Imo North By-election as An Unfinished Business

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Amby Uneze writes on the outcome of the Imo North Senatorial by-election held December 5, and the intrigues played by the Independent National Electoral Commission in announcing APC winner without a candidate

No doubt, the much talked about by-election in Imo North senatorial zone of the state has come and gone but with a lot of worries on who the winner is. Instructively, any election without a clear winner is indeed a work-in-progress.

Therefore, there is no gain celebrating an assignment that is yet to be concluded. It behooves the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare the authentic winner instead of shifting her constitutional role to the judiciary to determine, who among the contending candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) should be declared the winner.

Though INEC had described the conduct of the election as peaceful in spite of the fact that there were reported cases of vote buying as well as voter apathy, which was created by the different court rulings preceding the election, and then there were doubts on who was the candidate of the APC.

In all these circumstances, there can never be a vacuum in a political situation, where the candidates of other political parties were involved and also actively participated in the election. A political party is only a vehicle for politicians or candidates to aspire to political positions and cannot be declared a candidate when it does not present one at the time of a particular election.

The axiom, which goes that ‘one cannot build something on nothing’ becomes very apt in this situation, indicating that a candidate must emerge as winner and that candidate must come from a registered political party in line with the electoral act that currently gives powers for the conduct of this particular by-election.

INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Imo, Prof Francis Ezeonu, at a press briefing a few days to the by-election, declared 14 persons were authenticated by the commission as candidates for the election. These persons include Ifeanyi Godwin Arararume of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ndubueze Patrick (Accord), Emmanuel Ogueri (Action Alliance), Nathaniel Uba (AAC), Chigozie Onyinye (ADC), Charles Onyeirimba (All Progressives Grand Alliance – APGA), Raphael Nnadozie (APM), and Ernest Ezirim (APP).

Others were Okorondu (Labour Party (AP), Okereafor Chukwujieze (NNPP), Charles Amajouyi (NRM), Emmanuel Okewulonu (Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rita Okorafor (SDP), and Promise Nwadigo (YPP) respectively.

Then, 24 hours to the by-election, a conflicting Appeal court ruling emerged from the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri presided over by Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam returning Frank Ibezim of the APC as its candidate instead of Senator Ifeanyi Araraume, who was declared winner of the primaries by a High Court in Owerri and whose name was listed by INEC for the election.

The judge, in declaring Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC ahead of the election, faulted the November 6 judgment of the federal High Court, which sacked Ibezim and announced Araraume, the rightful winner of APC primary election and ordered INEC to immediately enlist Ibezim’s name as the candidate of the party for the bye-election. He said the revalidation of the candidacy of Ibezim was in tandem with the electoral act, having won the APC primary school in September.

On the contrary, another court this time around, a federal High Court in Abuja on the same day, December 4 ruled against Frank Ibezim, on the basis that the educational certificates he tendered to INEC and his party APC had conflicting names. The court therefore ruled that because of the fake certificates he tendered, Ibezim remained ‘unfit’ to occupy any public office “having lied on oath” and declared Araraume as the candidate of the party.

With these conflicting judgments from reputable courts of the land, INEC therefore, became more confused as to which name should be listed as the candidate of the APC, who would have been otherwise declared the winner of the by-election. Based on the circumstances, and perhaps, in order to save her face from encumbrances, the commission decided to stop at announcing the result by declaring the party – APC as the winner without attaching any candidate.

Generally, it looks absurd and unattainable to declare a political party without a candidate winner of an election. The Nigerian Constitution and the electoral act did not specify that a political party should be declared as winner of an election in the event the party fails to field a candidate for a particular election or if the candidate(s) has unresolved issues at the point of that election.

In announcing the results of the by-election for Imo North senatorial in the morning of December 6, at the INEC headquarters in Owerri, the Returning Officer, Hakeem Adikum said APC scored 36, 811 votes, while Emmanuel Okewulonu of the People Democratic Party (PDP) came second with 31,903 votes.

Adikum, who quickly rose after announcing the results scored by various political parties and their candidates except that of the APC, simply said, “I hereby return the All Progressives Congress as the winner of the bye-election held in Imo North on Saturday, December 5.”

According to Adikum, APC won in five out of the six Local Government Areas in the senatorial district while PDP won in one LGA. While PDP won in Obowo LGA, where its candidate hails from, the Returning Officer said APC won in Okigwe, Onuimo, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano and Ihitte/ Uboma LGAs.

INEC’s failure to return any candidate as the winner of the election caused disquiet in the hall, as the supporters of the two persons, Araraume and Ibezim, laying claims to the APC ticket, who were waiting to jubilate outside went home dejected.

INEC REC Ezeonu told journalists that the electoral umpire was unable to return a particular candidate from APC as the winner of the election, because of what he called several court orders for and against Araraume and Ibezim of the APC. He said two of the Court judgments had surfaced on Friday: one from the Court of Appeal, Owerri, and another from the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The candidate of the PDP, Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu accused INEC of concerted efforts to subvert the will of the people by denying him victory in the December 5 senatorial by-election in Imo North.

“It is not in doubt that the Saturday 5th December, 2020 senatorial bye-election was never contested by the All Progressives Congress (APC). In other words, the APC, following a series of conflicting court judgments went into that election without a substantive candidate.

“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), being fully aware of this undisputed fact, could not therefore, legally announce any people masquerading as the APC’s candidate, as the winner.

“It is in fact rather absurd, and an intolerable aberration for INEC to have allowed the APC to even purport to have participated in that election, or to record any votes thereof in its favour. In the history of elections in Nigeria, it has never happened that a political party is declared as an election winner without at the same time announcing the corresponding candidate of that winning party, who is to benefit from its victory”, he stated.

Okewulonu therefore reminded INEC to stop playing the ostrich, and do the needful, in order to safeguard the sanctity and integrity of our electoral process.

“As an unbiased umpire which it ought to be, INEC should have given life to the series of judicial pronouncements barring the purported two candidates of the APC namely, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and Mr. Frank Ibezim, from the election, as no party ever fields two candidates simultaneously for the same position in the same election.

In a television interview Senator Araraume asserted that the APC was lucky to have him in the race otherwise the APC would have had no candidate considering the fact that Ibezim was not qualified to contest the election. According to him, the governor’s plan was to work for the victory of PDP hence his structure in Okigwe zone was mandated to vote for PDP. He called on the leadership of the party at the national level to look into the anti-party activities of the governor in the state.

What the people of Okigwe zone cum Imo State want now is to declare a winner so that the zone can begin to see some positive and quality representation. By doing so, their zone would have been enlisted as a beneficiary from what is known as a national cake. INEC should do the right thing and follow the law instead of turning the law on its head.