Victor Umeh

Almost two years after the Eighth National Assembly was inaugurated, Anambra Central Senatorial District is still not represented in the Senate, following the nullification of the election of Uche Ekwunife. In this interview, one of the candidates eyeing the seat and a former APGA chairman, Chief Victor Umeh‎ expressed concerns over the delay in holding an election to choose a senator for the district. He spoke with David-Chyddy Eleke

Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige recently said that the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun election would not hold until all pending court cases are cleared, what is your reaction?

I was surprised to read those audacious statements by Dr Chrs Ngige. My surprise stems from the fact that I could not fathom under what capacity Ngige was saying categorically that the poll can never take place until all court cases are cleared. From the question you asked me, he is the Minister of Labour and Employment, he does not work for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that is empowered by the constitution to conduct elections.

Am aware that INEC has a legal department, staffed by qualified lawyers, and if there s any matter that will prevent the commission from conducting election, the commission will say so at any point in time, based of prevailing circumstances. This is not the first time that Ngige has made this claim, he has made it before at Easter on radio, saying the same thing at an APC meeting corroborates all that we have been hearing that APC will do everything to ensure that INEC does not conduct that election.

Now, what then do you think could be holding the rerun election, if not the court cases as Ngige said?

My reaction first is to state clearly that there is nothing, no legal impediment anymore against the conduct of this Anambra central election that has been pending. The cases Ngige cited in his outburst clearly cannot stop INEC from conducting that election. The issue of the eligible candidates who can take part in a court ordered fresh election or rerun election has been permanently settled by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in its judgment in a case between Labour Party and INEC, which judgment was delivered on the 13th February 2009. That judgment was an endorsement of judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division on 10th April 2008, to the effect that elections that are ordered by court through nullifications do not admit new candidates. Labour Party had attempted to put a new candidate in a governorship election in Adamawa, which was nullified by the Court of Appeal tribunal, and the Court of Appeal, Kaduna division in a very detailed judgment said such an election did not admit fresh candidate as only candidates that were qualified and took part in the earlier election could participate in the fresh election. Labour Party dragged the matter to Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court affirmed that judgment. Unfortunately, people like Ngige are pretending not to know this position of the law.

As early as January 2016, when PDP and APC purported to be trying to conduct a primary to choose a candidate that will take part in the election, I cried out that the law did not permit such futile exercise, they didn’t want to accept it, and they continued. Today, it is clear because INEC submitted to this decision of the Supreme Court in the conduct of all the fresh election ordered by the Court of Appeal across the country, after the 2015 general elections. Candidates that were disqualified by the final decision of the Court of Appeal were not allowed to take part in fresh or rerun elections. It was like that in Kogi State where PDP challenged APC for non conduct of primaries in at least four constituencies, two senatorial district, one federal constituency and two house of assembly seats in Kogi State, as it happened in Anambra Central district. It was PDP that challenged the APC winners at the tribunal, and those elections were nullified. In the fresh elections and repeat elections ordered in that state, APC did not participate in all those elections and PDP won all of them, and all the winners have gone to represent their people. In Anambra State, where the same situation arose, APC and PDP refused to accept the position of the law and have continued to do all kinds of things to sabotage the law. You are all aware that after the Court of Appeal nullified the election, the PDP candidate went back to the court of appeal to set aside that judgment after losing there she went to the Supreme Court. On 10th January 2017, the apex court, in a unanimous judgment dismissed her appeal, and affirmed that the judgment of the Court of Appeal on that matter was final forever, that is the situation.

INEC was to conduct the rerun election last year in March or so, what happened?

Now, this is the position, last year, INEC was to conduct the rerun election on 5th March 2016, but Peter Obi under the cover of PDP went to the Federal High Court. You know that Ekwunife who was candidate of PDP who was disqualified by the Court of Appeal had defected to the APC, and therefore, Obi was put there as a candidate to replace Ekwunife to contest. Four days to the election, the court made an order that the PDP has been included in that election against the law, that judgment was delivered by Justice Anwuli Chikere. You will note that more than eight cases of similar nature came before the same judge and she dismissed them all, except that of Anambra Central where she ordered that the PDP be included. Of course being against the Supreme Court judgment I had earlier stated, INEC decided to appeal against it. In all the previous matters I mentioned from other places, INEC was the only party sued, and the same judge said they cannot do that, I now said why is this one different, and they decided to appeal against it. Of course I applied to appeal against the matter as an interested party, but the judge refused to join me me in the matter. So, when the leave was granted to me, I appealed, INEC appealed, PDP now came with its notorious tactics of frustrating the appeal and challenged the record of the appeal transmitted by the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal.

