After the conclusion of the March 28, 2015 National Assembly elections, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, the then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner of the Anambra Central Senatorial poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with 101,548 votes.
Ekwunife’s main contender, Chief Victor Umeh of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), came second in the race with a total of 77, 129 votes and Chris Ngige, the then candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), now Minister of Labour and Productivity placed third with 20, 850 votes.
Umeh, a dogged fighter and consummate politician who believes in always using the instrumentality of law to seek justice, as against resorting to violence, proceeded to the Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal to challenge Ekwunife’s victory at the poll with the conviction that INEC was wrong to have declared her winner.
The tribunal led by Justice Nayai Aganaba on October 8, 2015, affirmed Ekwunife’s election, but noted that from its calculation she scored 93,300 votes as against the 101,548 originally allotted to her by INEC. The APGA candidate had 85,898 votes from the computation done by the tribunal as against INEC’s 77,129. Notwithstanding the affirmation of her victory at the tribunal, the reduction in Ekwunife’s figure and increase in the number of votes for Umeh, made many to believe that the Anambra Central senatorial poll was rigged and the APGA candidate may have truly won the election as he had invariably claimed.
Consequent upon Umeh’s appeal, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu on December 7, 2015, sacked Ekwunife and ordered a rerun barring her and the PDP from participating on the ground that she did not emerge as candidate through a properly conducted primary election. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the sacked Senator went back to the Appellate Court and requested for a review of the judgement. The Court of Appeal, however, stood by its decision and refused to reverse itself, insisting that its judgement was absolutely in order.
Despite the provision of Section 246 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which made the Appeal Court the terminal point for matters relating to legislative elections, Ekwunife headed to the Supreme Court, where Umeh finally knocked her down with a heavy blow.
In dismissing the appeal by Ekwunife challenging the nullification of her election by the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court described her move as a flagrant abuse of court process and disobedience to the Constitution. According to Justice Amina Augie, who read the lead judgement, the Apex Court had no jurisdiction to entertain disputes arising from the conduct of National Assembly elections.
In the words of Augie: “The apex court lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine Ekwunife’s appeal in the circumstance. Looking closely at the wordings of Section 246 (3), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final. This court is completely bereft of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. Once the court of appeal delivers its judgment on a National Assembly Election Petition appeal, the judgment becomes final. For the umpteenth time, the Constitution does not approve of the apex court to entertain this appeal no matter how cleverly it has been framed.”
In his reaction, Umeh described the decision of the apex court as victory for democracy and the rule of law, while calling on INEC to immediately rise to the occasion and fix a date for the Anambra Central senatorial rerun election as ordered by the Appellate Court. He lamented the plight of the people of his senatorial district who had suffered from a long period of non-representation in the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
Hear him: “The next thing to do now is for INEC to fix the date for the fresh election ordered by the Court of Appeal. This judgement has resolved all the issues. Firstly, the judgement read this morning (Friday, February 10, 2017) has confirmed that PDP’s candidate was disqualified by the Court of Appeal before it ordered for the fresh election. That being the case, under our law, somebody who was disqualified in an election can no longer take part in the fresh election. Supreme Court has decided it since 13th of February 2009 – this Supreme Court. So, this affirmation that PDP’s candidate was disqualified according to the final judgement of the Court of Appeal makes PDP not to have a candidate in the election. So, INEC would not wait for anybody to conduct this election. They should go on now to conduct this election. My constituency had been unrepresented for over 14 months now. And it is affecting all of us. The useful time that the person who will win the fresh election would have used to serve the people is being wasted.”
Also the Director General of Victor Umeh Campaign Organisation, Prince Emeka Udodeme, said: “One good thing about this judgement is that it has laid to rest all the cases pending in the court. What we are pleading now is for INEC to do the needful. Fix a date for an election so that the good people of central senatorial district of Anambra State will be represented in the Senate. I am very happy and thankful to Almighty God for the wisdom given to the Supreme Court judges to deliver a perfect judgement. We expect INEC to now do the needful and save this nation from further disgrace and again save the people of the Anambra Central senatorial district who have been without a representative in the Senate for almost two years now. So, we are pleading with them with this Supreme Court judgement to go and fix a date for the election. We are ready!”
The electoral body was actually set to hold the Anambra Central rerun poll on March 5, 2016 as directed by the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal without the PDP. But the PDP got a judgement from an Abuja High Court compelling INEC to include it in the exercise against the ruling of the Appeal Court. This prompted the electoral commission to postpone the rerun indefinitely and appeal the said High Court ruling believed to have been given in bad faith. The development led to series of other frivolous court cases which were meant to simply delay the rerun poll by those who have obviously lost out and want to do everything possible to stop the election from holding till 2019.
However, the February 10, 2017 judgement of the Supreme Court given between Umeh and Ekwunife, to many, as argued by the APGA candidate and his campaign director, Prince Udodeme, has clearly rendered all other pending cases concerning Anambra Central senatorial rerun election invalid and worthless. And in the views of enlightened Nigerians, INEC, do not have any reason to continue to delay the conduct of the exercise.
Many have continued to wonder why PDP, a party that was much more favoured by the same kind of judgment delivered by some other divisions of the Court of Appeal is bent on ensuring that the Anambra Central rerun election does not hold because it was disqualified from participating. For instance, today, PDP occupies Kogi Central and Kogi East seats in the Senate as a result of the judgement that disqualified APC given in the same manner as that of Anambra Central.
In the same vein, the seats of Okene/Ogori/Magongo Federal Constituency in the House of Reps, Ankpa 1 and Ofu State Constituencies in Kogi Assembly all now belong to the PDP due to the same judgement of the Court of Appeal that stopped APC from taking part in the reruns. Outside Kogi State, a PDP member now represents Akko Federal Constituency of Gombe State in the House of Reps because the APC candidate that initially won the seat had his election annulled and was equally disallowed participation in the rerun poll. These are indications that PDP is indeed the greatest beneficiary of such judgements of the Appeal Court where elections were cancelled and the original winners barred from participating in the reruns ordered. Why would the same PDP insist it must be part of the rerun in Anambra Central against the Appeal Court verdict, using all sorts of tricks to frustrate the conduct of the exercise? Why do they want the case of Anambra Central to be treated differently?
INEC must therefore be bold enough to commence the process of conducting the Anambra Central rerun poll without further ado. The Supreme Court judgement, in favour of Umeh against Ekwunife, has further straightened the way for the electoral body, in taking a decisive action to prevent the unnecessary delay that has denied the entire people of Anambra Central the right to have representation in the Red Chamber. The Apex Court was quite emphatic in its pronouncement that no other court has the power or jurisdiction to entertain any matter that has already been decided by the Court of appeal in respect of National Assembly elections. That is the final bus/stop for issues arising from legislative elections according to the justices of the Supreme Court.
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja