- Â PDP contests exclusion at Supreme Court
Chinedu Eze in Lagos and Alex Enumah in Abuja
Following the Court of Appeal judgment which last Monday ordered it to conduct a rerun election into the vacant seat of the Anambra Central senatorial district within 90 days, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday fixed the poll for January 13, 2018.
The commission said it considered many factors before arriving on the date for the election, including the fact that it would soon be Christmas.
It added that fixing the election before the Yuletide might not be suitable considering the hustle and bustle that go with the period, especially in the South-east.
It also said it considered the legal implications of the case at the Court of Appeal.
In a statement signed by Mohammed Kudu Haruna, the National Commissioner and Member, Information and Voter Education Committee and made available to THISDAY yesterday, the commission said: â€œINEC met today for its 41st ordinary meeting of 2017 and considered, among other things, the case of the outstanding election to fill the seat for the Anambra Central senatorial district. It would be recalled that the 2015 election to fill the seat was nullified by the Election Tribunal. Since then, there have been several court cases on the matter.
â€œOn Monday, November 20, 2017, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja delivered a judgment in which it ordered INEC to conduct the rerun election within 90 days of the judgment. Following the determination of this case, INEC has decided that all encumbrances to conduct the rerun election have now been removed. Consequently, there is presently no court order restraining INEC from conducting the election.â€
The commission said it has also considered all the circumstances surrounding the election particularly the 90-day timeframe ordered by the Court of Appeal, the demands for preparing adequately for the election, as well as the coming yuletide and decided that the rerun election shall take place on the aforementioned date.
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has approached the Supreme Court, challenging its exclusion and that of its candidate from the yet-to-be rescheduled Anambra Central senatorial election.
While delivering judgment last Monday in a suit brought by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and its candidate, Chief Victor Umeh, challenging the February 29, 2017, judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, wherein the trial judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere, Justice Akomolafe Wilson, leading a three-man panel of the Appeal Court had ordered INEC to conduct a rerun election within 90 days.
Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court in Abuja had ordered the inclusion of PDP and its candidate, Senator Uche Ekwenife in the scheduled Anambra Central senatorial re-run poll.
But Appeal Court in setting aside the judgment of Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja excluded the PDP and any of its candidates from participating in the rerun election.
Not satisfied with the decision of the Appeal Court, the PDP has therefore approached the apex court to upturn the decision.
The party in the suit filed at the Supreme Court is therefore asking for an order allowing the appeal and setting aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja excluding the appellant from fielding any of its candidates to participate in the fresh election ordered by the Election Petition Appeal Tribunal in CA/E/EPT/28/2015 and by the court below for the seat of Anambra Central senatorial district within 90 days from 17/11/2017.
The party is further asking the apex court for an order directing the 3rd respondent (INEC) to accept and put on the ballot paper, any candidate sponsored by the appellant to contest the fresh senatorial election for Anambra Central senatorial district.
The PDP premised the appeal on the grounds that the justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law by holding that the 3rd respondent (INEC) was right to exclude the appellant and any of its candidate from participating in the fresh election ordered by the Court of Appeal Enugu Division sitting as Election Appeal Tribunal in CA/E/EPT/28/2015, between Chief Victor Umeh and another vs PDP and others which disqualified only the appellantâ€™s candidate, Uche Ekwunife and thereby breached the fundamental right to freedom from discrimination guaranteed the appellant by section 42 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The appellant also argued that being a corporate entity and a political party operating in Nigeria, the Appeal Courtâ€™s order excluding it and any of its candidates from contesting the said election is discriminatory and breaches its right of freedom from discrimination.
The appellant stated further that the Appeal Court erred in law in assuming jurisdiction to interpret its own judgment by sitting on appeal in its own judgment which is a final decision in CA/E/EPT/28/2015 between Chief Victor Umeh and another vs PDP and others which did not nullify the election to Anambra Central senatorial district seat won by the appellant but merely ordered fresh election after holding that the decision of the tribunal was perverse.
Also, the party argued that the court misdirected itself in law when it held that the case of Labour Party vs INEC was applicable in the appeal at the lower court when the facts and circumstances of the case are â€˜not on all fours with the facts of the Appeal at the court below.
The Anambra Central senatorial seat at upper chamber of the National Assembly has been vacant following the nullification of Senator Uche Ekwenifeâ€™s election.
The Court of Appeal Division in Enugu had in July 2015 voided Ekwenifeâ€™s election for not being â€œthe product of a valid primary and was therefore not duly and legitimately nominated.â€
In determining the main crux of the appeal, the appellate court held: â€œThe rationale therefore, is correct as submitted by the appellants that the principle of guiding who can participate in a court ordered re-run election following the nullification of general election has been established in Labour Party Vs. INEC, and it remains the law.
â€œWhere a court nullifies an election and orders a fresh election, a political party which participated in the annulled election at whose instance the election was nullified cannot field a new candidate to contest in the fresh election. This is because the fresh election does not entail an entirely new process; rather it takes the place of the annulled election, because the period of nomination of candidates has lapsed.â€
Furthermore, Justice Akomolafe held that it was not the case of the 1st respondent (PDP) at the trial court that it be allowed to substitute a candidate for Ekwenife who had defected from the PDP, but for the â€œerroneous notion that the court-ordered election scheduled by INEC for March 5, 2016, entailed an entirely new process whereby it is entitled to conduct fresh primaries and nominate a new candidate.â€
The judge said it was unfortunate that the trial judge fell into a grave error by predicating her judgment on the ground that Ekwenife defected from the PDP.
â€œOn the whole, having resolved the main issue in this appeal in favour of the appellant, this appeal is meritorious and it is allowed. The decision of the trial Federal High Court delivered on February 29, 2016, is hereby set aside.
â€œINEC, the 2nd respondent, is ordered to conduct a fresh election in Anambra senatorial district within 90 days from today with the participation of the appellants (Chief Victor Umeh and APGA).
â€œThe 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th respondents shall pay the sum of N50,000 each to the appellants,â€ the Appeal Court held.