Enugu Primaries and the Challenge Before the Courts – By Barrister Obiora Obeagu

Ayogu Eze
In my secondary school days as a literature student, I enjoyed reciting the 1979 Commonwealth award winning poem, “The Fisherman’s Invocation,” written by our own Gabriel Okara, the Bayelsa born writer and poet.  
I very much fancied the lines “The celebration is now ended, but the echoes are all around whirling like a harmattan whirlwind throwing dust around and hands cover faces and feet grope…”. Why? This is largely because, as teens, we used to scamper for cover at the sight of harmattan whirlwind, which we usually referred to in my language, Igbo, as (Ikuku ndi mmuo) “The ghosts wind”. The wind does not only generate confusion and ferry dirty materials, but has the capacity to blind one’s eyes with dust.
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2015 Election Party primaries across the country may have come and gone but the controversies generated by parallel primaries conducted by some desperate political aspirants have continued to raise dusts and distract preparations for the 2015 elections.
I am particularly concerned about the developments in my State, Enugu State, where some aspirants who are members of the PDP resorted to “self-help primaries”, clearly outside primaries sanctioned by the party and the law. It is certainly not in doubt that political parties, and not individual aspirants, are legally authorized by both our Constitution and the Electoral Act to organize primary elections.
I’ve always relished remembering my life as a child growing up in Nsukka; the interesting times, memories and how beautiful life was at that time. But it was in this same Enugu as an adult in my University days that I came face to face with the stark realities of life; that life was the survival of the fittest and that people device unscrupulous ways to get along shoving others aside in the crowd to move on.
This explains the spate of such parallel primaries and the hook and crook efforts by some devious politicians to legalize their unconstitutional and illegal actions through the courts. The barrage of lawsuits asking for restraining orders and declarations did not therefore come as any surprise to some of us.  What is rather surprising is the audacity with which these “parallel primary practitioners” forge result sheets and announce themselves winners daring all criminal implications and political consequences for their parties and the society at large. The reason is simple; these devious politicians increasingly perceive our courts as where anything goes. They now believe that our courts have become platforms for securing political victory at all cost and it does not even matter if your cause of action is tainted with illegality. To them the maxim, “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands” only exists as a mere legal rhetoric. Perhaps their guiding principle is: commit the illegality first and push for its legalization through the courts. If not, how else do you explain the fact that a party man who has reservations, rightly or wrongly, about a process will take laws into his hands, embark on illegal conduct of primary election and at the same time approach our law courts to confer theimprimatur of legality on his illegal actions? 
Such parallel primaries, which are apparently illegal, lacking the backing of the law, party, and the INEC in the first place, should neither be sanctioned by the law courts nor the part, whose constitution has been violated and its authority eroded by the ‘parallel culprits’.   It equally smacks of mischief and indiscipline for a party man, riding on unproven allegation of unauthentic list, to describe as “parallel”, a gubernatorial primary conducted by the Party and the INEC in line with the stipulations of the Party Constitution, the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution. For candidates like Senator Ayogu Eze and Dr. Maduka Onyishi who are contending the outcome of the Enugu primaries, they are like the harmattan whirlwind throwing dusts around and may have an uphill task convincing the court on their allegations.
For instance, Ayogu Eze openly confessed that he was headed for the venue but got a phone call and turned back. How did he then monitor the process to determine what transpired at the venue? If he deliberately excluded himself from participating in the primaries, what right and protection in law does he have to challenge its outcome?
Again, people like Maduka Onyishi should know that the Electoral Act gives a Party the power to regulate the procedure for the election of its candidates. Thus, his arguments when reconciled with the fact that the PDP Constitution, in line with the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution, also empowers the National Executive Committee to formulate guidelines and regulations for the nomination of candidates for election into public offices at all levels and to be the final authority for resolving all disputes relating to the choice of candidates for the party for any election and for conveying same to the Independent National Electoral Commission, confirming the names or list of names of candidates for the party in any elective public office in the federation.
Thus, his suit seeking the cancellation of the primaries, and failing to withdraw same even now that the timeline for substitution of candidates should the party conduct a new governorship primary had since elapsed, leaves one to wonder whether he is indeed a PDP Member or just a mole planted to rock the party’s boat. Beyond his unproven allegations of an unfair aspect of the process, he should also bear in mind that the law calls into question the issue of greater harm and overriding public interest in cases of this nature.
The courts must rise up against the emerging trend by politicians to corruptly entrench “parallel primaries”, which is unknown to the law. It is important to nip this growing development in the bud as they may have long-term destructive effects on our hard-earned democracy if they sail through. We don’t want a situation in future where people will write results of purported primaries in their bedrooms and force it on the party. And the only way to do this is for the courts to call it what it is – illegal. 
However, we must not place the burden on the courts alone. Every party seeks to field candidates that can win elections, candidates who can sustain the good programmes and policies of its departing administration. There is no doubt that Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is the popular choice both of Enugu PDP stakeholders and electorates. Never in the history of Enugu State has one man enjoyed such tremendous goodwill and support in the race to the Lion Building. The same cannot be said about these other people.
Parties must not allow themselves to be railroaded by people who don’t have the overall party interest at heart. The word ‘parallel primary’ just crept into our political lexicon and has become a fact of life because the parties have failed to deal decisively with party members who go against its dictates. If you feel you are popular on ground and are dissatisfied with the process, then follow the internal party mechanisms to resolve it. Otherwise, go to another party and contest and test your popularity instead of destroying the party. We must blame the PDP for not expelling troublemakers in its fold.
-Obiora Obeagu, a lawyer, wrote in from Abuja


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