The political complexion of passengers aboard the presidential jet, 5N-FGS, which landed at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos Sunday evening is stoking fresh concerns that the River State mission team, plotting the ouster of Governor Rotimi Amaechi, has moved into new drive.
At about 5:30 P.M. yesterday, the Presidential jet from Abuja taxied landed revealing well-known anti-Amaechi political juggernauts, comprising of former Governor of River State, Celestine Omehia; Minister for Education, Nyesom Wike; PDP Chairman Rivers State, Felix Obuah: and Abiye Sekibo.
Details of what appeared to be a Lagos visit for a meeting were unavailable but by 7:45 P.M, Sunday night, according to the sources, the meeting was held and the flight, with its passengers, was airborne again, heading towards Abuja.
Special Adviser to the President, Reuben Abati, wouldn't also comment for this story. He told our reporter Monday morning he was rushing to catch a flight but would investigate the allegation and revert as soon as he was able.
An adviser to the president, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the anti-Amaechi team could have hired the presidential jet.
"I'm aware there is a unit that does commercial operations so people can actually pay and use the presidential jet," he said. "So, if indeed they used a presidential jet, it does not necessarily mean that the president knows about it."
The meeting is coming two days after the Thursday, October 4, decision by the Supreme Court to hear the appeal, filed by the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, seeking to nullify a ruling of a Court of Appeal which gave Celestine Omehia, as the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate for the state, the right to challenge a judgment of the Federal High Court that held that Amaechi's tenure ended on May 29, 2011.
The opposition to Mr. Amaechi, unable to oust him so far on many fronts, appears to see providence in the legal understanding of the question of the governor's tenure.
Three years ago, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Cyprian Chukwu, asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to interpret the Supreme Court judgment that in 2007 removed Mr. Omehia from office and declared Mr. Amaechi as the governor.
Since Mr. Amaechi took the oath of office in October 2007 and not May 29, as other governors in the country, Mr. Chukwu wanted the court to determine whether, specifically, governorship election should be held in Rivers at the April general election date.
After Justice Abdul Kafarati ruled that the governorship elections in Rivers State would hold during the general election of April, Mr. Omehia, unhappy about it, and not even a party to the high court suit, applied to the Court of Appeal to join him to enable him appeal against the judgment.
"I am dissatisfied with the judgment of the lower court and wish to appeal against same as a person interested in the matter, and in the office of governor of Rivers State which forms the basis of my interest as well as a person interested in the interpretation of a judgment in which I was a principal party," Mr. Omehia said in his affidavit.
The Court of Appeal granted Mr. Omehia the right to appeal the high court judgment, and a dissatisfied Mr. Amaechi filed an appeal at the Supreme Court claiming that in granting Mr. Omehia's prayers, the court of appeal erred in law.
Legal analyst, Jiti Ogunye, said late Sunday in Lagos that the anti-Amaechi group was investing in a false hope adding, "in so far as they are looking to benefit from the strategy of tenure, the Supreme Court has resolved the matter in the case of Obi Vs. INEC where it was decided that it is when an elected person is sworn in that his tenure commences."
Mr. Ogunye said if the mission team that visited Lagos with the Presidential Jet thought they could expect something tangible, "on grounds of the politics of tenure, I am sorry for them because it is a failed strategy."
He said they were confusing two inter-related but nevertheless distinct cases. Obi Vs. INEC on the one hand, and Amaechi Vs. PDP on the other hand.
In the case of Obi Vs. INEC, Governor Obi challenged INEC's decision to peg his tenure to 10 months on the ground that then Governor Ngige who had spent 3 years and 2 months, before the electoral court ousted Ngige and installed him, Obi. The Supreme Court decision on this has become the classic authority on the contention on tenure.
However in the case of Amaechi Vs. PDP, Mr. Amaechi who had won the party primary was arbitrarily substituted for Mr. Omehia who then went ahead to win the election. But Mr. Amaechi challenged his substitution, and the Supreme Court decided by mandatory injunction to oust Mr. Omehia, who had been governor for about four months, and install Mr. Amaechi. The question then was whether Mr. Amaechi who was sworn in in October rather than May was completing Mr. Omehia's tenure.
Mr. Ogunye said "while the cases appeared to be similar, they really are not." The case before the court in Amaechi vs PDP was on the status of a flag bearer for the party, he said.
"The effort to rid Amaechi on this legal ground is unlikely to succeed because the Supreme Court would have had to reverse itself and that typically requires an exceptional circumstance," Mr. Ogunye said.
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