dogged, Akpoti-Uduaghan promptly sought justice at the Election Petitions Tribunal.
September 6, 2023, the tribunal ruled that the PDP candidate was the rightful and authentic winner of the contest. Akpoti-Uduaghan actually polled 54,074 votes, as against Ohere’s 51,291 votes. The judges observed that results from “nine polling units in Ajaokuta local government area, were inflated, while the votes of Akpoti-Uduaghan were intentionally reduced by INEC ward collation officers.” Dissatisfied and prodded by his principal, Ohere proceeded to the Court of Appeal for further adjudication. Tuesday October 31, the court dismissed Ohere’s appeal as “lacking in merit.” It declared Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan as the “duly elected candidate for the Kogi Central senatorial election held in February 2023.” She was inaugurated as senator Thursday November 2, 2023, at a ceremony held during plenary, under the supervision of Godswill Akpabio, President of the Senate. She made history as the first female senator from Kogi State. Instructively too, she effectively dilutes the preceding Kogi all APC-cast in the senate of the federal republic.
Natasha Hadiza Akpoti-Uduaghan was born December 9, 1979, in Ilorin, Kwara State, to Jimoh Abdul Akpoti and Ludmila Kravchenko, a Ukrainian. Abdul Akpoti who hailed from Obeiba-Ihima, Okehi LGA in Kogi State, met his wife while training as a medical doctor in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, several decades ago. A “home girl,” she was educated at Christ the King Nursery and Primary School, Okene; Government Girls Unity School, Oboroke, and the Federal Government College, Idoani, Ondo State. She demonstrated leadership potentials even as a young girl, and was the “Head Girl” in her final year in secondary school. She was serially acknowledged as quiet, hardworking, disciplined and diligent, and always posted sterling academic performances. She studied law at the University of Abuja, enduring an intricate balance between her academics and early motherhood having gotten married at the tender age of 19. Her first son, Daniel was born within the period.
She attended the Nigerian Law School, Bwari, Abuja beginning from 2004, and was called to the Bar November 2005. She obtained a masters in business administration from the University of Dundee, Scotland, in 2012. She previously served as legal counsel at the Brass Liquefied Natural Gas, (LNG) complex during which she travelled expensively across the world. Akpoti-Uduaghan has acquired pluri-dimensional competencies in management, mediation, leadership and arbitration among others. Her soft, humane side has been influenced considerably by her father’s selflessness and generosity. He was famous for treating many of his patients free in the course of his private medical practice unconcerned about profit-making.
On Saturday March 5, 2022, Natasha Akpoti got wedded to the Itsekiri billionaire, Emmanuel Oritsejolomi Uduaghan, the *Alema of Warri.* The event took place in Akpoti-Uduaghan’s primordial homestead in Ebiraland, Kogi State. The chief host was the recently departed *Ohinoyi of Ebiraland,* His Majesty, Ado Ibrahim. It was chaired by a former governor of Edo State, John Odigie-Oyegun, who also previously chaired the APC at the national level. Dignitaries at the high octane event included: Bukola Saraki, former Senate President; the *Olu of Warri,* His Majesty Tsola Emiko; the groom’s cousins and former governors of Delta State, James Ibori and Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Former Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa; incumbent Senate President, Godswill Akpabio; former PDP Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, among several dignitaries, honoured the event.
Akpoti-Uduaghan’s first contribution on the floor of the Senate was to request that the recently departed Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Ado Ibrahim be immortalised. She spoke of his disposition as an urbane father and patriarch, and an apostle of peace all through his 25-year reign. Within the period, his sociocultural domain witnessed some physical development. She canvassed the rechristening of the Federal College of Education, (FCE), Okene, after the transited royal. Akpoti-Uduaghan was recently named Senate Committee Chairman on Local Content as replacement for her former sparring partner, Ohere. She was concurrently appointed Vice Chairman of the Committee on Steel. That she is in leadership positions in both very important committees, attests to her qualities and capabilities. Akpoti-Uduaghan’s advocacy for the resuscitation of the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Project located in Kogi Central, her primary sphere of representation, will gain desired traction, courtesy of her placements in the upper parliament.
The multibillion dollar complex has been emblematic of abandonment, waste, greed, graft, mismanagement in the past four decades now. Akpoti-Uduaghan grew up in Ebiraland and is fully cognisant of the humongous resources in foreign exchange previously sunk into the project which, nonetheless, has remained dysfunctional. The decrepit, melancholy-eliciting condition of the sprawling steel city is best appreciated via a drive through the gargantuan, multidimensional “steel city” of Ajaokuta. Akpoti-Uduaghan wants to proceed beyond preceding peripherals and platitudes to add breadth to the strident advocacy for the functional resuscitation of the octopoidal complex. It is very close to her heart because of its potential to sustainably impact the economy of her people, her state and Nigeria at large.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author, is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (FANA)
Bayelsa 2023: Sylva’s undoing partly self-inflicted
By Ehichioya Ezomon
Because of the deck stacked against him – or more aptly, due to the deck he stacked against himself – it’s illusory to project the November 11, 2023, governorship in Bayelsa State as a walkover for former Governor Timipre Sylva.
From the get go, Mr Sylva faced numerous huddles, to reach the Creek Haven Government House in Yenagoa, capital city of Bayelsa, which he left in 2012. Foremost were headwinds from Governor Douye Diri of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and aggrieved members in Bayelsa’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
The odds likely favoured Mr Diri seeking re-election to the seat he got on a platter on February 13, 2020, when the Supreme Court nullified election of Chief David Lyon on the eve of his swearing-in.
Mr Lyon won the November 16, 2019, poll by a landslide, but Diri’s gifted the governorship when the court barred APC’s Deputy Governor-elect Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo over discrepancies in his credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the election. Diri therein nicknamed himself as a “Miracle Governor.”
Lyon, who saw the “Promised Land” of Government House on February 13, 2020 – during final rehearsals for his swearing-in the next day – regarded himself as the “candidate-in-waiting” for 2023, and APC’s ticket his for the asking.
Members of the Bayelsa chapter, especially the youths, regarded Lyon as “our next Governor,” and urged the APC leadership to “award” him the ticket without a primary contest, and they hit the streets when the party threw the nomination open for a direct primary by registered members.
Lyon won the September 4, 2019, primaries with 42,138 votes, to defeat five aspirants, including current Minister of Petroleum Resources (Oil), Dr Heineken Lokpobiri, who scored 571 votes, but went to court, to be declared the candidate on the grounds of irregularities at the primaries.
A Supreme Court ruling halted Lokpobiri on February 11, 2020, three days to inauguration of Lyon, whose election was voided two days later when the same court disqualified Mr Degi-Eremienyo.
Though he won the November 2019 poll, Lyon’s supporters had no illusion he’d defeat Sylva – also a former Minister of Petroleum Resources with a large warchest – in the April 14, 2023, primaries, which Lyon boycotted as the APC rejected his “sense of entertainment” to the ticket.
From 58,171 accredited among 142,031 registered APC members for the primaries, Sylva secured 52,061 votes, while Lyon scored 1,582 votes to place third behind ex-agitator Joshua Maciver, who came second with 2,078 votes.
Sylva, acclaimed “sole financier of Bayelsa APC,” reportedly preferred Lyon, and “threw his weight behind him” in the 2019 primaries for the APC ticket for the governorship of that year.
After Lyon’s dramatic ouster by the Supreme Court in 2020, Sylva allegedly pledged to back his second bid in 2023, even as he promised supports for other APC chieftains for the governorship he reportedly excluded himself.
But ahead 2023, Sylva “reneged on the promises,” declared for the governorship, took the primaries by a landslide, and told primarygoers he’d replicate same on November 11 against Diri, who mocked him as “dishonest and insincere” for allegedly deceiving members of the APC over his ambition, and his disqualification by an Abuja Federal High Court.
In a statement, “Bayelsa Doesn’t Deserve Serial Deceiver As Governor,” Diri said: “Bayelsa needs an honest and sincere leader that is focused on its development and not a man widely known for deception.
“Timipre Sylva is a man you cannot trust. He displaced all those he promised that he would give the governorship ticket and turned around to become the candidate himself.”
Diri’s accusingly behind the court cases by APC members, to ensure Sylva didn’t participate in the governorship. Sylva’s lawyers in his disqualification appeal, and even some of the three-member panel of Justices of the Appeal Court, hinted about such a possibility.
An APC member in Bayelsa, Mr Demesuoyefa Kolomo, filed a suit on June 6, asking the high court to determine – given sections 180(2)(a) and 182(1)(b) of the 1999 Constitution – whether Sylva was qualified to contest in the poll, having occupied the governorship from May 2007 to April 2008 and May 2008 to January 2012.
Ruling on the night of October 9, trial Justice Donatus Okorowo held that having been inaugurated twice and ruled as governor for five years, allowing Sylva to contest would amount to expansion of the constitution or its scope.
Justice Okorowo directed INEC to remove the names of Sylva and his running mate, Mr Maciver, from the list of candidates for the poll, to prevent Sylva from exceeding the eight-year tenure for governor if he won the November 11 election.
But Sylva argued that he’s elected once as governor – citing an April 2008 Court of Appeal ruling that nullified his 2007 election – and filed a three-ground notice of appeal, through a team of lawyers, led by Dr. Ahmed Raji (SAN).
When the case was called on October 27, Sylva’s lawyer, Akinlolu Kehinde (SAN), and APC’s counsel, K.O. Balogun, urged the appellate court to allow the appeals, set aside the high court judgment and affirm Sylva’s candidacy.
Arguing Sylva’s position of having been sworn-in once as governor, Mr Kehinde described the high court judgment as “a hatchet job just to tie this man (Sylva) not to campaign and participate in the election.”
Also faulting the decision of the high court, Mr Balogun said, “What the 1st respondent (Kolomo) is asking this court to do is to deem the nullified months as four years.”
He accused Kolomo of “fighting a proxy war” (for Sylva’s opponents at the poll), because “he cannot be a member of the APC and be fighting to destroy its candidate and chances at the election.”
Similarly during the proceedings, some members of the Justice Haruna Tsammani-led panel wondered why Kolomo, who claimed to be an APC member, but not an aspirant at the primaries, would want to destroy his party’s chance in an election!
Noting that Kolomo could’ve voted for another party in the November poll “if he assumed Mr Sylva did not deserve his vote,” the panel condemned the attitude of lawyers, who failed to advice their clients appropriately, saying, “it is a moral issue.”
Kolomo’s lawyer, Mr Abiodun Amuda-Kanike (SAN), and INEC’s lawyer, Mr Ahmed Mohamed, prayed the court to dismiss the appeals, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
However, on October 31, the court set aside the high court decision for lack of jurisdiction, and awarded N1 million cost against Kolomo for lack of legal right to seek Sylva’s disqualification from the election.
Again on November 9 – two days to election – the Appeal Court in Abuja came to Sylva’s rescue, dismissing an appeal, seeking to prevent him from the poll, as without merit.
Reading the lead judgment, Justice Binta Zubar held that the subject matter of the appeal by Hon. Isikima Ogbomade Johnson was non-justiceable, adding that “the case was brought in bad faith.”
The court held that having been sacked by the courts in his first election, Sylva couldn’t have taken the oath of office as a governor twice, which informed the conduct of another election that Sylva won in 2008, and governed till 2012.
On the issue of Sylva not duly nominated as candidate, the court held that overwhelming evidence presented by the INEC and APC showed that no legal provision was violated in the primaries.
“From the uncontroverted independent report of INEC, it was clear beyond any doubt that a valid primary election was conducted by APC and monitored by the electoral umpire as required by law,” the court said.
The court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja, which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against her.
Noting that the appellant’s case was statute-barred, having been instituted outside the 14 days allowed by law, the court upheld the judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of a Federal High Court in Abuja which on September 26, dismissed Mrs Johnson’s suit for lacking in merit and substance, and imposed a cost of N1 million against the appellant.
The court cases against Sylva definitely put a wrench to the efforts of Dr Abdullahi Ganduje-led National Working Committee (NWC) to return APC to power in Bayelsa.
Yet, besisde court’s barring of Sylva, and INEC’s delisting of his name, prompting the APC to suspend campaigns for weeks, Sylva owns his undoing by incurring enemies in Messrs Lyon and Lokpobiri prior to the primaries, and election, leading to cries of their sellout to, and a deal with Diri for the poll.
As reported by an online portal quoting sources, Diri conceded 50 slots of Senior Special Assistants (SSAs) each to Lokpobiri and Lyon, and also promised them some measure of influence in decision-making if he won re-election.
The APC dismissed the alleged Lokpobiri and Lyon’s alliance with Diri, with the Secretary, Media and Publicity Committee of the National Campaign Council of the APC, Hon. Yekini Nabena, on October 9, releasing pictures of Lokpobiri and Lyon recommitting themselves before the National Chairman, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, to deliver Sylva and APC in Bayelsa.
Nabena’s words in a statement: “Our attention has been drawn to a sponsored propaganda in some quarters suggesting cracks in the solid camp of the Bayelsa APC ahead of the November 11 governorship election in the State.
“We will not be distracted because we are fully aware how desperate the incumbent Governor Douye Diri has become, therefore employing all manner of tactics including propaganda and lies just to cause confusion.
“For the benefit of the doubt, the attached pictures will tell doubters that the Minister of State for Petroleum (Oil), Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, and the 2019 governorship candidate, David Lyon, most recently held a strategic meeting with our candidate in the presence of our National Chairman, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, where everyone recommitted himself, and massive mobilization has since begun.
“We, however, sympathize with the restless Governor Diri and his camp for acting too late, bearing in mind that their days are numbered in the Bayelsa state Government House.
“We urge all our party members, supporters and Bayelsans in general to remain calm, expectant of landslide victory and disregard lies suggesting cracks in our camp.”
Lokpobiri, via his Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Nneamaka Okafor, denied the allegation same day as baseless, and reaffirmed his commitment to the APC success at the poll.
“We categorically state that these allegations lack credibility and are merely propaganda,” Okafor said, adding, “Senator Lokpobiri’s dedication to the APC’s principles and values is unquestionable, and he remains steadfast in his commitment to the party’s success in Bayelsa State.”
Whichever, Sylva, who allegedly went into the campaigns as his own director-general – either he’d no confidence or trust in others to lead the team or those he approached turned down the offer – was literally a lone ranger, starved of the necessary backing from party chieftains, such as Lyon and Lokpobiri, with his eventual defeat at the poll glaring in the strongholds of APC’s topshots.
So, for Sylva to win the November 11 election would’ve been nothing short of a miracle, which, like that of Mr Diri, could still happen via the instrumentality of the courts. Till then, it’s another four-year wait for the APC to break the 24-year rule of the PDP in Bayelsa State!
Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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