Friday, 24 February 2017

Intrigues surrounding Umeh, APGA’s victory at Supreme Court

Image result for pictures of victor umeh and ekwunife 
By Okechukwu Onuegbu

The February 10, 2017 Supreme Court’s judgment which quashed Senator Uche Ekwunife’s suit challenging her removal as a Senator representing Anambra Central zone is currently a public discourse in the state.

This could be attributed to the fact that the zone is lacking a voice at upper chamber of the national assembly since an Appeal court sitting at Enugu on December 7, 2015 ruled that Ekwunife, the winner of the poll, was not properly nominated by her then political party, PDP.

The ruling appeared to be to the favour of Chief Victor Umeh, the candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who came second on the election despite his self-acclaimed popularity, and as a result, challenged Ekwunife for winning the poll at election petition tribunal, where he equally lost out before approaching the court of appeal. It would be recalled that the appeal court also ordered INEC to go for a rerun of the election without Ekwunife and PDP on sight.  

However, as the election umpire prepared for the senatorial rerun, saying that it had cleared 13 candidates for it and banned PDP from participating, the embattled erstwhile senator decamped to APC, which also denied her ticket and gave it to its less popular former National Woman Leader, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, who they wished to use in replacing Sen. Chris Ngige, their former senatorial candidate that said he would not be contesting having be made Minister of Labour and Employment.

Following this resolve, INEC subsequently barred APC from the election since it went ahead to substitute its candidate to a fresh person against the court ruling that mandated only participants on 2015 senatorial poll to vie for it.

The APC, then went to the Federal High Court Awka, praying the court to compel INEC to accept it substitution request, Ikeazor as Dr Ngige who was the party's candidate in that election has resigned to contest the rerun owing to his appointment as a federal minister. As the case was still pending in the court, PDP approached an Enugu High Court which ruled that INEC should allow it to substitute Ekwunife to former governor of the state, Peter Obi.  The INEC re-appeals the judgment, even as African Democratic Congress (ADC), United Progressives Party (UPP), and others equally have one or more pending cases in the court to that effect till date.
  
This could be why since February 10, 2017, a-five man panel of Justices of the Supreme apex court led by Justice Tanko Mohammed upheld preliminary objections that were raised against Ekwunife’s appeal by the APGA. Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead verdict, insists that Ekwunife shouldn’t have filed the appeal before them considering that such a dispute terminates at the appellate court level in line with the provision of section 246 of the 1999 constitution. 

“It was brought to flagrant disobedience by the law. This appeal deserved to be dismissed and it is hereby struck out” Augie read out.

Ekwunife had through her lawyer, Dr. Alex Izinyon, SAN, prayed the apex court to set aside decisions of the lower court and reinstate her as Senator, stressing that lower court which sacked her from NASS delved into the issue of nomination and sponsorship of candidate by a political party which is not within its jurisdiction.

On her part, the counsel to Umeh, Chief Patrick Ikweato, while urging the apex court to dismiss Ekwunife’s claim, posited that it constitutes an abuse of court process, even as he cited section 246 (3) of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as (amended) which made the Court of Appeal the final court on matters related to National Assembly elections.

Ikweato also told the Supreme court that Ekwunife was no longer a member of PDP having decamped to APC, where she lost the party primary, and that PDP, has obtained judgment of Federal High Court, indicating that she is no longer its member.

Feelers from APGA faithful and Umeh’s supporters since inception of this judgment is that it has led to rest all matters related to national assembly elections. They appeared to be saying that the ruling has empowered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the rerun, even though both the National and State chapters of INEC is yet to speak on the subject matter.

Ekwunife, while addressing the newsmen after the judgment, expressed displeasure over the ruling of the Apex Court, alleging that Umeh only won because he has spent all his life in courts and has come to know all the judges.

She was quoted to have said that, “The February 10 judgment of the Apex Court has come and gone but not without raising some fundamental issues. May I first and foremost assure my teeming supporters and the good people of Anambra Central that your prayers and steadfastness during the whole process would not be in vain. Recall that out of the total registered voters of 720,000 in Anambra Central, I polled 98,000 votes to defeat Victor Umeh who scored 83,000 votes. That's about 23% of the total registered voters, an evidence that the election was free, fair and credible.

“Victor Umeh knows that he lost the election. He knows that I defeated him clearly. All he wants is to go to the polls unopposed by ensuring that no other party fields a candidate. He has taken all parties to Court to stop them from contesting with him, but I can assure you without fear of contradiction that it will not happen.
It is only Victor Umeh that can explain what transpired between him and the Appeal Court Judges that led the Judges to nullify my election based on party primary election that produced all PDP candidates in that election. 

