Musings on Imo North Senatorial District Election

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Amby Uneze examines the outcome of the Imo North Senatorial by-election held December 5, and the intrigues played by the Independent National Electoral Commission in announcing the All Progressives Congress as the winner without declaring 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 work in progress.

Therefore, there is no gain celebrating an unfinished assignment that is yet to be finally 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 inspite 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 remains 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 are involved and also actively participated in the election. A political party is only a vehicle for politicians or candidates to ascend 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 the 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.

According to the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Imo, Prof Francis Ezeonu, few days to the by-election, he declared that14 persons consequently 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 who declared Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC ahead of the election had faulted the November 6, judgment of the Federal High Court which sacked Ibezim and announced Araraume as the rightful winner of APC primary election and ordered INEC to immediately enlist Ibezim’s name as the candidate of the party for the by-election. He said that the revalidation of the candidacy of Ibezim was in tandem with the electoral act, having won the APC primary in September.

On the contrary, another court this time, 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 remains ‘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. But 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 that 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 that 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, Ifeanyi Araraume and Frank Ibezim, laying claims to the APC ticket who were waiting to jubilate outside went home unannounced.

The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Imo state, Prof Francis 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 that 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 of his 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. He said “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.

“Consequently, I, Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu demand as follows: That INEC should immediately declare the PDP, with my humble self as its candidate, as the rightful winner of the 5th December, 2020 Imo North senatorial by-election, in line with the Electoral Act (as amended). It is indisputable that I won the election in accordance with extant laws.

“INEC should, without further delay, comply with the court judgments disqualifying both Senator Araraume and Mr. Frank Ibezim from taking part in the elections. It cannot continue to play a hide and seek game in order to evade the law. APC never participated in the election under review.

“No political party fields two candidates for the same position in any election. What the APC did in the just concluded Imo North senatorial by-election was unlawful, ultra vires, and sets a very dangerous precedent, and stands condemned in its entirety. Once more, I profusely thank the good people of Okigwe zone for massively voting for the PDP and myself. I wish to assure them that their votes must count, and that their efforts shall not be in vain,” he submitted.

He finally stated “We shall not allow anybody to toy with the socio-economic and political future of Okigwe Zone once again. Okigwe Zone must be liberated from the strangle-hold of a dangerous cabal which delights in using the zone as a pawn for its trade by barter business”.

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.

“I think it is high time we started talking about the anti-party activities of this governor in Imo state. I also think that the national body should take some disciplinary action against this governor because he came from the PDP and he feels that he belongs to the PDP. He has not done anything in Imo state to encourage the supporters and members of the APC. In all his appointments, he reflected it there and I think this is the highest anti-party he has now done to APC by instructing his people to vote for PDP. But the good thing and the good news is that we defeated them.

“So I believe that the interim leadership of the party should call the governor to order. He should know that he came into APC to meet some people, and he should know that in the election where he contested for the governorship election he lost in his local government. PDP won in his LGA. Also, as a sitting governor, we had a by-election for the House of Representatives, PDP won his federal constituency. And we have a by-election in my federal constituency the same day and I won my federal constituency, therefore the governor should know that his actions will not help the party in the state and the South East.

“You watched the governor speaking at the Okigwe stadium where he said that some people procured their judgment from the Eke-onunwa market (a local market in Owerri capital city). This is a governor who came fourth in the governorship election and the Supreme Court took him from number 4 to number one. He is a product of the judiciary. And to ridicule the decision of the competent court (federal high court, Owerri) is really reckless”, he stated.

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 level of quality representation. By doing so their zone would have been enlisted as a beneficiary from what is known as a national cake. INEC should quickly do the right thing and follow the law instead of turning the law upside down

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I think it is high time we started talking about the anti-party activities of this governor in Imo state. I also think that the national body should take some disciplinary action against this governor because he came from the PDP and he feels that he belongs to the PDP. He has not done anything in Imo state to encourage the supporters and members of the APC. In all his appointments, he reflected it there and I think this is the highest anti-party he has now done to APC by instructing his people to vote for PDP. But the good thing and the good news is that we defeated them. So I believe that the interim leadership of the party should call the governor to order. He should know that he came into APC to meet some people, and he should know that in the election where he contested for the governorship election he lost in his local government. PDP won in his LGA