On 22 July last year, the Court of Appeal dismissed the PDP’s application and awarded a cost of N100,000 against them. They filed an appeal to the Supreme Court against that ruling, from July 2016, till today, 26th of April, PDP has not filled any brief in pursuit of that appeal at the Supreme Court, they just used it to hang the election, and what they did was that as soon as they filled it, they rushed back to the Court of Appeal and flagged the appeal number before them that they are now in the Supreme Court, and therefore the Court of Appeal has to wait. They are not interested in pursuing that appeal till today. Again, on 14th March 2017, in the matter filled by APC and Sharon Ikeazor for substitution, the same court gave judgment and went back to what the law said. Look at what Justice Chikere issued the previous judgment including PDP in the rerun said; this judgment that came up on 5th of April, which I have now forwarded to INEC. The judge said the time for nomination, withdrawal or substitution of candidates for the court ordered election for Anambra Central Senatorial district had elapsed. So by this judgment, the claim that there was an order that PDP should change its candidate has been overtaken. It is the same judge who wrote this, and it is very clear in law that when a judge gives two conflicting judgment on a matter of the same substance, the latter judgment prevails over the earlier. So she has over ruled that judgment so INEC can no longer say they are waiting on that judgment as that appeal against that judgment of PDP has become an academic exercise. That is even if we are going to consider the order made by this court in flagrant breach or disobedience to the earlier decision of the Supreme Court on the same matter on candidates that can take part in court ordered elections. INEC could have even ignored that first order to go ahead and conduct the election because there is a subsisting Supreme Court judgment on the matter they can rely on to do the election. But to make the matter very clear, the woman now reversed herself and stated the law. So if the law is that there is no room for fresh candidate in fresh court ordered election, there is nothing holding INEC from conducting the election and stopping any fresh candidate. PDP wants a fresh candidate, Ekwunife is gone, disposed both by the Supreme Court and she is not even in existence in this matter anymore, so Peter Obi who is angling to come in as a fresh candidate, and he cannot because this judgment has taken care of it absolutely, so we are waiting for a date for this election to take place, and very urgently too.

In the case of Sharon Ikeazor who was seeking to replace the Ngige, what have you to say? Also, would you be ready to confront Ngige if he joins the race since he took part in the original election and is eligible for the rerun?

The court said Sharon Ikeazor cannot substitute Ngige in APC, and the court made the statement very clear. Even Sharon made a statement when this verdict was delivered that she was not going to appeal against it. She had said that she is a lawyer of 30 years standing and knows what the law says, and she called on Ngige to come and contest to save the party. On whether I am ready to do battle with Ngige if he joins, I think you should ask Ngige if he is ready to run. Ngige had said he would not contest because he is on a national assignment, yet he does not want the election to be conducted.

Let me say clearly that from the judgment of Justice Chikere of 14 March 2017, INEC is completely free to fix a date for the election without further delay. The simple order to obey is to exclude any fresh candidate. Peter Obi and anyone else that seek to take part in the election must be someone who had taken part in the 2015 election. INEC could have gone ahead without waiting for any of these things, but it is good that the same judge they are relying on that said PDP should be included now came out boldly to say no fresh candidate to correct herself from whatever happened. I know that INEC is aware of this, but Ngige should not intimidate INEC in the discharge of its constitutional mandate the era of intimidation by ruling parties in Nigeria should be over in line with President Buhari’s promise of change. We experienced these things during the PDP days, but now that we are in a government that has preached change, nobody should use his membership of the ruling party or any arm of government to intimidate and dictate to INEC. That is what Ngige has demonstrated, and he has said it everywhere. In fact, this is enough for President Munammadu Buhari to sack Ngige from the Federal Executive Council for embarrassing both APC and the government. All these his machinations and intrigues are targeted at creating problems in the forthcoming governorship elections in the Anambra State.

