By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja has again affirmed the sanctity of the process that led to the election of Stella Odauh, Andy Uba, Mrs. Margery Okadigbo, Chris Azubogu and other members of the National Assembly from Anambra State.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola while delivering a judgment in a suit instituted by Senator Annie Okonkwo and others who claimed they should be the ones representing Anambra at the National Assembly, the court held that only the National Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party could validly nominate candidates for an election.
The judge dismissed the originating summons filed by Okonkwo and his cohorts.
The judge consequently held that since Ubah, Oduah, Okadigbo and others were nominated by the PDP’s NEC, their nominations remained valid.
Conversely, the judge ruled that Annie Okonkwo and 43 others nominated by the PDP’s state exco in Anambra were not validly nominated and they could therefore not lay claim to the election.
To support his position, the judge cited the Supreme Court’s judgement in the same matter which was delivered earlier this year.
Okonkwo had dragged the Independent National Electoral Commission before the court. However, 20 others including the PDP, Ubah, Oduah, Okadigbo, Azubogu and others whose interest would be affected by the case applied to be joined and were dully made parties to the suit.
Justice Ademola dismissed the suit saying it was an abuse of the processes of the court.
In the judgment that lasted for about an hour, Justice Ademola held that the plaintiffs’ claim that they were the rightfully nominated candidates of the PDP in the National and State House of Assembly election in the March and the April 11, 2016 could not stand in the face of the law because they were unlawfully nominated by the state executive of the party.
The court held that it had been established by the Supreme Court that the power to conduct primary election, nomination of candidates and submission of list of candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was vested on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of political parties.
The judge said, in the instant case the plaintiffs, having emerged from a primary election conducted by the state executive of the PDP, submitted themselves to an act of illegality and as such could not seek legal backing for such a nomination.
The trial judge referred to the Supreme Court judgment of 29th January 2016 and the ruling of the apex court delivered on February 24, 2016 where the issue of the powers of the PDP NEC and the state executive committee was ventilated to the effect that the state organ of the party had no power under the constitution of the party and the Electoral Act to nominate candidates for the purpose of general election.
Justice Ademola said since the Supreme Court had made the clarification via an order, such order must be obeyed by all persons and statutory bodies.
He said: “It is settled law that the state executive committee organ of a political party lacks power to nominate candidates for an election. It is only the primary election conducted by the national executive committee of a party that is valid to be submitted to INEC for the purpose of an election and no other arm.
“The plaintiffs’ claims to the effect that they were the validly nominated candidates of the PDP for the 2015 general elections cannot stand in the face of the law, because the Anambra State PDP exco has no legal right or legitimacy to conduct primary elections to nominate candidates.
“In the instant case, it appears that members of the state exco do not know their limit with their flagrant abuse of power and usurpation of the functions of the national executive committee of the party.
“Political parties should educate their state executive committees on the limit of their powers so as to stop them from embarking on acts of illegality and nullity.”
He added that the claim of the plaintiffs that their names had been published by INEC before the national executive committee of PDP submitted the names of the serving lawmakers to the electoral umpire had no legal consequences, because they failed to show the legality of their candidate by their nomination forms.
According to the judge, mere publication of names does not in itself make the person whose name is published the candidate in an election.
Senator Okwonkwo, Chris Ubah and 42 others had asked the court to declare that their names having been published by the electoral body as candidates of PDP and could not be removed without a court order.
They also prayed the court for an order of mandatory injunction directing INEC to restore their names as candidates sponsored by PDP for the 2015 general elections.
The plaintiffs also applied for an order of injunction restraining INEC from accepting or publishing any other name as the sponsored candidates of the PDP in their place without any order of court.
INEC and PDP had, in their objection to the Originating Summons of the plaintiffs asked the court to dismiss the suit.
Okonkwo and his colleagues were challenging the validity of primary election conducted by the PDP, which produced Senators Andy Ubah, Stella Oduah, and others, as candidates for the 2015 National Assembly elections.
Both INEC and PDP claimed that the suit by Okonkwo and 43 others was a gross abuse of court process on the ground that the issues raised by the plaintiffs had already been resolved by the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs also applied for an order of the court restraining INEC from accepting the nomination of Ubah and his colleagues in the national and state assemblies on the ground that they were not nominated by the state executive committee of the PDP led by Mr. Ejike Oguebego.
The Plaintiffs claimed that since Oguebego-led Anambra State PDP committee conducted the primary election, nominated them and their names published by INEC, it was wrong in law for their names to be withdrawn from INEC’s list.
They also demanded in their suit that the purported removal of their names from the INEC list violated provisions of the law and should be set aside while their names were restored.
While adopting final addresses, INEC claimed that the case of Okonkwo and other Plaintiffs had been overtaken by a Supreme Court judgment delivered on January 29, 2016 by Justice John Iyang-Okoro.
INEC’s Counsel, Dr. Onyeachi Ikpeazu (SAN) while adopting the final address of the electoral body, held that the case of the plaintiffs constituted a gross abuse of court process since the issue in contention had already been resolved by the Supreme Court.
INEC claimed that in that Supreme Court judgment, Justice Okoro made it clear that the power to conduct a primary election for the nomination of candidates for national assembly elections was vested in the national executive committee of a political party and not in the state executive of any party.
Also in its final argument, Counsel to PDP, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) asked the court to dismiss the suit on the ground that the right organ of the Party vested with power, conducted the primary election that produced the nomination of the national lawmakers from the State for the 2015 election.
PDP also submitted that the purported claim of the plaintiffs as the right candidates to be in the National Assembly cannot stand in law because the purported primary election conducted by the Oguebego-led state executive committee was not known to any law.
Counsel for Senators Andy Uba, Stella Oduah and other defendants in the suit, unanimously adopted the position of INEC and PDP and urged the Judge to dismiss the suit.