BY: A Political Analyst, Calabar
Sen. John Owan Enoh, one of the All Progressives Congress, APC governorship aspirants in Cross River State in the May 26th primaries has petitioned the governorship Appeal Panel over the emergence of Sen. Prince Bassey Otu as governorship candidate of the party in the 2023 election.
Owan Enoh who came second with 84 votes is asking the panel to declare him winner and void the 811 votes secured by Sen. Otu for allegedly not being cleared to run the primaries. This is inspite of the fact that Enoh himself had announced his withdrawal from the race days before the primaries.
His argument on non-clearance of the party’s candidate stemmed from an initial report from the governorship appeal panel that declared Otu’s screening inconclusive owing to his inability at the time to present originals of his first school leaving (FSLC) and West Africa Examination Council’s Certificates (WAEC).
In the petition, Enoh interpreted the report that declared Otu’s screening inconclusive as disqualified. But, to put things in perspective, there was never a time that the APC’S candidate was disqualified from the race. The decision of the screening and appeal panel was that he wasn’t cleared and his screening was “inclusive”.
The word inconclusive as used in the sentence simply means that no conclusive decision had been reached on the issue or that the subject was yet to be put to an end. In other words, it means that the “not cleared” as contained in the report was not a final decision as his screening was still open for a final decision to be taken.
Now, did the panel reconvene after the inclusive report to conclude the inconclusive screening exercise of Sen. Otu? Did the panel refer the matter to the NWC for final decision?
Even though answers to these questions are not readily available, it’s simple logic that if the list of cleared aspirants handed over to the party’s governorship primaries panel with a backup letter by the National Organizing Secretary (which Enoh questioned in his petition) confirmed the clearance of Sen. Otu to participate in the primaries, it means that one or all of the above may have happened.
But assuming but not conceding that the panel did an inclusive job, the next issue will be whether the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party has the right to adjudicate over the matter. The answer to this is yes and there are instances.
In 2017, during the Osun West Senatorial District bye-election, the APC Screening and Appeal Committees disqualified Sen. Mudashiru Hussain from participating in the party’s primaries for not resigning his appointment, 30 days before picking form for the election. The Chief John-Odiege Oyegu’s led NWC convened an emergency meeting and upturned the decisions of the panels. Hussain went ahead to contest and won the APC ticket and contested the main election as APC candidate.
Similarly, the National Working Committee of the PDP recently upturned the disqualification of some governorship aspirants in Akwa Ibom State. Some of those whose disqualification were upturned and cleared to participate in the party’s primaries include, Ephraim Inyangeyen, Emmanuel Ukpong Udo, David Lawrence and Akpadiaha Ebitu.
Screening of aspirants by a political party is a process not an end itself. This follows that, the ad-hoc screening/appeal panel is not the Supreme Court of political parties. The final decision on any party matter rest on the NWC/NEC and the decision of ad-hoc committee that’s subject to the ratification of NWC is not sacrosanct.
There are even instances where NWC of political parties canceled primaries even when primary appeal panel did not recommend so. It has happened in Edo, Lagos, Ebonyi, Zamfara, etc.
Currently, the APC NWC has been empowerred to also exercise the powers of the NEC. So, as the highest decision making body of the party, it has the power to review, accept or reject any decision or report from any committee, standing or ad-hoc.
Even if the panel had taken a conclusive decision to disqualify Sen. Otu as imagined by Sen. Enoh, it’s still within the powers of the NWC to accept such decision or not. The bulk stops at the NWC table.
Similarly, on the claim by Sen. Enoh that the candidacy of Sen. Otu is risky to the party as the opposition may capitalize on his imaginary disqualification to sack him through the court if retained as candidate, the law on non interference of political parties on other parties internal issues don’t allow this.
Clearance and non-clearance of an aspirant as in this context is strictly an internal party affair that opposition cannot adjudicate upon. The only time the opposition can is when the candidate does not meet the qualification criteria as defined by the electoral act and in this instance, this is not the case Enoh has taken to the panel.
Otu has since provided the documents that prompted the declaration of his screening inclusive which Enoh has not disapproved nor denied. What then would have been the basis for the claimed disqualification?
Except there are other underlining issues that were not captured in the petition, questioning the party for completing an inconclusive exercise either through the panel or NWC simply because it goes against personal interest is no issue. If Otu was not cleared over issues bordering on certificates he has, he would had a good case and chance to nullify the primaries on the basis of exemption.
Ostensibly, the petition before the governorship appeal panel is not against Sen. Otu by any stretch of imagination but the party. Otu did not clear himself, the party did. Therefore, it’s the party that needs to prove to Enoh that the candidate was cleared and it’s believed that, it’ll act accordingly.