Having explained these things to you, I want to say that President Buhari and APC should not allow Ngige to use his voodoo politics and treachery to drag APC and the FG to disrepute. Ngige boasting that this election can never hold with certainty is an indication that the party and the government are dictating to INEC on how to conduct its affairs. Ngige has a long credential of political rigging and treachery and should not be allowed to plunge Anambra State into anarchy. In 2003, Ngige had to go into unholy agreement with some people including striping himself naked in a shrine to take a vow of loyalty, so that he would be rigged into power, under Obasanjo’s presidency. His decision to renege on that agreement brought Anambra State to its knees, culminating into mayhem, where Anambra properties worth billions were destroyed. Because of his bad fate in that unwholesome agreement, he was kidnapped by his sponsors, who in their pursuit of Ngige made Anambra State to suffer nearly three years before he was booted out of office in 2006. In 2011 again, Prof Dora Akunyili challenged his purported election into the Senate, with abundant evidence of falsified figures in polling units. What did he do? He resorted to the frustration of the hearing of the petition, that led to the tribunal striking out Dora Akunyili’s petition. By the time the court of appeal returned to hear Akunyili’s appeal on merit to the tribunal, the 180 days provided had elapsed, so Akunyili’s petition was struck out because the time provided for hearing had elapsed. That was how Ngige stayed in the senate. A seat he did not win with the peoples decision.

In 2015 again, he came again on the senatorial election, he scored 20,000 votes, I got 86,000 votes to win the election, but PDP falsified the result and rigged themselves in with 93,000 votes. You will recall that Ngige in a press conference described that election as a huge fraud and a charade, but because President Buhari had won the presidential election, he decided not to go to the tribunal to challenge the election, only to pursue a ministerial appointment. So when I challenged the outcome of the election and the election was nullified, he said he won’t come back to the election, and wrote a letter withdrawing. Now that the court has stated the law saying nobody who did not take part in the main election can take part in the rerun, he is now holding brief for everybody, saying that the election should not be conducted again, when he is at liberty as a candidate that took part in that election to come and contest. He wants to keep his ministerial job and stop the election from taking place, that is pure wickedness and a very terrible exhibition of lack of respect for the law, due process and total disregard to the people of Anambra central senatorial district, whom he had sought to represent. Ngige has now stated that 90 days within which the election should have been conducted had elapsed and that there are matters in court challenging it. That matter was filled on 28 march 2017, Ekwunife sponsored somebody to file a suit, two years after the election they are challenging my nomination as APGA candidate, and in another breath, saying that 90 days had elapsed and the election should no longer take place, that is what Ngige is shamelessly brandishing in the pages of newspapers as the reason why the election should not take place.

Did you say the comment by Ngige was a prelude to the coming governorship election, where APC had vowed to unsit the APGA governor?

With all the negative credentials I had mentioned, he cannot do that. It is because our laws are not well strengthened, else Ngige should be in prison by now for all his electoral atrocities. Remember how he came to power in 2003? He is on that partway again, to give APC at the national level the impression that he can win Anambra for them. This a prelude to anarchy. He wants to foist anarchy on us, because of his selfish and wicked ambition to mislead the federal authorities. Ngige is an opportunist, he became a governor without winning an election, he also went to the Senate under controversial circumstances, and in the 2015 general elections, he did not make any contribution to Buhari winning the presidency of Nigeria, and now he has been able to get in as a minister because he was a member of APC. What did he deliver to APC in 2015? Nothing. He just aligned with APC, he was a passive member and made no contribution yet he emerged a minister and he is now making noise. What he is trying to do now is to pit the APC machinery with the people of Anambra State, am sure he is planning another rigging. So, with this his latest outburst, I want to put it clearly to APC, Buhari and INEC to shun the antics of Ngige and not to do anything that will undermine the rule of law. Anambra has taken a lot of bullying, and people like Ngige cannot continue to have a field day. This election should be conducted, Anambra Central has not had a senator going to two years now, and people are playing games with it and they are happy. Someone who is representing Anambra people is happy that his people do not have a senator. It is a travesty. He is bringing bad name to the federal government, and to the president. Our electoral commission should be left to do its job.

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We experienced these things during the PDP days, but now that we are in a government that has preached change, nobody should use his membership of the ruling party or any arm of government to intimidate and dictate to INEC. That is what Ngige has demonstrated, and he has said it everywhere. In fact, this is enough for President Munammadu Buhari to sack Ngige from the Federal Executive Council for embarrassing both APC and the government.