“The election tribunal struck out his petition for lack of jurisdiction stating that a member of another party cannot challenge nomination of another candidate from another party where he doesn't belong but unfortunately Appeal panel headed by Justice AD Yahaya assumed jurisdiction and nullified the election saying I wasn't a product of a valid primary election.

“However, the Supreme Court's decision today that they lacked jurisdiction to look into the petition because National Assembly election petition stops at Appeal Court will further support the impunity in some appeal panels, which means candidates of other political parties can now challenge the processes of nomination of candidates in other parties where they don't belong.

“I think a bad precedence has been laid and that negates all judicial precedents on pre-election matters being challenged in election tribunals. Having lost the election, Victor Umeh is bent on going to the Senate through the Courts but that will never happen: he must subject himself to election with other candidates. No Court disqualified me because you can't disqualify a candidate based on improper political party primary.

“The constitution is quite clear on how a candidate can be disqualified. All they said in the body of the judgment is merely an orbiter which is not contained in the enrolled order of Court. If Victor Umeh is sure he will win the election why is he afraid to face other candidates? Why is he busy running up and down in all courts to get other candidates out of the race in order to go unopposed? I want to assure you that I am not deterred in any way and therefore I encourage you not to loose hope but to remain steadfast as the battle has just started.

“It is Victor Umeh who lost election but went to Court for undue respite that should be jittery as the road to Senate is murkier for him now than before. God will never allow those who inflicted harm on His chosen one to go unruffled. That is the word of God. Your unequalled support, solidarity, prayers and loyalty have kept me going. I am certain that my achievements in the Federal House of Representatives for 8 years and in the Senate for few months are enough reasons for your believe in me and that also gladdens and emboldens me.

Responding in another interview, Umeh, who is an immediate past Chairman of APGA, maintained that he won the March 28, 2015 Anambra Central Senatorial poll but it was then stolen by Ekwunife whose party, PDP was the ruling party at the centre, and used security agents to rig the election.

“Well, she is my younger sister. And I can’t join issues with somebody who has lost. You can see that she is frustrated and angry. But I will use this opportunity to plead with her to exercise restraint. She doesn’t need to speak recklessly because she lost an obvious battle. When she went to the House of Representatives, I was the one that helped her to get there through APGA. I was a good man then. And now that she has tried to bite the finger that fed her and she got burnt, what do you expect me to tell her? She should respect the constitution. And the Justices have told her that National Assembly election matters end in the Court of Appeal.”

But apparently responding to Umeh’s claim, the Publicity Secretary of APC, Okelo Madukaife said that it is not yet time for anyone to claim victory as the battle is not yet over.

"Our great party is proud of Senator Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, on the gallant pursuit of perverted Justice, which trajectory is far from over. We will participate on the rerun once the outstanding six law suits pending in different law courts are disposed off. We look forward to the real beginning of the unresolved issues pending in the court when hearing opens in other cases. APC’s place in the election is supported by laws and judgments and the participating and winning is in sight. "Questions of the timing, nature and participants in the election will be answered ahead and Ekwunife and the APC will be there to provide part of the answers."

Analysts contend that this APC image maker’s statement indicates that it may likely replace Ikeazor to Ekwunife since she (Ikeazor) was recently appointed as Executive Secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) when President Buhari named 13 new Chief Executives some months back. The APC’s former woman leader, it would be recalled had pulled 35 votes as Ekwunife got 284 votes against 16 invalids votes during the APC party senatorial primary held at Olivia hotel, Awka.

All the same, their postulation could only come to fruition if the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano, who is allegedly investing the state’s tax payers money and his security votes into the election to see that Umeh goes to senate and remove his eyes from his governance.

“Do you think that Umeh obtained those court judgments alone or for nothing? No! it was duly sponsored by the state government. There was an agreement to see him at the senate at all cost. That is why they are head bent to make him stand for the election unopposed. Come to think about it. How come Umeh’s boy and recommendation to the governor, Elo Afoka recently declared for Governor under APGA despite that the party said that it would give Obiano automatic ticket. That Umeh’s plot to make him sit-tight. Afoka is Umeh’s brother and he recommended to the governor and he was made SSA to the Deputy governor…” an insider to the government house alleged.


Indeed, the gubernatorial posters of the said Obiano’s aide, Elo Afoka is everywhere in the state although it contains no political party. But in an interview with journalist, he said he remains an APGA member and not going to decamp to other political party. 

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