The Independent National Electoral Commission’s refusal to conduct a bye-election in the Anambra Central Senatorial District and the Senate President’s decision not to swear in Bassey Etim as the senator representing Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District after a court order declared him the lawful person to occupy the seat amounts to injustice and a breach of the constitution, writes Tobi Soniyi
Anambra Central Senatorial District Denies Representation in the Senate
More than two years after the 8th National Assembly was inaugurated, Anambra Central Senatorial District is still not represented in the Senate, following the nullification of the election of Uche Ekwunife of the Peoples Demoractic Party. This anomaly means that the people of the district are not being represented in the Senate.
That election has not been held to elect a senator for the district was not entirely the fault of the independent National Electoral Commission. Anambra state is the most litigious state in Nigeria.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who ran for the senatorial district election as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress but lost had said that the rerun election would not hold until all pending court cases were cleared. In view of the length of time it takes to determine cases in Nigerian courts, that can mean the district stands no chance of being represented in the 8th assembly.
Although, INEC claimed that it was bared from conducting the senatorial election, many in Anambra believed that the commission is acting the APC’s script.
Although there are orders and counter orders, INEC knows the position of the Supreme Court on whether a party whose candidate is disqualified on basis of non-qualification can not take part in the re-run election. Therefore, the PDP can not participate in the re-run election. Since Ngige is now a minister and he does not want to resign to participate in the election, APC too can not participate because time to substitute candidate had passed.
Speaking at a capacity building workshop organised for leaders of political parties, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu said that the commission was unable to hold the election because of court orders.
He said: “He said, â€œThere are so many court cases even on matters settled by the Supreme Court and the constitution of Nigeria is very clear on it. Once there is a pronouncement by the Supreme Court, all citizens and all actors are duty-bound to obey it until there is another law superseding that passed by the National Assembly or assented to or a reconsideration of the same judgment by the Supreme Court.
â€œBut there are matters settled by the Supreme Court that are still subject of litigation.
â€œFor instance, the famous Labour Party versus INEC case in 2009, says that once an election is nullified on account of candidate disqualification, the disqualified candidate cannot participate in the rerun election and the party that fielded the disqualified candidate has also lost the right to field candidate in the election.
â€œBut unfortunately, some political parties went back to the court and we have been served injunctions that fly in the face of the decision of the Supreme Court. That is why the only rerun election in Anambra Central Senatorial District hasnâ€™t been conducted till date.â€
But the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh disagreed. According to him, there are no orders stopping the election. The INEC, he argued was merely hiding under court orders to deprive the people of the district their right to be represented in the Senate.
He said: “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.”
The truth lies between the position of INEC and Umeh. While there are orders and counter orders, none directly stopped INEC from conducting the election. The confusion lies in determining which political parties can and cannot participate. That confusion too had already been resolved by the Supreme Court in the Labour Party’s case referred to by INEC chairman. The commission should immediately fix a date for the election and allow politicians to return to courts.