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Bayelsa East: Why senator Degi is qualified to run, a timely guide to one Alhaji Awo Harmony

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By Ebere Okonkwo FCIS

In most societies in the large swap of space called Nigeria, there is usually the adage, that has the equivalent meaning of, “if you asked, you will be told” in most of those societies, the adage is used to limit the damaging impact of rumors, half-truths, and in unfortunate cases, reckless statements made in complete ignorance of the true position of things. Most African societies long practiced the principles of Natural Justice which includes the concept of having complete and total knowledge of facts of an issue before passing judgment or making reckless statements on them.
It is from the above, sound, and healthy social prism that one must view the latest outburst on the person of Senator Biobarakuma Degi Eremienyo, distinguished senator representing the good people of Bayelsa East at the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, by one Alhaji Awo Hamony who was described as an activist and Ex militant. In truth both the faceless author and the Ogbia justice Freedom Movement he claims to represent, have been found to be non – existent. Once again Senator Degi has to face malignant forces who would rather remain anonymous than face up to the truth and be guided in the direction of reality and justice.
Despite the anonymity of the originator of the article, it is important to state that this piece does not set out to throw equal invectives at the authors, but in the spirit of good relations for which the Ogbia people and indeed the people of Bayelsa are known, to explain the true position of things to avoid the purveying of half-truths and in some cases ignorant positions as far as the Person of Distinguished Senator Degi is concerned.
It is of course true that the Supreme Court in its decision of 13th February 2020 confirmed the decision of the Federal High Court delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo disqualifying the candidacy of the APC Governorship Team on the grounds that the Senator Degi made false statement to the Electoral Body by reason of the submission of academic certificates bearing differences in the names written on them. The decision which in the opinion of this writer is flawed failed to address the issue of genuineness of the documents, whether they were forged, and whether Senator Degi had falsified those documents.
The decision was curiously dismissive of the efforts made by the Senator’s team to call evidence to show that all those academic documents were duly issued to him for the stated attainments and by the right awarding or issuing authorities, the spelling errors in his name notwithstanding. All these questions could have been truly tried by evidence, especially where, not only the political future of an individual is in question, but where also the destiny of an entire state, the will of the people, who voted overwhelmingly for a party and candidates of their choice was in issue.
The decision of the Federal high Court, which was confirmed by the supreme court, was also not rooted in or accommodating of social realities. In truth, investigations and social experiments have shown that the misspelling of names in academic certificates especially in the milieu and generation to which Senator Degi belongs is rife, and common place. In truth pronunciation intonation bears a large part of the blame for such error. More so, at the relevant time in issue, what was the level of data and information accuracy obtainable in local communities in Nigeria at the time? A more compelling question is whether the courts should be blind to these realities and therefore be complicit in making it fatal for both an individual and a whole state?
Bayelsa unfortunately was not the first where a misapplication of law and evidence will result in manifest injustice to a people or to an individual. Imo State was another case where technical considerations were unduly elevated in resulting in an unjust outcome to both the people and an individual. Imo state people while accepting the judgment of the court are not however trying their best to inflict more pain on the individual involved but have learnt to be their brother’s keeper in assuaging the feelings of a man who has been treated unjustly. They have not failed to remind the government of the day that they are a product of a judicial decision and not the will of the people. Bayelsa East people and the kinsmen of Senator Degi, whom he has nonetheless served faithfully and meritoriously in the Senate, should be able to make similar distinction between wheat and Chaff.

On his part, Senator Degi has also not accepted the unjust and false conclusions of the judiciary on his person. Various actions have been filed against him to rely on the unjust decision against him to remove him from the Senate, and to destroy his journey of principled public service to his people.
One of such cases was filed at the FCT High court by a person purporting to represent the good people of Bayelsa East Senatorial Zone, sponsored by a faceless group that called themselves the Bayelsa Integrity Group. That action was filed to compel the Inspector General of Police to commence Criminal Proceedings against the Senator for forgery, given the outcome the judgement of the supreme court.
The group had earlier petitioned the inspector General of police but while the investigation ordered by the IG was ongoing, the group desperately rushed off to the FCT High Court to commence the action. The investigation report of the IG’s team which was tendered in court was to the effect that the certificates in issue which were submitted to INEC were duly issued to Senator Degi and the discrepancies were spelling errors which were acknowledged by the issuing authorities.
During the actual proceedings, in which the court was called upon to determine if the Senator had forged those documents and was therefore subject to have criminal proceedings against him, more than a dozen witnesses were called, from officials of the school in Bassambiri in Ogbia, the Secondary school in Ogbia, WAEC office in Abuja, INEC office, Rivers State University of Technology, NYSC office Abuja and even living school and classmates of Senator Degi, who testified to the veracity of the person of the Senator and also to the genuineness of the Certificates, the spelling errors in them notwithstanding.
Key evidence tendered in court which the Federal High Court of Justice Inyang Ekwo did not allow to be brought in by calling for proper trial, included, attendance registers from 1974 -76 of the State School Bassambiri, and the WAEC Photo Album in which not only the mix up in the name was properly identified but also in which the identity of Senator Degi was established by photo Evidence. Letters from the supreme court confirming the identity of the Notary Public before whom the affidavits of correction of names were deposed, were tendered
After a highly technical and deservingly robust trial, the court found the certificates to be genuine and duly issued to the Senator Degi. The case by the Bayelsa Integrity Group was dismissed as they failed to establish Forgery on which their case was based.
It must be noted that the Supreme Court has gradually begun to correct the hasty decisions in which discrepancies in the name and certificates of a candidate was treated unwaveringly as proof of fraud, falsification and forgery exemplified in the Senator Degi’s case. As we know the courts are human and therefore fallible. In the case of Senator Frank Ibezim of Imo North Senatorial District, which is on all fours with the Senator Degi case, the Supreme court in a very circumspect decision held that discrepancies simplicita, cannot establish forgery, falsification, and fraud, but that any court called upon to determine such cases ought to call evidence as such weighty allegations are inappropriate to be tried by Originating summons. The import of the decision in the IBEZIM’s case is that there is an unspoken remorse in the way the Degi matter was decided.
It is for the above reasons that any discerning person should know that in view of the existence of an evidenced based judgement of a court of competent jurisdiction, holding that Senator Degi’s academic documents are genuine, the attempts to besmirch his person and portray him as a document forger are unwarranted, legally unsustainable, constitutionally untenable and will soon become actionable. If there are other cogent reasons for denying Senator Degi participation in the electoral process, it should not be for the already judicially settled matter of the genuineness of his academic credentials. The FCT high court has put it beyond peradventure.
Additionally, it must be noted that the disqualification from participating in an election into the Senate is a constitutional matter and should be treated delicately. Where a person is unduly excluded from an electoral process because of a non-existent ground, it could raise a cause of legal action that may jeopardize that process. Section 66 (1) (i) of the constitution is the extant provision in respect of the matter in issue. It provides that a person shall be disqualified in a particular election if he has in that election submitted a forged certificate to INEC. By the tenor of that section of the constitution, there is nothing in that section that presupposes a permanent bar from participating in another election.
This argument is even reinforced by the fact that where the constitution envisages a bar, it clearly imposed it as it did in Section 66(1)(d) which provides for a ten-year bar for a person convicted of a criminal offence.
The first question therefore is, did Senator Degi submit forged certificate to INEC? In both the Federal High Court and the Supreme court, the question of Forgery of the certificates was totally avoided and the courts focused on falsification or the making of a false statement in the INEC forms, based on the discrepancies or spelling errors in the names on the certificates. The only court that has pronounced on the genuineness of Senator Degi’s certificates (as against their being forged) is the FCT high court and its finding is that they are genuine, and we know that appellate courts usually do not derogate or depart from extensive findings of fact by the lower court. What makes this more compelling is that the trial was by writ of Summons and extensive, contrasting sharply with the procedure adopted by the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo. We believe that had Justice Ekwo, called for trial of those criminal elements, he would inexorably have come to the same conclusions as the FCT high court.
The second question to answer is whether Senator Degi has been convicted by any court of law, to warrant a constitutional bar on his participation in the coming electoral process? The answer to that is in the negative. There is therefore no basis for imposing a bar where the constitution has imposed none. Other than these legal issues, the question of Zoning is one of electoral and community considerations. Bayelsa East people are entitled to decide whether one good term deserves another, and it will be unconscionable to try to truncate the will of the people by citing nonexistent legal limitations.
Finally, the Federal High court and the supreme court held that had Senator Degi presented a Deed Poll rather than an affidavit of correction from a notary public, the misspellings on the certificates would have been held as corrected. Assuming without conceding that the misspelling of the names in the certificates presented the Federal High court and the supreme court with a difficult situation in respect of those certificates, because of the use of an affidavit of correction of name rather than a deed poll, the challenge is one of form not of substance. Yet that decision applies only to the governorship election and not to any other past or future election.
At any rate, the deed poll from the supreme court correcting those errors in the names as laid down by the Supreme Court in those cases has been effected and was tendered in evidence at the FCT High Court, and all questions as to the genuineness of the certificates have now been both judicially and administratively settled.
This piece therefore serves to fulfil the traditional requirement that when proper, truthful, and more current and compelling information becomes available, there is need for adjustment of our previously held positions. It is hoped that the Ogbia people and indeed the Bayelsa people will do what closely knit kinsmen do, stand for justice, and defend their own against the unfortunate and unjust judicial damage done to Senator Degi and the People of Bayelsa in general. We have no doubts that they will adjust in the face of truth.

Ebere Okonkwo FCIS is a legal practitioner and Governance Expert, and writes from Abuja

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Opinion

Edo 2024: Acrimony, blood-letting, threats, comic relief overshadow primaries

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

As the primaries of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State for the 2024 governorship election witnessed blood-letting, breaking of limbs and skulls, an unrecognised splinter group of Labour Party (LP) decided to inject some comic relief into the nominating process.
While factions of the main parties held parallel primaries or claimed to’ve won the ballots, the Alhaji Lamidi Apapa-led group of LP surprised even its members on February 22, by sending a list of “nominated governorship candidate and running mate” to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the September 21 poll.
In a covering letter to INEC, as first reported by GWG.NG, Chief Apapa, who signed as acting national chairman, and Alhaji Saleh Lawan as acting national secretary, said: “We write to submit the names of our candidates that emerges (sic) from our Governorship primary election conducted today (February 22) in Benin, Edo State.
“You will recalled (sic) that we had earlier notify (sic) the Commission about the conduct of our Party Governorship Primary today and we hereby forward the names of our Party flagbearer for the September 21, 2024 Governorship Election, Barr. Anderson Uwadiae Asemota (and) Deputy Governorship Candidate, Barr. Monday Ojore Mawah.”
As the public was yet to fathom the ghost primary that produced the Apapa “candidate and running mate,” another aspirant, who resides overseas, disclaimed the Apapa “list,” arguing he’s the authentic candidate produced in a primary in Benin City on February 24 – the last day for parties to send in the names of their candidates.
The latest LP “candidate,” Hilton Idahosa, a United Kingdom-based legal practitioner, as first reported by New Telegraph on February 25, claimed he emerged during a parallel primary of the Apapa faction with 917 votes, describing the Apapa letter to INEC as “fake,” as the primary slated for February 22 was shifted to February 24, “to allow for exigencies.”
Mr Idahosa labelled the Apapa letter as “the handiwork of mischief makers bent on causing disaffection within the ranks of the party,” and said he emerged at the primary “conducted by the Labour Party state officials” at the factional secretariat on First East Circular Road, Benin City, adding, “the true position will be made known in the coming days.”
In summary, the LP, like the APC, has produced three candidates, claiming its sole ticket for the September election. In the primary held on February 23 at the Bishop Kelly Pastoral Centre, Benin City, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Olumide Akpata, polled 316 votes to defeat oil and gas magnate and proprietor of Mudiame University, Irrua (MUI), Prof. Sunny Eboh Eromosele, and a businessman and educationist, Barr. Kenneth Imasuagbon, who scored seven votes apiece, as declared by the returning officer for the primary, Deputy Governor Ikechukwu Emetu of Abia State.
Reacting to the Apata letter on alternative candidate(s), the LP leadership urged Nigerians, especially the media, to ignore the antics, noting that events leading to the choice of Mr Akpata as candidate of the party were televised live on notable stations, and that INEC officials, led by the state electoral commissioner, “also observed the very successful primaries.”
“How on earth could a group of persons conduct a primary election that was not known or heard by the public and was not covered by the media, and went ahead to ask the INEC to act on their correspondence,” Obiora Ifoh, national publicity secretary of LP queried. The Conclave online first reported the news on February 25.
“INEC knows that there was no primary; it did not supervise any other primary but the one conducted by the Party led by Barrister Julius Abure. INEC knows that they just brought names; there was no primary. We were in Benin that day, and the world knew that Abure had an issue and was released, after which he witnessed the primary.
“How come they (Apapa group) did a primary and the media did not know? When and where did they conduct their delegate election? Was it by direct or indirect election? These men are just a bunch of desperate people looking for easy money from desperate politicians,” Ifoh said.
“Labour is thereby urging Nigerians to distance from any other list other than that of Barrister Olumide Akpata as the only candidate being sponsored by the Labour Party.
“We (are) also using this medium to specially appeal to the media to stop progressing with this factional narrative. There is no faction in Labour Party. If you are still in doubt of the authentic leadership of Labour Party, please check the website of the INEC, Ifoh added.
It wasn’t the first time – since it emerged in the 2023 election cycle as a formidable unit – that the Apapa group would interfere or attempt to sow confusion in federal and state electoral matters of the LP, as it schemed to wrest power from the Abure camp through a forceful takeover of the national headquarters of the party in Abuja, or via the courts, which’ve ruled majorly in favour of the Abure-led NWC.
The Apapa camp tried,  unsuccessfully, to dictate the processes of LP’s participation, campaigns, and election petitions from the 2023 presidential and state polls, with Apapa and some in his group members suffering humiliations from LP supporters in and outside court premises in Abuja, and elsewhere across Nigeria.
During the November 2023 governorship election in Imo State, the Apapa camp tried but failed to present its factional candidate for the poll, but the Supreme Court affirmed the candidate produced by the Abure group. Still, the Apapa faction hasn’t relented!
So, it’s no surprise that the group’s tried to conjure “miracles” in the Edo governorship. But what’s amiss is the lack of knowledge about when, where and how the first (and even the second) primary was conducted, and the rather novel picking of the candidate and running mate at the same time – a break from the norm of candidates choosing their running mates after weeks or months of the primaries.
The latest gambit by the Apapa faction of the LP – which’s lasted this long due to the oxygen given it by the courts, INEC and media – may be seen by party members and supporters as the usual irritant from a flailing group grasping any straw to stay afloat. But it could disrupt the party programmes and campaigns if the INEC and courts gave it some hearing ahead of the election.
Similar scenarios of curiosity pervaded the primaries in the APC and PDP. Whereas the PDP’s factionalised into three camps, one led by Governor Godwin Obaseki, another by Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu, and the other by the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Chief Dan Orbih; the APC showed no serious signs of division in its Edo State chapter until the primaries.
While the APC primary lasted seven days (February 17-23), finally winnowing four claimants to the ticket to one in an anti-climax on Ferbruary 23; two factions of the PDP conducted their shadow polls on February 22. The APC produced Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC, Edo Central) as the winner, ahead of 10 other aspirants, as declared by the Cross River State Governor Bassey Otu-led APC Edo governorship primary election committee on February 23 in Benin City.
Okpebholo’s 12,433 votes (to 6,541 votes scored in second position by Hon. Dennis Idahosa (APC, Ovia Federal Constituency)) were fairly consistent with his tally of 12,145 votes (with Idahosa scoring 5,536 votes to place second) during the February 17 “inconclusive” primary, as declared by the Chief Returning Officer, Dr Stanley Ugboajah.
But the Ugboajah declaration was disputed, as well as the return made by the previous chairman of the APC primary committee and Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma, who declared Idahosa as winner for polling 40,453 votes to “defeat” Okpebholo (100 votes) and 10 other contestants.
On February 18 in Auchi, Etsako Central local government area of Edo State, some local government areas returning officers proclaimed a third aspirant, Hon. Anamero Dekeri (APC, Etsako Federal Constituency) as the primary winner. Leader of the officers, Mr Ojo Babatunde, said Dekeri scored 25,384 votes to defeat Idahosa (14,127 votes) and 10 others.
Remarkably, a fourth aspirant and former minister of state for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, who also claimed he won the primary based on turnout of voters, has congratulated Sen. Okpebholo, and pledged his support as a “loyal party member.” Two other APC aspirants, Dr Blessing Agbomhere and Dr Afolabi Umakhihe, have also congratulated Okpebholo.
But Idahosa and Dekeri, rattling the sabre, have threatened external actions against “fictitious” votes and a “manipulated” process, if they failed to get justice in the APC appeals committee. Idahosa, in a statement in Benin City on February 24, alleged that the “fictitious results” declared by the Governor Otu primary committee “represented the highest level of rape on democracy ever witnessed in Edo State.”
His words: “Events in the last few days may have been very disappointing and demoralizing to lots of people, as your votes seemed not to have counted going by the process and declaration of fictitious primary election results of what happened on the field on the (February) 22nd re-run elections in the 192 wards of the state.
“Let me assure you all, our teaming supporters, that I shall explore all the party internal mechanisms to resolve the issues, and seek justice and where that doesn’t work, I shall communicate with you all on our next line of action.” On February 26 in Benin City, supporters staged a protest to add bite to Idahosa’s threats, as first reported by The Nation.
The leader of the protesters, Mr Harrison Okpamen, who called on the APC leadership to recognise Idahosa as the authentic winner of the primary, alleged that the declaration of Okpebholo was “conjured” by Governor Otu, who reportedly ignored results of the rescheduled primary, and deployed security agents to disperse the APC leaders who were waiting with the results to be collated.
Mr Okpamen stated what allegedly transpired, thus: “Governor Otu directed that party members should report at their 192 wards for the conduct of the primaries. Aspirants began fresh mobilisation, and thousands of members were gathered at their various wards. To their surprise, no returning officer was deployed to the wards to conduct the primaries.
“APC members in the 18 local government areas of Edo, after waiting in vain for the arrival of the electoral officials, began to queue behind posters of their preferred aspirants. It was clear that Hon. Dennis Idahosa was the preferred candidate of a vast majority of party members. Curiously, Governor Otu went out of circulation.
“APC’s leaders brought the results from their various LGAs to the collation centre, but there was no one to hand them to. Worried party members waited in the vicinity of the collation centre in vain. Suddenly, Governor Otu arrived and ordered armed soldiers to evacuate party members. After dispersing party members disrespectfully, he then announced some conjured figures.”
Also Dekeri, in a statement, comparing the scores he recorded for his election into the House of Representatives and the votes declared for him by the Sen. Otu primary committee, told journalists that the outcome of the primary was “manipulated.”
He said: “I mobilised 65,000 people for this primary. In my election to the House of Representatives, I scored over 100,000 (votes), and then in this primary election, they said I scored about 2,000 (2,566) votes. This is a charade, as far as I am concerned,” and vowed to decide his next line of action.
Note that Dekeri, claiming to’ve “mobilised 65,000 people” indicates he possibly engaged in “vote-buying” of APC’s members, whereas the NWC-verified number of financial members cleared to vote at the primary stood a little above 44,000 – about 21,000 less than the figure Dekeri bandied to mobilise for the primary!
In the PDP, Governor Obaseki and his “anointed” aspirant, Dr Asue Ighodalo (who polled 577 votes to Deputy Governor Shaibu’s one vote) continue to revel in the outcome of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC)-backed indirect primary held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City on February 22 that returned Ighodalo as the party candidate. But Comrade Shaibu’s predicted failure for the ruling party in Edo State if he’s not fielded as the flagbearer.
This comes as Acting National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Umar Damagum, handed a certificate of return to Ighodalo on February 27, and said that Ighodalo – declared the primary winner by the returning officer, Zamfara State Governor Dauda Lawal – “is the only candidate the party recognises for the Edo gubernatorial election,” adding, “the PDP is one and we organised and recognised only one primary in Edo which produced Dr Asue Ighodalo.”
But Shaibu – at loggerheards with Obaseki over his governorship ambition – doesn’t solely base his claim to the parallel primary in which he scored 301 votes, but on the premise that his candidature represents Edo North – one of the tripod senatorial districts of Edo State.
For Shaibu, if the APC picked Okpebholo from Edo Central, and LP chose Akpata from Edo South, it’s politically expedient for the PDP to settle for him (Shaibu) from Edo North – and not for a candidate (Ighodalo) from Edo Central – to balance the senatorial representations for the governorship election.
Shaibu said: “I am appealing to the PDP National Working Committee that if they want to win Edo State, they should just abide by what has happened. They should just support my candidacy and PDP will win Edo State.
“You can see how the primaries have gone now in Edo. Labour Party has Olu Akpata from Edo South and APC has Monday Okpebholo from Edo Central. Now, I am from Edo North. It shows that the three senatorial districts now have candidates.
“And this comes to the point I have been saying that (in) Edo State, we have not met or we are (yet) to agree that there is zoning. And if we are meant to have a convention to say we now have a zoning formula, when it leaves here, it goes here, by now, nobody will be contesting in the three (but one) senatorial districts.”
Dismissing the primary that produced Ighodalo as pre-determined, and breached the laws guiding elections in Nigeria, Shaibu said: “I’m aware that they had another primary, and in the coming days, you will know who is authentic and who is not authentic because even from the results that they declared, it’s laughable.
“A deputy governor that was NANS president, that was two-time majority leader, eight years in the House of Assembly, a deputy governor that was in the House of Reps, that was pulled back because of his political strength to complement a ticket that would have failed without a politician that is known and accepted, is now getting one vote, and somebody that is not known at all is now getting 577 votes. It tells you where the results were written.
“And if you check what they did, it was more like a celebration of either a wedding or burial reception. You see the primaries where every local government had an aseo-ebi, its own uniform; it speaks volume; check what they did. And that is the primaries.
“It shows that there was no contestation; that is what they did show. There was no contestation because if there was contestation, you don’t have local government by local government wearing the same attire. It shows that it was more like a party, what the Yoruba popularly call ‘owambe.'”
Shuaibu, who side-stepped the issue of whether the PDP NWC backed, and INEC monitored his primary, simply said: “If the party wants to win the election, they will not go for Asue (Ighodalo). If the party wants to win the election, the people have spoken and they have spoken very loud and clear.
“If people can stand bullets (referring to alleged invasion of his factional primary by operatives of the Edo Security Network, whose sporadic gunfires injured some delegates) to say this is who we want, then the party should follow that direction.”
Meanwhile, Dr Ighodalo of the PDP has congratulated his fellow candidates of the APC and LP, Sen. Okpebholo and Barr. Akpata, and urged them to join him in a commitment to focus on issue-based campaigns, and refrain from messages that promote division and disunity.
Ighodalo noted that: “The February 2023 general election saw a level of hate and vitriol masked as political sloganeering that took this nation to the brink; and the fires politicians lit back then continue to smoulder across the nation,” as reported by VANGUARD on February 26.
“I and my team will continue to campaign to the people of Edo State in language and behaviour that seek to unite rather than divide. We will stay focused on the issues that matter to our people; and there will be no descent into abuse, ethnic-baiting and name-calling. We must not destroy the unity of the state we seek to govern. I therefore urge all my fellow candidates to similarly run respectful issue-based campaigns.”
While Edo people expect other candidates to make similar commitments, the weeks and months ahead are especially crunchy and testy times for the APC, PDP and LP candidates for the September 21 election. Can they surmount and survive the intrigues and machinations within, mounted by political godfathers and gladiators, such as Senator Adams Oshiomhole, leader of the APC in Edo and former Governor of the state, Hon. Idahosa and Hon. Dekeri in the APC; Deputy Governor Shaibu and Chief Orbih in the PDP; and Chief Apapa and his comrades-in-arm in LP? The die is cast!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

 

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Opinion

Disability is not a barrier

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Throughout history, individuals with disabilities have faced various challenges and prejudices in their daily lives. However, it is important to recognize that disability is not a barrier to success or personal fulfillment. With the right support and mindset, individuals with disabilities can achieve their goals and make significant contributions to society.

A prevalent misjudgment about disability is that it limits a person’s abilities and potential. In reality, many with disabilities have demonstrated excellence in myriad pursuits, including education, career, and personal relationships. For example, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, despite being diagnosed with ALS at a young age, made groundbreaking contributions to the field of theoretical physics. His feats proved disability does not equate to incapacity.

Let’s get back to our clime, our own Hon. Arome Ibrahim made outstanding impacts as Disability Commission Chairman. His disabled condition did not impair his competent discharge of duties. He showed the world disability imposes no barriers and cannot equate to ineptness.

Moreover, societal attitudes toward disability considerably influence the opportunities available to the disabled. When society focuses on accommodating and empowering the disabled rather than dismissing them as inferior or helpless, it cultivates greater inclusion and accessibility. By promoting a culture of diversity and acceptance, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals, regardless of their abilities.

The resilience and resolve exhibited by many with disabilities also warrants recognition. Despite myriad obstacles, they frequently demonstrate extraordinary perseverance and valor in pursuing their ambitions and goals. Such tenacity serves as a powerful reminder that with the proper support and mindset, no limits exist regardless of one’s physical or cognitive constraints.

Disability should not be seen as an impediment to success or happiness. By challenging stereotypes, promoting inclusivity, and embracing diversity, we can empower individuals with disabilities to achieve their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. It is crucial for society to recognize and celebrate the unique abilities and contributions of individuals with disabilities, as their experiences and perspectives enrich our collective human experience. By fostering a more inclusive and supportive society, we can create a world where disability is truly not a barrier.

Courtesy: Kogi State Community Advocacy Group On Disability Inclusion

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Opinion

Edo 2024: Can Tinubu bell the ‘cats’ in APC’s primary fiasco?

