Former National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the party’s candidate for the Anambra Central Senatorial election, Chief Victor Umeh, in this interview with select journalists in Lagos, speaks on his recent victory at the Supreme Court, among other issues. Charles Ajunwa was there
What is the significance of this latest victory?
Well, you are all aware that Anambra Senatorial District remains the only senatorial district out of 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria which still does not have a senator at the National Assembly. It is very unfortunate because the people of this senatorial district have been denied representation at the National Assembly, including the opportunity to obtain deserved attention for the district in all matters which the National Assembly deliberates on. Our case ought not to have lingered up to this point, if not for the clear attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to do everything to manipulate the process and frustrate a rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal on the 7th of December 2015 from taking place, for the simple reason that PDP is out of the race for that senatorial seat, for the fact that the Court of Appeal, which is the final court vested with authority and jurisdiction to decide on all matters relating to National and State Assembly elections, had nullified the elections in that district and ordered fresh ones.
But PDP, instead of accepting their fate, their candidate having been disqualified by the decision of the Court of Appeal, decided to use frivolous actions to frustrate that rerun election from taking place according to law. But on the 10th of February 2017 the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment, affirmed that the decision of the Court of Appeal was final in all aspects over the dispute relating to that Anambra Senatorial rerun election. The candidate of the PDP in that election had to take adventure to the Supreme Court to get the judgment of the Court of Appeal set aside when the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to do such a thing.
That being the case, the order and the decisions arrived at by the Court of Appeal on the 7th of December remains final. No court below the Court of Appeal can do anything to frustrate that order. In other words, according to one of the Judges at the Supreme Court, the order made by the Court of Appeal on that matter remains final forever. It cannot be revisited by anybody.
PDP, having lost out completely in this matter, have resorted to filing frivolous actions at the High Court to frustrate an order made by the Court of Appeal and affirmed by the Supreme Court. And what they are trying to do now by their posturing in the press, is that they have several litigations standing in the High Court, which must be respected by INEC before conducting the elections. That’s against the process of law. A High Court cannot come to any decision that will be contrary to that handed by a superior court. In this instance, there are two superior courts – the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. So, anything PDP is doing at any High Court that will affect the decision of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court will be an affront.
So, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was a party to all the proceedings, both at the Tribunal, at the Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court, are very much aware that the matter has come to a final rest. The INEC has every authority under law to conduct that rerun election without the PDP. The Supreme Court had since 2009 delivered a judgment, in a case cited as Labour Party versus INEC, on the fate of any fresh or rerun elections that will be ordered by any court of law. Where an election is nullified, the rerun election that will be ordered by the court will now be between the parties and candidates that participated in the general elections that were nullified by the court. It does not admit any new candidate by way of withdrawal and substitution or by any means.
Is it possible that the former PDP candidate, who is now in APC, will run against you?
PDP clearly is standing the law on its head. They know the truth, but they are just postulating various theories to delay the elections. There is nothing like that. The general election took place on 28th March 2015. This outstanding election is an offshoot of that election that was nullified by the Court of Appeal. It is not a general election. The word ‘fresh’ has been clearly defined by the Supreme Court. In this 2009 judgment, whether it is called fresh or rerun election, they all mean the same thing. It is not a bye-election or a general election. It is an election ordered by the court pursuant to the nullification of a general election that has taken place. So PDP know this and INEC is not going to conduct a general election.
Why is INEC waiting on the decisions of the High Court?
PDP is saying that the 90 days, which the Court of Appeal set for the rerun election has elapsed. If 90 days has elapsed, if you follow the PDP logic, it means that the election should not take place again. INEC took steps to conduct the election within 90 days and INEC has rights and powers conferred on it by the Electoral Act and Commission to shift an election to another date, for any reason it can give.
PDP in Anambra State is being totally mischievous for the simple reason that all the fresh elections ordered by the Court of Appeal in December 2015, most of them took a year to be held. Like in Rivers State, all the fresh elections ordered by the Court of Appeal in December 2015 did not take place until 10 December 2016. That’s a difference of one year. But they have conducted those elections peacefully and those who won have assumed their positions. Kogi State also had rerun elections ordered. One was conducted in July 2016; the other one was on 19th March 2016. So when there is threat to an election, INEC can shift the date to a time that is convenient. So, it is a case of somebody who has lost out in a process and is now saying that thing should not take place again because they can no longer be part of it.
