With various groups and individuals pressurising the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to obey the recent judgment of the Federal High Court judgment by giving Dr. Obiara Okonkwo certificate of return, former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, has urged the commission to ignore them.
He also appealed INEC not to stop the Anambra Central rerun election fixed for January 13, 2018.
Umeh who is APGA’s candidate for the rerun poll, made the remark in an interview against the backdrop of the judgment delivered last week by Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Abuja, directing the electoral body to issue a certificate of return to Okonkwo as the validly elected senator for the senatorial district.
Justice Tsoho gave the directive while delivering judgment in a pre-election matter where Okonkwo sought to be declared the authentic candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the March 28, 2015 Anambra Central senatorial election.
The court order came about three weeks after the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja had instructed INEC to within 90 days conduct the Anambra Central rerun with the exclusion of PDP as directed by its Enugu Division which quashed Uche Ekwunife’s election on December 7, 2015.
The APGA standard bearer, however, said he was confident that INEC, as a responsible institution of government, would not obey the high court ruling against a subsisting Appeal Court verdict on the Anambra Central rerun issue.
“INEC would take a decision based on the superior judgment on record on the matter. INEC has no right to choose a high court order against a Court of Appeal order that is subsisting. The constitution of Nigeria provided for hierarchy of courts – Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court. And when Court of Appeal renders a decision, all the authorities and persons and all courts of subordinate jurisdiction will abide by it. INEC cannot choose between Court of Appeal order and high court order. Two of them don’t have the same level of authority in our jurisprudence. A high court is a high court. The decision of the Court of Appeal comes before that of high courts,” Umeh argued.
Noting that the order of the lower court that Okonkwo should be sworn in is standing on nothing, the APGA chieftain stated: “The Federal High Court judgment did not make any reference to the Court of Appeal judgment that nullified the election. The high court did not make any reference to the Court of Appeal judgment delivered on November 20 that ordered INEC to conduct the rerun election within 90 days. It did not say INEC should ignore those Court of Appeal decisions. What it simply said was that it delivered a judgment on who was the candidate of PDP between Ekwunife and Okonkwo. That was the judgment and he (Justice Tsoho) proceeded to make fallacious orders that Obiora Okonkwo should be sworn in. Sworn in on the basis of which election? An election that has been nullified? If the election had not been nullified, and he comes to the conclusion that Okonkwo was the rightful candidate of PDP, yes, he can order that Okonkwo should be sworn in.
“But in the present case, the election in question has been destroyed by the Court of Appeal judgment delivered on December 7, 2015, which nullified the election. And that is why the seat has been vacant till date. So, Okonkwo is not going there to replace anybody because there is nobody there. The election has been voided by the Court of Appeal which is the final court vested with the authority to adjudicate over National Assembly matters. And that was what the Supreme Court judges told Ekwunife on February 10, 2017. They told her that they don’t have any authority to tamper with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, that the judgment is final. So, the election remains nullified forever. A high court cannot pretend that it is treating a pre-election matter and fail to recognise the fact that nobody can be winner of a nullified election. There is nothing for Okonkwo to claim because the election does not exist anymore. It has been invalidated.”
Countering Okonkwo’s contention that pre-election matters take precedence over tribunal cases, Umeh argued that “What he (Okonkwo) is saying is a misconception. If the election is alive and somebody is deriving benefit from the election and it is finally determined that the person who is occupying the seat was not the right person, it should be the other person, then, the pre-election matter can be given validity. But when the election has been nullified, there is nothing left again. Assuming, Ekwunife is in the Senate, for example, and Justice Tsoho determine that Okonkwo should be sworn in, then Ekwunife will appeal against that judgement and remain in office. When the Court of Appeal finishes, Ekwunife can appeal to the Supreme Court again. Until the Supreme Court finishes, Okonkwo cannot go there.
But in the present case, the Court of Appeal has nullified the election. That is the difference. So, the analogy he is making is misconceived. He was talking about Governor Okezie Ikpeazu that high court ordered Ogah to be sworn in and INEC issued Ogah certificate of return. It was because the governorship election of Abia State was still valid and somebody qas governor. So, he can be replaced. But in this case, the election has been nullified. It is dead and buried. That is the difference! That is the ignorance he (Okonkwo) is exhibiting on television today. You cannot claim anything from nothing.”
The ex-APGA chairman pointed out that the only way a Senator can now emerge for Anambra Central in the eyes of the law is through the rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal, adding that “those who are still running around and trying to contrive one mischief or other should go home knowing that it’s over. How can you imagine that in just one election, PDP has projected so many candidates? The first one was Ekwunife. The second one was Peter Obi. The third one is now Okonkwo – all from the same party in respect of one election. And remember that there is also the case of Annie Okonkwo hanging. So, PDP should buried itself in shame and allow the Anambra Central people to have peace.”