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Gov Hope Uzodinma
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By Ehichioya Ezomon

“Even among thieves there’s honour,”is the sentiment that “criminals have a code of conduct among themselves.” According to grammarist.com, “some aspects of this code of conduct may be to not steal from each other, or to not testify against a fellow criminal to the police.”
Is there such a “code of conduct” among politicians? It’s doubtful, as among politicians – like among dogs – the first to die becomes the meat for the rest of the pack. If there’s really honour among politicians, heads would’ve rolled since the evening of Saturday, February 17 over the botched governorship primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State, to choose a candidate for the September 21 governorship poll.
It’s such a messy affair that President Bola Tinubu’s invited to step in. So, will Tinubu prove the doubting Thomas wrong – coupled with his preachment of equity, fairplay and rule of law – by summoning the political will and courage, cancel the charade of a primary election, and save the APC from a second defeat in four years in Edo State?
Perhaps, the President has shown some spine, as the APC’s National Working Committee (NWC) has declared the primaries “inconclusive” after meeting and briefing Tinubu about the chaotic outcome of the exercise, and “the President expressed concerns at the turn of events, and directed the NWC to ensure that the exercise was concluded,” as first reported by The Nation on February 21.
Hence their tails tucked in-between their legs, the Abdullahi Ganduje-led NWC, after an emergency meeting on February 20, scheduled the completion of the primaries for Thursday, February 22, going by a statement by the national publicity secretary of the APC, Mr Felix Morka, fielding questions from reporters after the NWC meeting.
Morka said: “At its emergency meeting held today, Tuesday, February 20, 2024, to consider the report on the Edo State Governorship Primary Election, the National Working Committee (NWC) deliberated on the report and resolved that the Edo State Governorship Primary Election has not been completed, and has now fixed Thursday, February 22, 2024, for the completion of the Primary Election Process.”
Dr Ganduje and his team didn’t have to await Tinubu’s directive on what to do to rectify the controversial primaries. In a best case scenario, the APC leadership would’ve acted swiftly, called for calm, and given the assurance to members, particularly in Edo State, that it’d look into the primary misadventure through the primary election appeals committee instituted ahead of the exercise by the NWC. 
And in a worst case scenario, the party would’ve dismissed the conflicting declarations made – with four aspirants laying claim to winning the primaries – dissolved the Governor Hope Uzodimma-led primary election committee, and fixed a new date for a re-run or fresh primary poll within days, to meet the February 24 deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But what did Nigerians – particularly the shocked and distrust members of the APC in Edo State – see and hear from the leadership of the party? A congratulatory message in the night of February 17 from the national chairman, Ganduje, “to the winner of the primaries,” and solicitation for the “defeated aspirants” to “bury the hatchet” and work for party unity to win the Edo governorship.
As of Sunday, February 18, four aspirants claimed that they won the primaries – supervised by Governor Uzodimma, Cross River State Governor Bassey Otu, and five other members of the APC Edo Governorship Primary Election – to choose a candidate for the September 21 election. 
The primary election claimants include Hon. Dennis Idahosa, a member representing Ovia Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, who’s declared as the winner by the Uzodimma committee; and Senator Monday Okpebholo (APC, Edo Central), who’s declared the winner by the NWC-appointed state chief collation and returning officer, Dr Stanley Ugboajah.
The others are Hon. Anamero Dekeri, member representing Etsako Federal Constituency, pronounced the winner by local government returning officers; and Mr Clem Agba, former minister of state for Budget and National Planning, who claims that going by the turnout of voters, he won the majority of lawful votes of APC members, and has threatened legal action to affirm his “victory.”
Tension had enveloped the Edo political landscape when – on the eve of the primaries, two of the leading aspirants – former Secretary to the State Government and twice governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and former Deputy Governor Lucky Imasuen withdrew from the race, citing the APC leadership’s zoning of the governorship to Edo Central that’s been marginalised in the governance of the state since civilian democracy returned in Nigeria in 1999.
Amid reports that the primaries didn’t hold in virtually all 192 wards of the 18 local government areas of Edo State, results started flying on social media, and coming in droves from the local government collation agents and returning officers into the designated state collation centre in Benin City, capital city of Edo State.
But midway into the televised collation of the primary results, scores of armed political thugs invaded the centre – and in the presence of security operatives, and INEC officials – disrupted the proceedings, and beat up journalists, electoral officials and destroyed laptops and television cameras. 
Until that moment, it’s assumed that the primary election was one for all the aspirants. But the Uzodimma-headed committee, perhaps apprised in advance about the hoodlums’ attack, relocated to another venue, where it declared Hon. Idahosa as winner of the primaries, even as only eight of the 18 local government areas’ results had been collated.
Recall that stakeholders in Edo APC had protested Uzodimma’s appointment to head the primary election committee, alleging that he’d do a hatchet job for Senator and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who’d openly canvassed – even in a viral video on social media on the eve of the primaries – for Idahosa’s candidacy.
So, Uzodimma, willy-nilly, proved the Edo APC stakeholders right by taking advantage of the mileu caused by the political thugs at the collation centre to announce Idahosa as “winner” of the primaries, despite Senator Okpebholo leading in the results of eight councils declared before the thugs struck.