INEC had scheduled the election for 5th of March 2016, but the combination of factors three or four days to the elections, a very spurious court order was obtained by PDP trying to force PDP into an election the Court of Appeal had disqualified them from. PDP was all over the place, saying they were going to take part. So that was a threat to security. If they had proceeded within two days, PDP may disrupt the exercise, leading to mayhem and killing of people. Also, if the Supreme Court had agreed on 10th of February that their candidate should have been reinstated, if INEC had conducted the election, it would have been a waste of resources. But, clearly, the Supreme Court judgement paves the way for INEC to conduct the election.
Nobody in this country can stop an election scheduled by INEC. The provisions of the law is clear. Once INEC fixes an election, no court can stop it. The only option you have is to go to the tribunal. And PDP know that they cannot challenge this election at any tribunal, for the fact that two Supreme Court judgements are in operation in this matter. One is the Supreme Court judgement of 2009 which has not been reviewed or revised or set aside. It says that once an election is nullified, the defaulting candidate and the party that fielded the defaulting candidate in that election will not take part in the rerun election. And with this decision of the Supreme Court. INEC can no longer look in the way of PDP in this exercise.
In the last judgement, their claim that they should be reinstated was also dismissed by the Supreme Court. So, INEC is at liberty to fix the date of that election next week and nothing will happen. No court in the land can stop it. The Court of Appeal nullified Federal House of Representatives elections in Gombe State, and a High Court made an order that the candidate that was disqualified by that judgement should be included in the fresh election; INEC ignored it and conducted the elections. That APC candidate went to the tribunal and lost, went to the Court of Appeal and also lost. So it is the same thing with Anambra Central.
So INEC should, really, help the people of Anambra Central Senatorial District by scheduling a date for this election and conclude it. Because the laws and decisions of superior Courts in operation are in support of INEC going ahead to conduct the election without looking at bad losers. PDP, in this case, remain bad losers. This is not the first time such thing is being played out.
In Kogi East Senatorial District, Kogi Central Senatorial District and Okene Federal Constituency and two state constituencies in the House of Assembly, elections were nullified for the same reason that the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, nullified the Anambra Central election. PDP, in those cases, went to the tribunal to challenge the APC elected representatives: two senators, one House of Representatives member, two House of Assembly members, for the sole reason that APC did not conduct primaries in fielding those candidates.
The same thing with Anambra Central, where I was able to prove that PDP did not conduct primaries in Anambra Central Senatorial District. So, that was the same thing they did. They challenged APC primaries in Kogi. And in Anambra Central , PDP is shouting that we have no locus to challenge PDP primaries. But they went to the internal affairs of APC in Kogi, to remove two APC senators, one House of Representatives member and two House of Assembly members. The rerun elections have all been conducted last year and the APC candidates did not take part in any of them. PDP took those seats. And in Anambra they are running and hitting the roof.
How soon do you expect INEC to conduct fresh elections?
I believe they should be able to do that quickly, for the reason that they were ready for the rerun election since the 5th of March, 2016 before PDP threw confusion in the whole thing. So it’s just a question of retooling. They have recruited and trained the ad-hoc staff, they’ve printed ballot papers without the PDP, so what they need now is to refresh their operational logistics; and they can do that even within two weeks. There is nothing to wait for. At this time, what INEC should weigh heavily is the denial of the Senatorial District of a representative through the actions of the PDP. They should look beyond the antics of the PDP and get that election concluded. Our people are losing so much.
With the PDP out of the way, what are your expectations?
The law is there for everybody to follow and understand. If you follow the law, you will never go wrong. We have problems where people deliberately want to disobey the law and the constitution. In one of the contributing judgements at the Supreme Court in February, it was noted that the PDP’s appeal to the Supreme Court in this matter was a flagrant disobedience to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a gross abuse of court process. Nothing can be heavier than these two statements. So somebody will know what the law says and try to circumvent it.
There’s a question that someone asked that Uche Ekwunife has defected to APC and based on that the High Court made an order that PDP must be included in the election by bringing in another candidate to replace; when by the judgement of the Supreme Court in 2009, you cannot introduce any new candidate at that stage for the simple reason that the period for nomination, withdrawal and substitution lapsed before the general election. So what is ambiguous about this pronouncement. And in this case, the matter is worse for the PDP. PDP was the party in default, who put a candidate that was not qualified to contest the election by not following the processes outlined by law.
