By Bamidele Marcus
The fight within the Ogun state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is a fight between light and darkness. It is a fight between the truth and lies. It is a struggle between legality and illegality. It is about playing by the rules and allowing a reign of arbitrariness. It is a fight between democratic and undemocratic forces. On the one hand is Otunba Jimi Adebisi Lawal (JAL) and on the other side is Hon. Ladi Adebutu.
When Otunba Jimi Lawal joined the Party in February 2022 not many people gave him a chance. They wondered if he was not embarking on a political suicide mission, considering the fact that Hon. Adebutu was seemingly in firm control of the party structures from the Ward to the State level.
Unfazed, Otunba Jimi Lawal went about his activities within the party, engaging all the stakeholders and selling his policies and programmes to them.
While Hon. Adebutu focused on getting the National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu to his side, Otunba Lawal went to the grassroots, engaging the party officials at the Local Government Area and ward levels.
Then came the April 30th, 2022 when the three-man Ad-hoc Ward Congress was held.
Being the literal new kid on the block, Otunba Jimi Lawal knew he had to go the extra mile and work himself to the bones to make an appreciable impact. He went all out while his opponent relished in the thought that he had Senator Ayu, the State Exco and the five pillars at the Ward and LGA levels in his kitty.
Unknown to him, there was a big relationship and communication gap between him and majority of the party stakeholders at the grassroots which Otunba Jimi Lawal capitalized on.
By the time Hon. Adebutu realized it, the Ward Congress was here. Thus, he decided to work in cahoots with Abuja, thinking that whatever Ayu and the five-man panel from Abuja did would be it. They forgot that the five-man panel cannot possibly be in all the 236 wards and would rely on the party structures at the Ward and Local Government levels.
Worse still, Hon. Adebutu was only able to get the Chairman and Secretary of the panel to do his bidding. Two others refused to be part of the manipulation and filed in report to that effect. The fifth member of the panel abstained from aligning with either side.
What is more, just as the National Chairman and the National Organizing Secretary would communicate the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about field activities and events of the party, the State Chairman, Hon. Sikirulai Ogundele and the State Organizing Secretary, Mr. Kayode Ogunyemi had in a letter dated 28th April, 2022, notified INEC of the ward congress and informed it to liaise with the party local government chairmen. Their names and phone numbers were also listed.
While Otunba Jimi Lawal provided logistics and mobilized party members to the field in all the 236 Wards and 20 Local Government Areas, Hon. Adebutu and his cohorts, who are the State Exco, led by Sunday Solarin had perfected plans to write delegates list at the Adebutus’ hotel, Park Inn and hand them over to the panel for onward transmission to Abuja.
They forgot that things have changed with the Electoral Act, 2022. Specifically, Section 84 (8) makes it mandatory for delegates to be democratically elected. That is where the electoral umpire – INEC – comes in.
Yes, congresses and primaries are internal affairs of the party but they are governed by the 1999 Constitution, Electoral Act 2022, the Party’s own Constitution and 2022 Guidelines for Congresses and Primaries. Once there is breach of any of the statutes and guidelines, those whose legal rights have been breached can seek redress in court.
This was the situation that led to suits filed by aggrieved aspirants and delegates who were either shortchanged or disenfranchised from exercising their rights to vote and be voted for.
While the controversy raged over alleged attempts to manipulate the results of the Ward Congress, the Otunba Jimi Lawal team deemed it fit to apply to INEC Headquarters in Abuja for the Certified True Copy of the results and report of the Commission on the Ward Congress. Whilst the INEC-certified results and report show the raw data of how the delegates were elected in all the 236 wards in the state, what was tendered in court by Hon. Adebutu and the PDP is merely tagged “Summary of Result of Three-man Ad-hoc Delegates Congress”. The questions are: how did they come about the summary? From where was the “summary” drawn from?
Reading through the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abeokuta, it was clear that between the two documents tendered by both camps, the court was right to have placed probative value on the results and report certified by INEC which is more or less like Form EC8A that is issued to party agents and other stakeholders at polling units on the spot at the end of voting.
It is beyond peradventure that any certified document is a public and legal document that cannot be wished away or displaced by the sophistry or whims and caprices of anyone, no matter how powerful!
It is on record that PDP conducted its three (3)-man Ad-hoc Ward Congress on April 30th, 2022.
The congress was monitored and its results were signed by INEC and security officials on ground in all the 236 wards. The Police, State Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (SIIB), the Department of State Security (DSS) and Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) – all have copies of the results by virtue of their attendance and endorsements of the outcome of the ward congress as witnesses.
It was the copies with the INEC officials that the Electoral Officers (EOs) collated and transmitted to the State Headquarters and from there to the National Headquarters of INEC in Abuja. When the controversy and claims and counterclaims raged between both camps, Otunba Jimi Lawal applied to the commission – as the umpire – who monitored the congress – for the Certified True Copy of the results and report on the Ward Congress to know if it is in tandem with what he had or not.
This is a document any individual or stakeholder can easily get once you pay the required administrative fees. That was what Otunba Jimi Lawal did via his lawyer and he was obliged on May 18, 2022.There is evidence that Hon. Adebutu Ladi Adebutu also demanded for the same thing through his lawyer, Mr. Muyiwa Obanewa.
But, in doing so, they specifically asked INEC for the Certified True Copy of the report and “Summary of Results…” that they submitted to the Commission on the 27th of May, 2022, almost a month after the Ward Congress and two days after the rancour generated by delegates’ list that was used for the governorship election held on the 25th of May, 2022.
The questions that discerning members of the public are asking are: if two contending groups are laying claims to two set of documents and claiming to be right in an election situation – whether intra-party or inter-party – is it not logical to call in the umpire? Is it not plausible to uphold the outcome that the electoral commission lends its weight towards of the two contending groups and claims, as having been held in compliance with the extant laws? If it is true that the National Working Committee of a political party can abandon its own rules and regulations, compile names without regards for democratic ethos and practices, why invite INEC to monitor party congresses and primaries?
The trial courts have made pronouncements to the effect that the weight of evidence and justice tilts towards the aggrieved aspirants and duly elected delegates’ certified by the electoral commission but who were sadly disenfranchised. Now, the matters are before the appellate courts. We all are waiting with bathed breathe to see what they will say. Indeed, our democracy and justice system are on trial. Our fingers are crossed!
° Marcus writes from Ijebu North-East Local Government Area of Ogun state