â€ŽIs the ruling All Progressives Congress conniving with the Independent National Electoral Commission to deprive the people of Anambra Central Senatorial District from representation in the Senate? Segun James went in search for the answers
Some two years have passed since the 2015 general election that ushered in the Eight the National Assembly, yet one senatorial district in the federation is being denied a representation in the upper chamber not due to any fault of theirs, but the evil of high level politicking within the polity.
The seat of the Anambra Central Senatorial District in the Senate has been vacant since the election of Uche Ekunife was nullified.
Surely the prolong delay in conducting a rerun poll is frustrating the people in the senatorial district as they are being denied representation in the highest legislative body of the country. INEC had categorically stated that the rerun would remain pending until all court cases relating to the election were disposed of. This has since been achieved in March 2017 when the last case was finally disposed off.
For Chief Victor Umeh, the refusal to conduct the election is a disservice to the people. After coming second in the nullified poll, Umeh has reason to complain.
According to him, there appears to be some kind of connivance between INEC and some people in the All Progressives Congress (APC) to make sure that the rerun election is not held.
So when will the electoral commission conduct the rerun election? This is the one question that has been heating the polity in the state.
The road to the ugly drama playing out in the state began at the end of the Anambra Central Senatorial poll held during the 2015 general elections, when Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, the then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner by INEC.
On December 7, 2015, six months after she was sworn in as the Senator, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu nullified her election and ordered that a rerun be conducted within 90 days from the date the judgment was delivered.
The ruling was given consequent upon an appeal filed by Uneh, the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, against the earlier verdict of the lower tribunal upholding Ekwunifeâ€™s victory at the poll. Convinced that Ekwunife was wrongly declared winner, Umeh, who came second in the election, had gone to the tribunal to challenge the decision of the electoral umpire.
The rerun poll which ought to have held on March 5, 2016 was postponed indefinitely by INEC, after an Abuja High Court suddenly gave a ruling compelling it to include the PDP, against the judgment of the Court of Appeal that disqualified the party and its candidate. The Appeal Court had barred Ekwunife from participating in the rerun election it ordered on the ground that she was not validly nominated by the PDP through a properly conducted primary.
The implication was that PDP had no valid candidate for the initial election and so cannot be part of the rerun ordered by the court. INEC refusal to allow PDP or accept new contestant from any party for the rerun poll was based on an already decided case where the Supreme Court ruled that only candidates and political parties that were part of an annulled election can participate when a repeat of the exercise is ordered.
The delayed in conducting the rerun has, no doubt, become an issue of great concern to most discerning Nigerians, who believe that INEC no longer has any legitimate reason to continue to put the exercise on hold. After the Supreme Court pronouncement of February 10, 2017, that Court of Appeal decision on National Assembly election matters is final, it is expected that by now INEC would have done the needful and fixed a date for the rerun poll in Anambra Central which has lingered for too long.
In the judgment delivered by the apex court, following the appeal brought by Mrs. Ekwunife whose election was quashed by the Appellate Court, Justice Amina Augie said: â€œLooking closely at the wordings of Section 246 (3), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final. This court is completely bereft of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. Once the Court of Appeal delivers its judgment on a National Assembly Election Petition appeal, the judgment becomes final. For the umpteenth time, the constitution does not approve of the apex court to entertain this appeal no matter how cleverly it has been framed.â€
INEC was about to conduct the Anambra Central rerun poll on March 5, 2016, but suddenly postponed the exercise indefinitely, after a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Anwuli Chikere ordered it to include PDP. The judge was reported to have directed PDP to replace its candidate, Ekwunife, who had at that time defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the nullification of her election based on invalid sponsorship by the PDP in the March 28, 2015 poll.
The electoral body, knowing full well, that Chikereâ€™s ruling in favour of PDP was against the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which disqualified PDP candidate and barred the party from participating, suspended the conduct of the rerun and appealed the judgment. Therefore, as it stands, APC can only participate in the rerun if Dr Chris Ngige the APC candidate decides to contest. As for PDP, the party has been completely knocked out of the race by the December 7, 2015 verdict of the Enugu Court of Appeal duly affirmed by the highest court in the land.
Since then, Ms. Sharon Ikeazor who was seeking to replace Ngige has been told by the court that INEC could not substitute Ngige in APC, and the court made the statement very clear.
Speaking in the logjam, Umeh said: “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.â€
Umeh, a disciple of the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Emeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu is a known dogged fighter who is ready to do battle with anyone over his right when he believes it is about to be trampled upon; and this battle for the soul of Anambra central senatorial district is one he is ready to fight till the end. He has therefore challenged INEC on this while also taken on Ngige, who is presently the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, on his recent utterances on the election.
He noted that there had been a ploy to confuse the issues surrounding the rerun. He did his best to simplify the issue thus: “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.
â€œNEC 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 Buhariâ€™s promise of change.
â€œWe 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.
â€œIn 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 machinations and intrigues are targeted at creating problems in the forthcoming governorship elections in the Anambra State.
â€œHaving explained these things, I want to say that 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.
â€œNgige has a long credential of political 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 Obasanjoâ€™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.
â€œBecause 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 Akunyiliâ€™s petition. By the time the court of appeal returned to hear Akunyiliâ€™s appeal on merit to the tribunal, the 180 days provided had elapsed, so Akunyiliâ€™s petition was struck out because the time provided for hearing had elapsed. That was how Ngige stayed in the Senate.
â€œIn 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.
â€œSo when I challenged the outcome of the election and the election was nullified, he said he wonâ€™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.
â€œHe 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.
â€œNgige 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.â€
The delayed in conducting the rerun has, no doubt, become an issue of great concern to most discerning Nigerians, who believe that INEC no longer has any legitimate reason to continue to put the exercise on hold.