Monday, 25 December 2017

Why Anambra Central may not have Senator till 2019

By Okechukwu Onuegbu
Image result for pictures of umeh, Ekwunife and Ngige

Controversy and intrigues have continued to trail the Anambra Central senatorial rerun billed to hold on January 13, 2018. The senatorial seat became vacant following an appeal court judgment which, on December 7, 2015, sacked Chief Uche Ekwunife, who was the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) declared winner of the poll.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced that Ekwunife polled 101,548 votes to defeat her two closest rivals, Chief Victor Umeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who garnered 77, 129 votes and Chris Ngige, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who got 20, 850 votes.
Umeh, who is a former national chairman of APGA, and known to be in and out law courts for several cases in his political career, proceeded to the Anambra state Election Petition Tribunal to challenge Ekwunife’s victory at the March 28, 2015 national assembly election. Unfortunately for him, the tribunal led by Justice Nayai Aganaba, on October 8, 2015, affirmed Ekwunife’s election noting, however, that its calculation shows that Ekwunife scored 93,300 votes as against the 101,548 originally allotted to her by INEC. The tribunal also disclosed that the APGA candidate got 85,898 votes as against INEC’s 77,129 declared votes.
Still not satisfied, Umeh re-appealed the tribunal judgment at the court of appeal in the Enugu Division. The appeal court, lead judgment, delivered by Justice Datijo Yahaya, on December 7, 2015, sacked Ekwunife and ordered a rerun of the election within 90 days. The court also barred Ekwunife and her party, PDP, from participating in the re-rerun on the ground that she did not emerge candidate through a properly conducted primary election.
Immediately, Ekwunife, who until that judgment was chairman of the senate committee on petroleum (downstream sector), approached the Appellate Court to request for a review of the judgment. The Court of Appeal, however, maintained its earlier decision. Ekwunife further went to Supreme Court to challenge the right of Appeal Court to nullify her election over pre-electoral matter, contending that her colleagues, Senators Andy Uba and Stella Odua of Anambra South and North districts were products of the same PDP primary that produced her as the party candidate. 
But delivering judgment on the appeal on February 10, 2017 Justice Amina Augie who read the lead judgment said the five man panel of apex court that decided the case, presided over by Justice Tanko Mohammed, had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal or matters emanating from the conduct of National Assembly elections. 
“Looking closely at the wordings of Section 246 (3), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final. This, the decision, therefore has no business climbing or driving to this court for adjudication because this court is completely bereft of jurisdiction to entertain here and determine any such appeal from the lower court. Once the court below delivers its judgment on a National Assembly Election Petition Appeal, the judgment is final and this court has no jurisdiction to hear any appeals related thereto no matter how cleverly framed,” Augie read.
Meanwhile, before the Supreme Court judgment, Ekwunife cross-carpeted to APC following the internal wrangling at the PDP national and Anambra State levels, and INEC attempts to conducting the Senatorial rerun on March 5, 2016 as directed by the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal. This period, APC whose 2015 senatorial candidate, Senator Chris Ngige refused to resign his present appointment as Minister of Labour and Productivity to throw his hat in the ring, held a controversial party senatorial primary where it picked Sharon Ikeazor, the party’s National Women leader.
PDP on the other hand, replaced Ekwunife with Peter Obi, the erstwhile governor of Anambra State. The party and APC respectively sent in their new candidates list to INEC, which in turn rejected them, noting that it could only accept Ngige as APC flag bearer and nothing from PDP. INEC further clarified that the poll could only be conducted with fourteen parties and candidates that partook on the March 2015 senatorial poll such as APGA, Umeh; APC, Ngige; Ikechukwu Obiekwe, United Progressive Party (UPP); Michael Igwilo, Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA); Charles Ekwueme, Peoples’ for Democratic Change (PDC).
Others are Ikenna Ubakamma, National Conscience Party (NCP); Nkem Ekweozor, Mega Progressives Peoples’ Party (MPPP); Kingsley Nwofor, Labour Party (LP); Dennis Oguguo, Kowa Party (KP); Ikechukwu Okafor, Independent Democrats (ID); Christopher Chikwendu, Citizens Popular Party (CPP); Anayo Nweke, African Democratic Congress (ADC); Kate Okafor, Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD); and Uche Oyeh, Accord (A).
But to get their dreams actualized, the duo of PDP and APC respectively sought Court to order INEC to include their party’s name on the list of the election. PDP secured a judgment to that effect from an Abuja High Court led by Justice Anwuli Chikere, compelling INEC to include it in the exercise. This prompted the electoral commission to postpone the rerun indefinitely and appeal the said High Court ruling.
The same Anwuri Chikere of Abuja Federal High in another judgment quashed the case brought before it by APC to substitute Ngige to Ikeazor as its candidate. Ikeazor had dragged the INEC before Justice Anwuli Chikere. Justice Chikere on March 16, 2017 held that “The time for the nomination, withdrawal or substitution of candidates for the court-ordered election in Anambra Central senatorial district has elapsed. As decided by the Court of Appeal in the case of Labour Party against INEC, there is no room for fresh candidates in a court-ordered election.”
The President Mummadu Buhari’s APC led administration might have gotten hint of the judgment having on September 27, 2016, announced appointment of Sharon Ikeazor as the Executive Secretary, Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD).
That was even as Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja on November 20, 2017 ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election for Anambra Central senatorial district within 90 days. Candidate of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh and INEC, had filed an appeal against the February 29, 2017, judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, wherein the trial judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere, ordered the inclusion of former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi as PDP candidate. There are also about 20 pending court cases on the rerun initiated by other contestants to the poll.
Umeh, perhaps backing on the euphoria of Kogi Central and Kogi East senatorial seats, Okene/Ogori/Magongo Federal Constituency in the House of Representative, and others where courts sacked and barred APC from participating on the rerun, thereby leading to emergency of their colleagues in PDP, still pursued the judgment to Appeal Court level.
On Monday, November 20, 2017, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja delivered a judgment on it, ordering INEC to conduct the rerun election within 90 days of the judgment. The INEC, following the determination of the case, on November 24, fixed the rerun on January 13.
The PDP, on the other hand, approached the Supreme Court, challenging its exclusion and that of its candidate from the rescheduled poll. As the case was yet to be determined, last Wednesday, December 13, a Federal High Court in Abuja, declared Obiora Okonkwo as the Senator representing Anambra Central senatorial district.
Okonkwo had been in court challenging emergency of Ekwunife as winner of the senatorial seat. At its sitting, the presiding judge, John Tsoho, ordered his immediate return as validly elected PDP candidate following the withdrawal of arguments against the plaintiff by other counsels involved in the case.
The defendants in the suite include Ekwunife, the PDP; Adamu Muazu, its former chairman, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Tsoho also ordered the INEC to issue certificate of return to Okonkwo, and Senate President, Bukola Saraki to immediately swear in the controversial court beneficiary.
Dr. Okonkwo, who is claiming to be the PDP candidate of Anambra Central, said that the Appeal Court Enugu, merely cancelled the PDP primaries where Ekwunife emerged and not the primaries that produced him, hence the January 13 rerun should not hold pending the determination of his case.



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