Still, amid the uproar that greeted Uzodimma’s declaration of Idahosa as the “duly nominated candidate,” Mr Ganduje, in a rather fait accompli statement by his chief press secretary, Mr Edwin Olofu, congratulated the “winner,” and called on the “defeated aspirants” to support him for the unity of the APC.
“I want to congratulate the winner of the Edo State governorship election, I want to equally commend and appreciate Governor Hope Uzodimma’s election committee for their hard work and the transparent manner in which the primary election was conducted,” Ganduje said.
“At this point, I want to call on all the aspirants to bury the hatchet and work for the interest of the party so that our party will emerge victorious (on September 21),” Ganduje added.
Was Ganduje’s congratulatory message to Hon. Idahosa hasty, as alleged by aggrieved  supporters of the “defeated aspirants,” or played into a script written by Comrade Oshiomhole to smoothen the primary path for his “anointed candidate,” Idahosa?
As seen in a trending video 24 hours to the election, as first reported by THISDAY, Oshiomhole claimed that President Tinubu had adopted Idahosa as the APC governorship candidate, a claim debunked by the deputy chairman of the Edo State APC gubernatorial primaries committee and Cross River Governor Otu.
Sen. Otu “categorically dismissed the rumour that President Tinubu has anointed a particular aspirant for the Edo APC gubernatorial primaries,” and “urged party faithful to disregard the lie and vote for their choice candidate.” 
“This perhaps fuelled counter-narrative on the eve of the primaries, that the Presidency had settled for an aspirant from Edo Central, to be anointed for equity, justice and fairplay, and that Senator Monday Okpebholo is the anointed candidate,” THISDAY reports.
.The same narrative of endorsement led to the withdrawal of Pastor Ize-Iyamu from the race, “with a directive to his supporters to cast their votes for Okpebholo,” and the subsequent withdrawal by former Mr Imasuen, citing the reported APC zoning of the governorship to Edo Central.
In the interim, the national publicity secretary of the APC, Mr Felix Morka, defended Uzodimma’s declaration, and dismissed the affirmation by the chief returning officer, saying the NWC had empowered Uzodimma to make the final return on the primaries. 
Morka said: “We wish to state categorically that only the Governor Hope Uzodinma-led Edo State APC Governorship Primary Election Committee is duly authorized to undertake final collation and announcement of results of the Primary Election in the state. We urge all party members, officials in the state, and the general public to disregard the said announcement of results by these unauthorized persons.”
But a letter signed by the APC National Organising Secretary, Sulaiman Mohammad Argungu, appointed Ugboajah as the State Chief Returning Officer, with 18 others as Local Government Area Returning Officers for each of the 18 local government areas of Edo State.
So, who had the authority, between Uzodimma and Ugboajah, to make pronouncement on the outcome of the primaries, as the two were on legitimate duty?
Nonetheless, the Edo chapter of the APC, via its publicity secretary, Prince Igbinigie, describing the conduct of Uzodimma as “most embarrassing, unfortunate and bizarre,” faulted the governor’s “usurpation” of the duties of the local government collation agents and the returning officers for the primaries.
Mr Igbinigie alleged that “upon learning that his preferred aspirant wasn’t winning, Uzodimma singlehandedly relocated the collation centre, and then unilaterally assumed the role of the state’s returning officers without recourse to inputs from the local government collation agents as well as the chief returning officer of the exercise.”
However, Igbinigie said after normalcy was restored at the “recognised collation centre,” with the local government area returning officers and representatives from INEC, the results were declared by Dr Ugboajah, “whose responsibility it is to carry out this function.” 
Reeling out the scores by 11 of the original 12 cleared aspirants for the primaries, with Sen. Okpebholo having 12,145 votes, and Hon. Idahosa getting 5,536 votes for the first and second positions, respectively, Igbinigie said: “Therefore, it is the desire of the state working committee to reiterate that Sen. Monday Okpebholo is the duly elected gubernatorial candidate of our great party for the September 2024 governorship election.” 
Meanwhile, one of the leading aspirants and court-removed former Governor Oserheimen Osunbor has appealed to President Tinubu to step in and arrest the primary crises allegedly instigated to divide the APC for the PDP to retain power in September. Prof. Osunbor asked Tinubu to:
(1) Cause an investigation to be instituted into the allegation that this sham of a primary election, and the crises it has generated, have been induced by gratification given and received by the principal actors to damage APC and pave the way for the emergence of the PDP candidate in the election.
(2) Order the cancellation of the primary election, which has produced two or four candidates, as it can’t stand the test of legal scrutiny but rather will jeopardize the chances of APC, as there’s been “a brazen disregard of the Party Guidelines, Party Constitution and the Electoral Act, which may prove fatal in the event of litigation.”
(3) Order another primary election to be conducted ahead of the 24th February deadline set by INEC. Different officers should be assigned to conduct the fresh primaries.
Declaring that, “I make this appeal as the most popular aspirant with name recognition and acceptability throughout the length and breadth of Edo State,” Osunbor, at a press conference on February 18 in Ekpoma, Esan West of Edo State, said registered members of the APC across the state came out to vote for their preferred candidate, but “to their disappointment, the election did not take place anywhere that I know of across the 18 local government areas of Edo State.”
“The party officials deployed from the Abuja office of the National Organising Secretary to conduct the elections at the various wards and local government areas of Edo State were kept in hotels in Benin,” Osunbor said, adding, “There is no record or video of any of them preforming their assigned roles in the election at their respective designated points.”
“What we saw on television was not result of election but allocation of votes by some persons in Benin to each of the aspirants. In the end, two candidates have been announced as winners, Sen. Monday Okpebholo and Hon. Denis Idahosa in a primary election that was never held or was not conducted in accordance with the law and guidelines. 
