Okonkwo: Judiciary Must Quickly Resolve Anambra Central Senatorial Election Issue

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Dr Obiora Okonkwo is a member of the Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He contested the party’s ticket for Anambra Central Senatorial District in the 2015 election. In this interview, he speaks on why he is asking the court to declare him winner of the election and the reason the case concerning the PDP primary is still lingering on in different courts. He spoke with Iyobosa Uwugiaren. Excerpts:The case of Anambra Central Senatorial District has dragged on for too long. You are in court, seeking that Senator Uche Ekwunife’s name, who is joined in the pending suit concerning Anambra Central senatorial pre-election matters,  be struck out. What are your grievances?
By the time this case started, she was made a party to the suit. When she was in the Senate, she remained a party to the suit but on the judgment of Court of Appeal, which is the final court of jurisdiction for post-election for National Assembly, she was removed. That judgment was tested in the Supreme Court. And for that reason, it was obvious to everybody that she has left the party. She tried her luck and nobody will take it away from her. She is a politician, she needs to do all she can to practice the trade of politics. She has joined the APC as her new banner and she remained there. For that reason, we are telling the court that this person has lost the locus to remain a party to the suit. That is what it is, for you to come to court to seek for justice to defend anything against you, you should be able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you have an interest. And for the fact that she is just a party to the suit and a defendant, there is actually no relief from her own side. The only relief which is declaratory is coming from the plaintiff, which in this case, is myself. I want the court to declare me the winner of the primary, where we have the evidence starting from the affidavit and the panel members that came from the national working committee. We had waited for this, thinking that someone else might have seen reasons to know that there is nothing else to fight for in that case. We want the people of Anambra Central District to have a representation in the Senate.

But the impression people have is that you… the plaintiff is afraid of the woman in question because you feel she might stop you from getting a favourable ruling. How correct or otherwise is this insinuation?
If I was afraid of her in the matter, I wouldn’t have opposed her being joined as a party. The law is mandatory that she must be a party; so there is no other way this case would have gone. Every other thing could have been a matter of unnecessary imagination. There is no doubt about it; for someone who has gone to the House of Representatives  twice and has been in the Senate, whichever way that she got there; and what she has achieved for herself politically, she is never any factor you must ignore. I do have my utmost respect for her. It is just that in this case, we believe that there is something to it that must have to come to a conclusive end, which is to declare that what transpired was that I won the primary.

Why has the case dragged on in court for a very long time?
The case is dragging on in court because this senatorial district is the toughest senatorial district in the whole of the federation. If you go to all the other senatorial districts, the big fight is between the APC and the PDP. It is only in Anambra State that you have PDP, APC and then a third party, which is APGA that was and remains the ruling party in the state. So it becomes a three-way fight unlike in other states. In that 2015 election, and for the fact that the former chairman of APGA was also a candidate, it made the contest more interesting. The APC had the incumbent senator, Chief Ngige then, if you recall. Then you now have in PDP, former senators and people fighting for the ticket; it was very very tough. So the momentum and fight went into the court. While we were fighting for the seat internally, there was also an external fight. During the process, this matter was not resolved, the senator was disqualified and the seat was vacant. As soon as the seat was vacant, more gladiators came into the fight. Each and every one of them could only become senators in Anambra central through election. So, due to my previous pre-election matter, I was the only person who could become a senator in Anambra Central without an election. And the only easy way was to make a declaration that I ought to have been the candidate of the party. So, now the answer is clear: they must have to hold me down and not let me escape out of that case. And that’s the only way others could have a chance. So, for every other fight any other party had in the election, I was at the receiving end. So you should help me thank God that I am still standing. I am not only fighting for those who are defendants in the suit but also for those who are not even parties to the suit. The truth of the matter is that his claim would have been right if I didn’t have a pre-election matter in PDP. If there was no valid pre-election matter, I believe PDP would not have had a candidate for that election. At that point, some people in PDP thought they could do anything and get away with it. They had an imagination that they could do a primary and have a new candidate. I think the matter is all clear now; INEC is a party to my case. And it is obvious I have a valid case and I have a pre-election matter and the wisdom there is only to think twice—if it’s worth wasting all the resources. I think what is best for everybody is to get my case concluded and move forward.

Has the case in anyway changed your loyalty to PDP in Anambra State? I mean do you still believe in the party, especially going by the way you were treated by PDP in the past?
Well for me, I believe only in God. But as for the PDP in the past, we all know the story and how we all operated; PDP of this moment has applied some wisdom in dealing with this matter. They have been considerate and I can tell you that we are all partnering for the future of this party.

Will you support PDP in the coming governorship election?
Surely, I am a stakeholder in the PDP in Anambra State and by the special grace of God, I will be occupying the senatorial seat of PDP in Anambra State. I am bound by all understanding to support my party in the forthcoming election in Anambra State.

What it means is that you have forgiven the key PDP members who have frustrated you in this case?
Yes, I have forgiven PDP as a party; those in Abuja have accepted their fault, apologised and made amends by filing the affidavit in support of my cases. The problem has never been PDP in the state, because PDP in my senatorial zone never had any other candidate except me. They knew who they were working with and supporting, so the problem was not from PDP in the state and the PDP in the zone. We were all victims of the type of PDP we had in the past. The Supreme Court declined jurisdiction to listen to that matter. But even before that — that was the time Peter Obi showed interest, and that was the time some people in Wadata House, the party national headquarters thought that they could present a new candidate. But the good news is that we are all working together to make sure that seat comes back to PDP and when it does, it is for no other person than my humble self.

Does PDP stand a chance in the November governorship election in Anambra State, in view of the crisis rocking it in the state?
Well, I think that there might have been stories of the past. Anyone following the story of PDP ever since the Supreme Court declared Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the party’s national chairman, knows that he has taken certain measures to reorganise and reposition PDP in Anambra State by appointing a one-time Minister of Health, one-time political adviser to the president of this country, one of the brains of the PDP to head a caretaker committee in the state. Ever since the caretaker committee started work, nobody can say that PDP doesn’t have a chance in the election. The only party to beat in this election is PDP, because Anambra has always been PDP predominantly. And the election they lost to APGA was not because APGA won but because PDP lost. The facts are there and the signs are there if you are following happenings in the state. This is the first time we have had a humanitarian candidate one month before the election. In 2013, the judgment by the Supreme Court to declare a candidate came one week before the election. In 2011 it came only few days before the election. This is the only time we are having a candidate within the electoral time table.  I can tell you to put your ear to the ground, whenever PDP comes together in Anambra State, victory is guaranteed.

Given your experience, would you support any amendment to the constitution to allow for all legal disputes regarding pre-election matters to be sorted out before the actual election?
I am a very strong believer that all election matters must be concluded before any beneficiary of any election will be sworn into office. I’ll support any amendment to the constitution to affirm that. If we are able to achieve that constitutionally, we will have a whole lot of multiplier down the line; it is part of the cardinal reasons why we have pre-election corruption; someone might borrow money and pay for his name to be declared. If you get involved in tearing of forms, rigging of ballot boxes and other corrupt practices, there is a 100 per cent chance that you will not benefit from it. If it can be stopped, it will reduce a lot of stress for INEC and the police force. So, I am in support of it, and it must be done before the election. The matter is clear; they have done a whole lot of amendments on this election matter. Take for instance this case, after one year and a half, a judge just withdrew. I don’t think there is any reason for it; there has been no question or anything.