The election was nullified. The question is if the candidate had remained in PDP, is she entitled to take part in the fresh elections. The answer is no. So what has her defection to another party has to do with what we are discussing? Can you give what you don’t have? The question would have been, like you asked me, that Dr. Chris Ngige was qualified to contest that election. In the rerun election, he is qualified. Now that he has become a Minister of the Federal Republic, what happens to APC. Can APC now change Ngige for another candidate to replace him? The answer is still no. Because time for withdrawal and substitution has lapsed.
You know there are about 60 political parties, but at the election time, only 15 parties were able to field candidates. Then when the election was nullified, can you now open the door to other parties who didn’t participate earlier to begin to bring in candidates? The answer is no.
The Supreme Court, in that judgement, was able to make everything certain and clear. So if Dr. Chris Ngige wants to run, he has to resign within 30 days before the election date. That’s what the law says. He cannot be replaced.
For a political party like the PDP to be announcing that they have about six to seven litigations in the High Court, all instituted by PDP members, against an election they have no right to contest, is it not a mad house? As far as I’m concerned, PDP should bury their faces in shame.
So I think, beyond issue of words and rhetoric, PDP is dead on the issue of Anambra Central Senatorial District.
What’s your message to the people of Anambra Central?
I’ve continued to plead with them to be patient. They’ve lost so much. But there is no substitute to doing what is lawful. When this thing started in December 2015, I remember I came to Lagos. I was the one who addressed the press in Lagos early enough to point out to everybody, including INEC, that these fresh elections does not give any room for fresh primaries to select new candidates. And INEC’s examination of the laws followed the laws. And published notices of those rerun elections everywhere in Nigeria excluding parties that were not supposed to take part anymore have been concluded, except Anambra Central where you have some heady politicians who think that they can destroy what they cannot have.
I win all my court cases and my opponents have even alleged that I know all the judges in Nigeria. But the thing is I don’t indulge myself in frivolities.
I’m a graduate of Estate Management and I read a course called Feasibility and Viability Appraisal when I was in the university. Anybody who read this course will always know where to put his feet. You test the feasibility of whatever you want to do, and if it’s possible, you also test the viability. So I study issues I’m involved in and know my limits. When I see a window that is permitted by law, I follow it and eventually I prevail. So I apply myself to the laws and the constitutional provisions. That’s all I do and nothing else.
What’s haunting PDP today is their impunity. And they try it everywhere. In Anambra State, when I said I was going to the tribunal, I said to the press ‘I’m going to the tribunal to fight PDP’s impunity in Anambra State’. Apart from the way they rig elections, they don’t go through due process. I was National Chairman of a political party, so I understood the process of nomination of candidates, what the Electoral Act and constitution requires you to do. And I knew that in Anambra State, PDP never did any of these things. That’s why they are always fielding multiple candidates.
Once INEC says primary will take place on a particular day, that day they will conduct five primaries. Then five people will declare themselves and be claiming victory. And they proceed with all those people to the election. They will be campaigning. So I said that my own will be the last. The lawyers to the other candidates were not able to tackle this issue the way I did. I challenged the returns made, based on the fraudulent conduct of the election, and I also challenged the qualification of the PDP candidate.
We are eagerly waiting for INEC to fix a date for the conclusion of the Anambra Central Senatorial District election. The Supreme Court judgement that has been referred to earlier has removed PDP from the contest completely. So INEC has nobody to wait for now. INEC, as a public authority, is bound by the constitution to implement and obey the decisions of the Supreme Court.
I ask our people to exercise patience. Time is running out. And INEC should do the needful because the term for National Assembly candidates is fixed and not recoverable, unlike governorship elections. And the case of Anambra Central is very peculiar in the sense that nobody is presently occupying that seat.
And INEC should not allow PDP to manipulate them. Because somebody cannot destroy his house and ask me to wait for him to build his house back before we can proceed. So what the PDP is doing is like blackmailing INEC into doing what is unlawful. PDP should be sanctioned. All the costs awarded against them in all these their frivolous actions in the process, they’ve not paid me any money.
I must commend INEC. They have been very diligent in handling this manner thus far. At the courts, when they came to get the judgement reviewed, INEC opposed PDP. So INEC followed the rightful path. So it is left for INEC now to complete the process.