“This charade confirms the widespread suspicion that they are labouring to present a weak APC candidate that will be easily over-run and defeated by the presumed PDP candidate during the election. They are not working in the interest of APC but of PDP. We must avoid a repeat of the scenario which led to the defeat of APC in 2020.”
Also on February 18 in Abuja, after an emergency meeting, APC stakeholders rooting for Hon. Dekeri, called on Ganduje and President Tinubu to, “as a matter of honour, discard Governor Uzodimma’s infamous declaration of one Mr. Denis Idahosa, who didn’t win the primaries.” 
Spokesman of the forum, Mr Emmanuel Godwin, said Uzodimma wasn’t the chief returning officer for the election, and accused the primary committee of “usurping the duties and responsibilities of local government returning officers in the Edo State primaries.”
Godwin said: “It is unfortunate that Hope Uzodimma, who is not the returning officer in whatever capacity, assumed the position and went ahead to announce Dennis Idahosa when the returning officers were still collating the results.
“We wish to therefore state categorically that the purported announcement is null and void and it should be disregarded in its entirety. Governor Uzodimma lacks the power to usurp duties and responsibilities of local government returning officers in the Edo State primaries.”
In the lead-up to the February 17 primary election Ganduje, and Uzodimma presented themselves as democrats, who wanted things done as laid out in the rulebook of the party. On February 15, at the national headquarters of the APC in Abuja, the former governor of Kano State, inaugurated the APC Edo Governorship Primary Election and Appeals Committees for the direct primary poll.
Specifically on the appeals committee, Ganduje, who vows to reclaim Edo State from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to expand the coast of the ruling APC in Nigeria, said: “It is a tradition for us to always constitute a body that will undertake an assignment so that at the end of it, we get good results.
“I will like to inform you that the composition of the two committees is a product of the National Working Committee (NWC) in accordance with the constitution of our party. Whatever you do, the contestants are free to appeal. That is why we have an appeals committee, which is like the Supreme Court.”
From hindsight, the Ganduje message was a double-edged sword: Members of the primary election committee should conduct a credible and transparent election acceptable to the aspirants, their supporters, and members of the APC; and whatever the outcome of the poll, the aspirants shouldn’t rock the boat, but appeal for a possible remedy.
Responding, Uzodimma thanked Ganduje and the NWC for the confidence reposed in the members, promised to discharge their assignment with utmost diligence, and stressed that, “Our prayers is that we work hard to justify this confidence reposed in us,” as “our party is a fantastic brand, very popular, and a good product.”
“It behooves on members of our committee to work in harmony with the party’s local leadership in Edo, to bring up a product that will look like our party and is easily marketable in Edo,” Uzodimma said, and urged the APC leadership to pray to God Almighty “to give us the wherewithal to carry out our assignment.”
In the end, did Ganduje and Uzodimma carry out the duty of producing a sellable, marketable and acceptable candidate in accordance with the dictates of the constitution of the APC? No, they did the opposite, in connivance with the local potentate, Comrade Oshiomhole who, from the get go, had primed Hon. Idahosa as his “anointed candidate” for the governorship. 
Pre-the primary election, the APC NWC sent officials to the wards and local government areas of Edo State, to authentic the number of actual and financial members of the party – a finding that revealed that only about 42,000 members were qualified to participate in the primaries.
Surprisingly, announcing the results several hours before the completion of collation, Governor Uzodimma ascribed 40,453 votes cast by the verified 42,000 members to Hon. Idahosa alone. Other aspirants’ scores were: Anamero Dekeri, 2,030 votes; Monday Okpebholo, 100; Clem Agba, 100; Osagie Ize-Iyamu, 2; Gideon Ikhine, 700; David Imuse, 400; Charles Airhiavbere, 162; Oserheimen Osunbor, 180; Blessing Agbomhere, 50; Ernest Umakhihe, 2; and Lucky Imasuen, 2 votes.
“This is to certify that Dennis Idahosa, having scored the highest number of votes, is hereby declared winner of the primary election,” Uzodimma said.
In the results declared by Ugboajah, Sen. Okpebholo received 12,145 votes; Dennis Idahosa, 5,536; Afolabi Umakhihe, 2,090; Anamero Dekeri, 1,625; Charles Arhiavbere, 919; Gideon Ikhine, 902; Oserheimen Osunbor, 688; David Imuse, 507; Lucky Imasuen, 503; and Osagie Ize-Iyamu, 383 votes. Clem Agba’s name and score weren’t included.
“This is to certify that Monday Okpebholo has scored the highest votes, and declared winner of the APC governorship primary and thereby declared the candidate of the party,” Dr Ugboajah said.
And in the results announced on Saturday night by Mr Ojo Babatunde for the local government returning officers, Hon. Dekeri got 25,384 votes, while Idahosa received 14,127 votes. No votes were recorded for Okpebholo and nine other aspirants.
 
If any of the three results declared by the different authorities of the APC Primary Election Committee for Edo 2024 governorship election are considered, only Dr Ugboajah’s declaration merits giving any probative value, having followed the prescribed process of collation and declaration of results.
Besides, no matter their level of popularity and reach in Edo State, no single aspirant among the 10 that made it to the fiercely-contested primary, could secure even 15,000 votes, talkless of outlandish votes in excess of 40,000 from less than 42,000 members that voted. It’s daylight robbery to claim as such!
As the National Leader of the APC – an appellation he’d styled himself for eight years under the Muhammadu Buhari administration (2015-2023) – President Tinubu should show true leadership and cancel the bogus primary election in Edo State, and call for re-run or fresh primaries before the INEC deadline of February 24. Nothing else will assuage the electoral heist perpetrated on February 17! Edo people are watching and waiting, and may not forget their deliberate disenfranchishment on September 21!

Mr Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria

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