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The Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, on Monday, December 7, 2015, nullified the election of Uche Ekwunife, as the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly, consequent upon an appeal filed by Chief Victor Umeh of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
Umeh, the candidate of APGA for Anambra Central Senatorial District in the 2015 general election, had earlier lost to Ekwunife of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the lower tribunal, which gave its ruling in Awka, the Anambra State capital.
However, in its verdict, the Appeal Court described the tribunal’s ruling as a perverse judgement, which cannot stand and it therefore, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a fresh election in Anambra Central within ninety days to elect a new Senator for the senatorial district.
At the end of the National Assembly election held on March 28, 2015, INEC’s Returning Officer, Dr. Pius Okoye, had declared Ekwunife of the PDP as winner of the Anambra Central Senatorial poll. According to Okoye, Ekwunife polled 101,548 votes to defeat fourteen other candidates with Umeh of APGA securing 77,129 votes to come second while Chris Ngige of All Progressives Congress (APC), who was the then incumbent Senator, garnered 20,850 votes to place third.
The former APGA national chairman faulted INEC’s pronouncement and insisted that, “the results that were announced by INEC had no relationship with polling booths results generated during the exercise on Saturday (March 28, 2015) and we therefore, reject the result of the National Assembly election declared by INEC in Anambra State, and Anambra Central in particular”.
In his characteristic manner, Umeh, a respected politician who has proved to be an irrepressible, resilient and dogged fighter, winning several political and legal battles to remain relevant in the game of politics, saw the tribunal as his next option. And as soon as the National Assembly election petition tribunal came on board in Anambra State, he did not waste time to present his case before it. Unfortunately, rather than granting the reliefs sought by Umeh and APGA, the tribunal affirmed Ekwunife of PDP as the winner of the Anambra Central senatorial election, maintaining that the petitioners failed to establish their case which they anchored on alleged mutilations and incorrect figures.
Convinced that the evidence he produced at the tribunal was enough to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt as against the judgement it delivered, Umeh proceeded to the Appellate Court where he believed he would get justice. And justice, indeed, came his way!
In his reaction to the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Umeh, described it as clearly an act of God, noting that, “PDP died the day Jonathan lost election; they should cover themselves with blanket of shame. At the tribunal, they were laughing at us, but today they are covered with shame. We would have won the first election but they introduced impunity and recklessness; they used the police, the army to rig the election.”
The APGA chieftain expressed optimism that he would emerge triumphant in the rerun declared by the Appeal Court, saying: “I will write INEC before this election and I’m optimistic that those who were involved in the former election will not be involved in conducting this new exercise.” Umeh, seen dancing with his supporters in jubilation over the verdict, praised the Appeal Court judges for “standing strongly on the path of truth despite every pressure. This Appeal Court has always been where I get justice, because this is where you find men of integrity.”
Prior to the Anambra Central senatorial election, Umeh was seen to have pulled weight more than any other contestant. Having succumbed to the pressure from his people to contest in the senatorial race, he put up a very robust campaign that showed he was a serious contender for the exalted seat of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Various groups within and outside Anambra State adopted him as the best man for the job with the view that he would not only represent Anambra Central in the hallowed chamber of the Senate, but also serve as a potent voice for the Ndigbo.
Some of the many groups that endorsed his candidature before the Anambra Central poll included the Anambra Central Political Forum, ACPF, Youths for Greater Anambra State (YGAS), the youth wing of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, APGA Women for Good Governance and APGA Solidarity Movement (APGA-SM). They all believe that in Umeh, they have “a fighter and a warrior”. The United Igbo People’s Congress (UIPC) had said that he was the person positioned to fight the cause of Ndigbo by the late Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. According to UIPC, “Chief Umeh’s eloquent opposition against the enemies of Ndigbo prides him as the most outstanding Igbo political leader”.
In a piece titled: “Victor Umeh: A Senator Ndigbo Must Have”, Dr. Elo Afoka, Special Adviser to Anambra State Deputy Governor on Political Affairs, said, “Indeed, Umeh represents the face of the new Igbo political struggle. His victory is a victory for all APGA and Ndigbo. His Senate bid, from his antecedents, is not just Anambra Central senatorial thing. Rather, it’s Igbo’s Senate quest because Umeh, from his antecedent, shall give leadership to all Igbo Senators, and others. Indeed, Umeh’s Senate bid is for Ndigbo. We must rally round to secure it.” Afoka added that, “Among the candidates in Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, Umeh has exuded more energy, boldness, courage, and consistency as regards Igbo struggle”.
Another writer, Onyedika Okonkwo, from Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, in an article captioned: “For Victor Umeh, Victory Beckons with Open Arms”, just before the election noted that “Umeh’s life has revolved around things that affect Ndigbo and he has never shown any hesitation or lack of guts to give voice to the issues that dominate the day… Truth is, Umeh is a light years ahead of his two challengers (Ekwunife and Ngige) in his campaign efforts. Having been handed the party ticket well ahead of his rivals, Chief Umeh has been relentless in his quest to win over the members of his constituency. His campaign billboards loom at you from every corner of the state, stretching beyond his immediate senatorial district. He has striven to reach Ndi Anambra in general without paying any particular attention to the specific zone that will produce the votes.”
Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the rerun. However, Umeh’s supporters are confident that the Appeal Court victory they are celebrating today would not be cut short by the outcome of the fresh election any day it is conducted. For them, their man will certainly carry the day as it has become obvious that the original poll was heavily manipulated and rigged in favour of the PDP candidate.
Notwithstanding her defeat by Umeh at the Appeal Court, Ekwunife also appears to have full confidence that she will still emerge victorious in the rerun poll. Speaking with newsmen in Awka, she boasted that no matter how many times the election is conducted, she will thrash Umeh hands down.
She said: “I am not disturbed by the noise being made in government quarters concerning the outcome of the Appeal Court judgment. I am very optimistic that whenever the election is conducted I will win. I beat Victor Umeh in the last election, but I want to tell you that in the re-run election, I will beat him again and beat him silly.”
Michael Jegede, a media expert wrote from Abuja