As Court Removes Odey as Cross River North Senator, Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe to be sworn-in as Senator once the Senate resumes plenary on September 14.
Penultimate week, the legal battle over the Cross River North senatorial seat was put to rest as the Appeal Court sacked Senator Stephen Odey and declared Agom Jarigbe as the senator-elect. Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu examine the legal tussle between the two seasoned legislators
The death of Senator Rose Oko (PDP, Cross River North), in March, 2020, led to months of legal battle among politicians in the senatorial district who wanted to replace her. Constitutionally, her demise necessitated a by-election to produce her replacement for the senatorial seat, which became vacant.
However, for almost a year, the process was enmeshed in controversy.
How the Legal Tussle Began
In March last year, there was serious disagreement over the list of delegates arising from the Ward and Chapter congresses held on March 7 and 21, which were meant for the September 5, 2020 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary elections.
The PDP National Working Committee (NWC) confirmed the list, which was endorsed by the National Organising Secretary of the party, Col. Austin Akobundu (rtd) on April 26, 2020.
The Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State presided over by Justice I. M. Sani, had also affirmed the list and barred the NWC of the PDP from altering the March 7 and 21, 2020 Ward and chapter executives’ congresses that produced the April 26 list for the PDP Cross River North senatorial primary elections scheduled for September 5, 2020. One of the candidates for the primary election, Hon. Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe, was disqualified from contesting by a divided PDP committee set up to screen aspirants, leaving Stephen Odey and two others in the race.
But the counsel to Jarigbe, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) went to court, challenging the disqualification, and asking that it be set aside. Justice Sani ruled in favour of Jarigbe and held that the 1st defendant (PDP) and 2nd defendant, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have no right to alter or modify the list of elected officials that was a product of the process that took place on the 7 and 21, and that the list should be used for the September 5 senatorial primary election.
Eventually when the primary election took place, both Jarigbe and Odey held parallel primaries. In the December 5 main election, the party went into the election with two candidates as the Federal High Courts in Calabar and Abuja declared Odey and Jarigbe as the candidates of the party, respectively.
PDP won the election and INEC, on the next day, declared Stephen Odey as the winner of the by-election having polled 129,207 votes to defeat the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Joe Agi who scored 19,165 votes.
Jarigbe immediately headed to court, praying the court for an order of interim injunction restraining INEC from issuing a certificate of return or swearing-in by way of admittance of Stephen Odey or any other person in his stead as the senator, representing the Cross River State North senatorial district, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive motion on notice.
Odey was however sworn in in December 2020 by the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, despite the legal tussles. Few days later, Jarigbe got a judgment in his favour from the Appeal Court. The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal had in its judgment declared him as the duly nominated candidate of the PDP and the rightful winner of the election against Odey, who was declared by INEC and sworn in by the Senate.
The court also ordered the electoral umpire to immediately issue a Certificate of Return to Jarigbe and withdraw the one earlier issued to Odey. INEC immediately complied with the court ruling and issued a fresh certificate of return to Jarigbe, as the winner and duly elected candidate of the PDP to represent the district in the Senate. The certificate of return was handed over to Jarigbe by the INEC’s Director of Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the appellate court, Odey approached the Supreme Court, which ruled against him.
In the split decision on February 25, the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by Odey challenging the judgment of the Court of Appeal.
Several months after the Supreme Court ruling, Jarigbe was not sworn-in by the Senate President. Jarigbe had however expressed optimism that he would be sworn in by Lawan.
He had argued that if he was not sworn in immediately because of certain bureaucratic protocols that had to be followed, the man who was attending the plenary illegally, should be stopped from desecrating the parliament.
But Odey insisted that the judgment of the Supreme Court was being misinterpreted, adding that the judgment did not declare his seat vacant.
He said: “The Supreme Court struck out my appeal. I walked away. The order is clear. Did you see where they said ‘sack Senator Odey’ here? Did you see where they said they invalidated his certificate here? He (Jarigbe), even wrote a letter to the Clerk, saying the Supreme Court judgment is in his favour, how?”
The Senator averred that Jarigbe was only playing to the gallery as all the issues had been resolved.
Odey’s Short-lived Membership of Senate
While all these were ongoing, there was the Cross River State Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Calabar over the tussle. The tribunal in its judgment on June 18, 2021 invalidated the election of Odey as the authentic candidate of the PDP.
However, the legal fireworks took another dimension on July 30, when the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar declared Jarigbe as the Senator-elect.
In a judgment, the three-man Appeal Tribunal headed by Hon. Justice Chioma I. Nwosu, held that Jarigbe was the lawful candidate of the PDP for the December 5, 2020 by-election, and not Odey.
Consequently, the court invalidated the Certificate of Return earlier issued to Odey by INEC.
Delivering judgment in consolidated Suit No CAL/C/NAEA/SEN/167/2021, the Appeal Court said the election tribunal, erred in law by ignoring earlier judgments by superior courts that recognised and declared Jarigbe as candidate of the PDP and winner of the by-election. In ordering INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Jarigbe, the Appeal Court said: “Two certificates of return cannot exist in the eye of the law. The judgment of the election tribunal is hereby set aside.”
Reacting to the judgment, Jarigbe’s counsel, Emmanuel Ukala (SAN), who was represented by Mr. Joe Oloko, said the judgment was a welcome development for deepening the roots of democracy in the country, especially as it related to intra-party democracy.
Also reacting to the judgment, in a statement issued by his media team, Odey described the Appeal Court verdict “as a clear rape on justice and on our nascent democracy, yet we are strong and remain strong going forward.
“For the judges to depend on an earlier judgment between John Alaga vs Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe who never contested for the Cross River North Senatorial District By-election is a gross and brazen display of injustice; a broad daylight robbery! I appreciate all your dedication and commitment throughout this trying period. Count on my continued love for you all always. Be rest assured that we shall continue to work together as a team and win bigger.”
Legislative Interventions by the Duo
Despite the legal tussle, both Jarigbe and Odey carried out their legislative duties in both chambers. While Hon. Jarigbe has served the National Assembly for six years, (four years as member of the green chamber in the 8th House and two years in the current 9th House), Senator Odey on his part served as a Senator for seven months.
Jarigbe in the previous and current Assembly sponsored various bills, including the Bill for the establishment of a Federal Medical Centre Ogoja, which is awaiting presidential assent. Also in the Eighth House, he chaired an ad hoc committee that investigated revenue leakages in the oil and gas sector from January 2016 to January 2017.
On his part, Odey in his seven months stay in the Red Chamber sponsored three bills, two of which had passed second reading waiting for concurrence and assent while one passed first reading.
Odey in his brief stay at the Senate also facilitated N30,000 survival fund for 384 members of his constituency and moved motions for urgent government intervention of three Federal roads in Cross River North senatorial district. The roads are Okuku- Echumoga-Alifokpa-Yache- Benue community border road, Yahe- Ebo- Wanakom- Wanikade-Wanihem- Benue community border road and Imaje-Abuochiche- Akpakpa-Gakem road.
With this latest ruling by the Appeal Court which is the last court in pre-election matters, Jarigbe is expected to be sworn-in as Senator once the Senate resumes plenary on September 14.