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Lone ranger: APC withdraws petition as Tonye Cole fights on

The leadership crisis rocking the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) took a dramatic dimension on Monday when the party said it had withdrawn its petition challenging the outcome of the March 18 governorship election at the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.

The party’s governorship candidate, Pastor Tonye Cole, is challenging the outcome of the election, which many believe was marred with violence and irregularities.

In a surprise move on Monday, the state chapter of the party said it had  withdrawn  its petition against the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP)  and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the March 18, 2023 governorship election.

With the withdrawal of the APC, Cole remains the only petitioner against the INEC, PDP and its candidate, Fubara Siminalayi.

When the matter commenced, counsel for the APC, Solomon Umoh, told the tribunal that he would be taking over as counsel for the party following a motion for change of counsel before the tribunal. He also informed the court that his clients would like their names to be struck out from the petition as applicants.

In his position, Jibrin Okutepa, who was the former counsel for Cole and the APC, told the tribunal that he was not briefed on the new development by the party.

However, in their decision on the application, the three-man panel led by Justice Cletus Emifoniye, granted the application for change of counsel and granted the motion as prayed by striking out the APC as a petitioner.

The APC’s withdrawal was brought pursuant to order 9 rule 15 of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019.

One of the grounds for the application, amongst others, is that “there is the need to seek the leave of this tribunal to strike out the name of the second petitioner/applicant, as the applicant has no intention to participate in this petition.”

Our petition is alive and well – Cole

Worried by the withdrawal of the petition, the spokesman of the Tonye Cole Campaign Organisation, Sogbeye Eli, said the stories making the rounds about the withdrawal were false.

Eli noted in a statement that Cole, as the first petitioner on record, was still before the court, adding that the second petitioner on record withdrew the petition through Solomon Umoh.

“The withdrawal of the second petitioner yesterday follows the objection by the local chapter of the party to being led at the tribunal by Henry A. Bello.

“The facts forming the grounds for the aforementioned objection border on trust and are not unconnected with the concomitant effect of the decision of the High Court of Rivers State in the case of Ibrahim Umah and Ors versus the APC in 2018 on the party’s fortunes at the 2019 general elections.

“It is an error of judgement, therefore, for Sahara Reporters or any other medium to present yesterday’s development with such slant that misleads the public to the conclusion that the petition challenging the declaration by the INEC of the winner of the Rivers 2023 governorship election has been withdrawn. For emphasis sake, the party’s right to withdraw does not sound a death knell to the petition by Tonye Cole, who is now the sole petitioner.

“Regardless of the development, a diligent reading of section 133 of the Electoral Act, 2022, in conjunction with sections 29 and 33 to the First Schedule thereto clarifies the status of Tonye Cole’s petition challenging the declaration of Siminalayi Fubara of the PDP as governor-elect.”

He called on the general public and Rivers people to disregard the withdrawal story, adding, “We are still before the tribunal.”

The leadership crisis rocking the party has continued, just as different factions have continued to lay claims over who calls the shot at the party.

The leadership of the party was polarised between a group led by Chief Tony Okocha, the South South coordinator of the Bola Almed Tinubu Vanguard and the former Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi prior to the February 25 presidential and March 18, 2023 governorship elections.

But the crisis festered shortly after the result of the presidential election was released, with Chief Tony Okocha’s claim that he had emerged the leader of the party in the state.

Okocha had accused Amaechi of anti party activities over his alleged support for Atiku Abubarkar, an accusation the former transportation minister denied.

Some notable members of the party had also accused the former minister, who is the leader of the party in the state, of anti party activities.

As the leadership crisis festered, the State Executive Committee of the party   suspended the party’s chairman, Chief Emeka Bekee and the legal adviser, Iheanyichukwu Azubuike, over alleged anti-party activities and financial misconduct.

Chike Eyindah, a member of the State Executive Committee, who led other members of party, told journalists that the activities of Chief Bekee and the former minister  had adversely affected the party in the last couple of years, culminating in what it described as  dismal outing in the just concluded general elections in the state.

He further alleged that Amaechi, the party chairman, Emeka Bekee and Iheanyichukwu Azubuike, the state legal adviser of the party, had since 2021 held Rivers APC on its kneels.

“These leaders have been responsible for the mass exodus of members of the party, as well as the failures experienced by the party in the just concluded general elections in the state.

“To demonstrate this, Amaechi, who contested and lost the presidential primary to now President Bola Tinubu, in active connivance with the state chairman and the legal adviser, a week to the presidential election, called the leadership of the party to a meeting and directed all APC members in the state to work for the PDP in the general elections.

“It is on record that Chibuike Amaechi, Chief Emeka Bekee and the legal adviser voted for Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the PDP in the election,” Eyindah was quoted as saying.

He further alleged that Amaechi’s earlier instruction backfired on the APC during the March 18 governorship election as no contrary instruction was given to the party’s supporters in the various local government areas to counter the earlier instruction.

“This accounted for the party’s loss on the March governorship and state assembly elections.

“Instead of being remorseful for what he did to the party, Chibuike Amaechi decided to hinge the blame on Tinubu, claiming that he singlehandedly appointed the INEC chairman Yakubu Mahmood.

“As party faithful, we consider this statement by Amaechi as an affront to our president and the highest level of anti-party activity,” Enyinda said.

A pressure group in the APC, the Upper Echelon, had earlier called on the national leadership of the party to dissolve the Rivers State chapter, saying it had disassociated itself from Amaechi’s leadership of the party in the state.

The leader of the group, Lucky Ottos, said they were satisfied with the outcome of both presidential and governorship elections in the state.

He called on INEC to remain neutral and allow both the PDP and APC access to jointly inspect the governorship election results materials.

“We believe in equity, fairness and justice. We cannot allow some retired politicians to rubbish our reputable image and drag us into unnecessary chaos while plunging our dear state into unrest. The outcome of the presidential, National Assembly and governorship elections in Rivers State was free, fair and credible; hence we are satisfied with it.

“As stakeholders of the APC, we call on security agencies within the state to be vigilant considering the recklessness of some retired politicians and invitation of those spearheading the unrest in our dear state, sequel to the crisis rocking it,” he said.

The media aide to the former minister of transportation, Chief Chukwuwemeka Eze, maintained that Amaechi remained the leader of the party in Rivers State.

He absolved the former minister of any wrongdoing, and called on the public to ignore those claiming the leadership of the party in the state.

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