*orders status quo ante bellum
An Anambra State High Court 3, presided over by Justice H.O. Ozor, yesterday(Wednesday) further adjourned hearing in the suit filed by Prof. Titus Eze, the embattled Chairman of the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission (ANSIEC), in which he is challenging his removal from office Sept 6, 2011by the State Government following an allegation of financial impropriety.
The matter has now again been adjourned to December 6 for the adoption of addresses by the parties, preparatory to the delivery of the judgement.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Emmanuel Chukwuma, applied for another “short adjournment” to enable him file response to the application made by counsel to the plaintiff, Mr. Nnamdi Ibegbu (SAN), which prayed the court to restrain the State government from appointing a new chairman of ANSIEC until the suit is heard and determined.
Chukwuma, while applying for the adjournment assured the court that, “ My papers are not ready. I give an undertaking on behalf of the defendants, that the Governor will not appoint, and the Assembly will not confirm any person to occupy the chairmanship position until this case is over. We will wait.”
Ibegbu, counsel to Prof Eze did not oppose the application for adjournment based on what he said was his belief that the Anambra State Government would abide by the undertaking given by the attorney general not to appoint any chairman for the commission until the case was disposed of.
According to the counsel, “In view of the undertaking which is firm that the status quo ante bellum will be maintained. I will concede to the application; and in view of the fact that His Lordship in the interest of justice wants to dispose of this matter.”
However, speaking to reporters after the session, Chukwuma and Ibegbu in their separate interviews disagreed sharply over the consequence of the electoral commission not having a substantive chairman before the local government elections is conducted.
While Chukwuma said the removal of the commission’s chairman does not affect any aspect or legality of functions of the commission, Ibegbu said the commission cannot conduct any election without its substantive chairman.
The attorney general emphasized that no acting or substantive chairman has been appointed for the commission, but that whenever members of the commission meet in the absence of the chairman, they could appoint from among themselves someone that will preside over the meeting.
“They (the commission) do not need a substantive chairman to conduct the local government elections. The law makes provision for a situation as this. ANSIEC is alive and kicking,” he said.
But Ibegbu, the counsel to the ousted ANSIEC Chairman, said though the day-today administrative functions of ANSIEC cannot be crippled because of the absence of a substantive chairman, the local government election cannot be conducted without a substantive chairman, as that was supported by the enabling law.
“They cannot conduct the election without the Chairman of ANSIEC. That is why the judge has given an accelerated hearing to the matter.
“The relevant provisions of the Constitution give them (members of the commission) the authority to be appointed and stay for five years. They are not appointed for fun. A member cannot play the role of a chairman,” Ibegbu said.
The lead counsel said that not only was his client unlawfully remo0ved from office, he argued that he was not given any hearing at all by the house of assembly, which removed him. “It is not a case of fair hearing. It is a case of no hearing at all,” he said.
In the substantive suit, the former ANSIEC chairman is urging the court to declare his purported sack as the Chairman of ANSIEC was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect.
He is also praying the court to declare that the proceedings of the Anambra State House of Assembly of September 6, 2011 purporting to remove him from office was illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.
Eze further prayed the court to declare that he is still and remains the valid and lawful chairman of ANSIEC.
Local government elections have not been conducted in Anambra State since 2003.