The hope of the already devastated Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of a possible reversal of the victory of Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, in the April 11 governorship election may have been dashed. This follows the ruling on Wednesday by the Lagos State Governorship Election Tribunal sitting in Ikeja, which dismissed the petition filed by Mr. Jimi Agbaje, candidate of the PDP challenging the victory of Mr. Ambode of the All Progressives Congress, APC. The three-man tribunal led by Justice Muhammad Sirajo, upheld the preliminary objection raised by Chief Wole Olanipekun, that the petition was incompetent.
Reacting to the ruling, governor Ambode described the confirmation of his victory at the polls as a reaffirmation of the mandate given to him by the people of the state. In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Habib Aruna, and made available to newsmen said, “I am elated at the ruling of the tribunal which is an affirmation of my victory at the polls.
“On April 11, 2015, the people of Lagos spoke with their votes about continuity and that is what the tribunal has just reaffirmed. The task ahead requires concerted efforts from everyone.” Ambode urged all his opponents to put the election struggles behind them and in the spirit of sportsmanship, join hands with him to take the state to the next level. “It was needless in the first place for the PDP to have petitioned my election which was adjudged to be free, fair and credible. Now that the right thing has been done, which of course the people expected, we should all come together above partisanship and move the state recommenforward,” Ambode said.
Meanwhile, the PDP has said it would appeal the ruling of the tribunal. The Party condemned the decision of the Tribunal, describing it as ‘manifestly a miscarriage of justice’ and a monumental draw back in the dispensation of justice. It also said it would report the miscarriage of Justice by the Election Petition Panel to the National Judicial Council (NLC) for necessary disciplinary actions. The PDP had recently raised its hope in winning the Petition based on the recent judgment of an Edo Election Petition tribunal, which declared a PDP candidate as winner of the election because the APC did not meet up with the provisions of the electoral act on notice of conduct of party primary. The party said, “We are very jolted and embarrassed that our Petition can die prematurely without it being heard on the merit.
We think there is a miscarriage of justice here. We are interested in the motive and motivators. “The Panel held that it had jurisdiction to hear our appeal; that our grounds are also competent. It however held that the petition had no life because it didn’t include a relief for re-election! This is supposed to be determined during the proper trial. In any case, we put as relief a declaration that we are returned as validly elected. The Panel cannot dictate to us what relief to demand. “Why should the Panel even expect a relief for re-rerun instead of declaration as winner?” The PDP said in a statement released after the ruling. The party claimed that the APC’ candidate and the winner of the governorship election, Mr. Ambode, must have influenced the step, claiming that the Governor was not qualified to be a valid candidate for the elections.
“They rob us at the ballots, they want to do same at the tribunal. We will pursue this mandate even with the last drop of our blood,” the party insisted. Meanwhile, the party has encouraged its members and residents in Lagos State not to be demoralised by the ruling, as it was certainty it would be upturned on appeal. Agbaje, who had congratulated Ambode on his victory, filed the petition on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The petitioners in the case are Agbaje and the PDP while the respondents are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Ambode, the APC and the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Lagos State, Akin Orebiyi.
According to available documents, Agbaje contested Ambode’s victory on three grounds: 1, INEC’s non-compliance with Section 7 of its own 2015 Election Guidelines which provides for the use of card readers in all polling units. He therefore sought the cancellation of the results of all polling units where card readers were not used. 2, APC’s non-compliance with Section 85 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), which stipulates that a party must give INEC 21 days notice of the convention where it intends to choose its governorship candidate. APC’s letter notifying INEC of the convention where Ambode was elected was submitted on November 18, 2014 while he was chosen as the party’s candidate on December 4, 2014, 5 days short of the official requirement. 3, Ambode’s allegedly conflicting claims of his state of origin.
Agbaje alleged that the APC candidate stated in his JAMB form (REG No: 646789) that he’s from Ilaje Local Government Area in Ondo State while in his governorship form, he claims, under oath, to be from Epe in Lagos State. Ambode won the gubernatorial election in Lagos with 811,994 votes to defeat Agbaje who polled 659,788 votes. Agbaje reportedly placed a phone call to his opponent at 6.58pm on Sunday, April 12, before the official results were announced, to congratulate him on his victory.
The UNION reliably gathered that Agbaje was hesitant to challenge Ambode’s victory but was pressured into it by members of his party. “He already accepted the result but they (PDP) convinced him to challenge it,” a source volunteered. Former PDP Lagos governorship aspirant, Musiliu Obanikoro had earlier questioned Ambode’s victory saying: “That I congratulated Ambode should not be mistaken for the idea that the gubernatorial election in Lagos was free and fair. I congratulated Ambode based on the larger interest of Lagos State.”
The result of the election in the state apparently broke the truce brokered by the national leadership of the party as stakeholders and members of the party continued to trade blames and accusations over the removal of the state chairman of the party, Capt. Tunji Shelle. It would be recalled that the party was engulfed by leadership crisis as a group moved to remove Shelle, a move many believe was targeted at the former minister of foreign Affairs and governorship aspirant in the last election, Senator Obanikoro.
The group loyal to the former deputy vice-chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, perceived that the former Nigeria’s envoy to Ghana has the intention of hijacking the party completely from the pioneer members in the state. They suggested that he plans to reorganize the party to achieve his personal interest and for him to use the platform to run in 2019.
It is a fact that the state executive committee of the party, which examined the recommenforward dations of the disciplinary committee setup to investigate the allegation of financial misappropriation leveled against Shelle, comprised loyalists of Obanikoro who are aggrieved by the outcome of the party’s governorship primary election last year.
At the last primaries election, Obanikoro depended on the committee to mobilise the grassroots and delegates for the PDP primaries, while Agbaje solely depended on the machinery of Chief George and the state executive council to grab the ticket during the primaries. The state executive committee controls the party at the grassroots level, while the executive council manages the party at the state level. The crisis in the party is a battle of who controls the party ahead of 2019 general election and who gets what after the repositioning of the party.
Only recently a group under the umbrella of “Concerned PDP Elders and Stakeholders” led by Mr. Lanre Hassan, seen by supporters of Obanikoro as George’s agent in the party responded to the crisis in the party. In a press statement issued by the group’s National Coordinator, Mr. Hassan, the party elders fingered Obanikoro in the plot that led to the removal of Shelle, adding that Obanikoro wanted to hijack the party from the founding leaders of the party in the state. The group stated further that the Acting Chairman of the party, Alhaji Kamaldeen Olorunoje, should stop using thugs and the police in harassing the embattled Chairman whenever he goes to the party secretariat.
The group however, asked the national leadership of the party to suspend Obanikoro and the newly appointed acting Chairman of the party, Mr. Olorunoje. They accused both Obanikoro and Olorunoje of engaging in anti- party activities, capable of distracting the party at the Lagos state election Petitions Tribunal. The party’s elders and stakeholders accused Olorunoje of forcing Shelle out of the party’s secretariat, reiterating that Shelle remains the party chairman, despite his removal by the executive committee.
They added that it was only after the party congress that Shelle could be removed, adding that Olorunoje was occupying the position illegally and that it was an act of brigandage, which would not be tolerated by the group. The group further stressed that Obanikoro should forget about using the platform to contest governorship election in 2019, pointing out that the party would present a good candidate if the 2015 governorship candidate, Agbaje, decides not to contest. The group said, “We want to tell Obanikoro not to think of using the PDP to contest 2019 governorship election because the party would field another sellable personality if the governorship candidate, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, decides not contest anymore. “The policemen should as well not intervene into this matter because this is purely a political matter and it is an issue which the party’s constitution is clear on.”
While reacting to the call for the suspension of Obanikoro, a member of the state executive committee, Prince Ayodele Adelaja, stated that the group had no right or power to call for the suspension of Obanikoro, adding that the call for the suspension according to the party’s constitution was in the hands of the ward members. Adelaja further said that the coordinator of the group was never a resident or ward member of Obanikoro’s ward, adding that his action was illegal and contrary to the stand of the party.
His words, “It is the ward that has the right to call for suspension not a group. The call for suspension of Obanikoro by Lanre Hassan’s group is illegal and cannot hold in any form. “Shelle was legitimately and legally removed by the executive committee. You can cross check with our party’s constitution and see the provisions concerning removal of party Chairman. It is clearly stated. “Lanre Hassan is from Kosofe Local government and Senator Obanikoro is from Eti- Osa Local government, where in the party constitution that provides for somebody in one local government to call for suspension of a person in another local government. The call is laughable.” Speaking on whether the crisis in the party would affect the party at the Tribunal, Adelaja stressed that the Tribunal is a legal body that is focused on handling election matters totally different from what is happening in the party. With the ruling on Wednesday, it is believed that the PDP may have to accept its fate.