Why Anambra Central Election Should Hold January 13 – By Ibe Uwaoma
The good people of Anambra Central Senatorial District heaved a sigh of relief following the Independent National Electoral Commission’s decision to conduct the long awaited vacant senatorial seat in the zone on Saturday 13th January, 2018, as ordered by the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division in its judgement delivered by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson on 20th November, 2017.
The three-member panel of the Appeal Court headed by Justice Akomolafe-Wilson dismissed the People Democratic Party, United Progressive Party and Mega Progressive Peoples Party’s preliminary objections and submission on the issue of the appellants’ (Chief Victor Umeh and All Progressives Grand Alliance) locus standi, the Court’s jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and inclusion of fresh candidates to contest the election, and ordered INEC to conduct the rerun within 90 days.
In compliance with the order of court, INEC issued a statement signed by its National Commissioner and member, Information and Voter Education, Mohammed Kudu Haruna that, “The Commission has considered all the circumstances surrounding the election, particularly the 90-day time frame ordered by the Court of Appeal; the demand’s for preparing adequately for the election, as well as the coming yuletide and decided that the rerun election, shall take place on Saturday, January 13, 2018”. This is democracy in action and triumph of due process and rule of law.
With the well considered judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on the matter, it is obvious that all encumbrances to the conduct of the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun poll have now been removed. The rerun election was initially scheduled to hold on 5th March, 2015, as part of over 80 Court ordered fresh elections following the nullification of these elections by various Election Petition Tribunals across the country set up to hear matters arising from the conduct of the 2015 general election. Four days to the election, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Anuli Chikere delivered judgement directing INEC to include PDP in the rerun in flagrant violation of the Court of Appeal Tribunal judgement which barred the party from participating in it.
INEC appealed the contentious judgement, Chief Victor Umeh, the APGA Candidate in the election also approached the Court of Appeal to set aside Justice Chikere’s ruling as it was a giant step backward in the nation’s jurisprudence and representative governance. After extensive legal fireworks that took parties in the appeal to Supreme Court which directed the appellate court to hear the matter expeditiously as “time is of the essence”.
It is this specific order of the Federal High Court, Abuja delivered by Justice Chikere that PDP should be included in the Anambra Central rerun poll of 5th March, 2016, that the Court of Appeal dismissed, thus paving way for the conduct of the long awaited election which has deprived the good people of the senatorial district a representative in the past two years. Since facts are sacred, Justice Chikere who delivered the controversial judgement that scuttled the rerun electionhas since reversed herself on 14thMarch, 2017, in the same Anambra Central Senatorial matter brought by the All Progressives Congress.
With 720,000 registered voters ahead of the 2015 general election, in Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, close to 840,000 total registered voters in Bayelsa state, the people of the zone desire and deserve an effective representation in the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The same scenario played out in Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial Districts where the election petition tribunal sacked the two All Progressives Congress Senators for failure of the party to conduct primaries for its senatorial aspirants ahead of the 2015 general poll. PDP challenged APC on the matter at the tribunal which nullified the elections and disqualified the party and its candidates from participating in the rerun polls. The Court of Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision of the election tribunal and INEC conducted the polls excluding APC. PDP which benefitted from Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial seats following the court’s disqualification of APC and its candidates from participating in the rerun now insist on contesting the Anambra Central Senatorial fresh poll fully aware of the position of the law on the matter.
In its judgement of 20th Nov 2017, the Court of Appeal cited the Supreme Court judgement of 13th February 2009, delivered by Justice Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu between the Labour Party and INEC over the refusal of the electoral umpire to include its candidate in a rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal that nullified the April 14, 2007 Adamawa State Governorship election. The apex court declared:
“Where a general election has been held and there is a false start, for example, a candidate who ought to have been part of the election was unlawfully excluded or there was no level playing ground for all the candidates and that election is subsequently either cancelled by the regulating authority like INEC or nullified by an order of a court or tribunal, and a rerun or restart is ordered, it is my humble view that the rerun or restart refers to that general election cancelled or nullified, and not a bye-election.
“The consequence of this is that all the candidates including the one unlawfully excluded would now get back to the starting line for fair and free contest. It does not admit of any other candidate since as it were the period for nomination and screening of candidates would have elapsed. In the final analysis or conclusion, this appeal, I hold in my respectful but firm view, is unmeritorious. It fails and it is accordingly dismissed”.
It is this clear position of the law that guided INEC to exclude all the political parties and their candidates affected by court ordered fresh elections in Nigeria. Justice Anuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja who delivered the contentious judgement that stalled the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun poll took judicial notice of the Supreme Court judgement and reversed herself in subsequent judgements including the suit filed by Sharon Ikeazor seeking the court to order INEC to accept her as substitute to Dr. Chris Ngige on behalf of All Progressives Congress in the Anambra Central Senatorial fresh election. Justice Chikere ruled on March 14, 2017 that the time for withdrawal and substitution had since lapsed before 28th March 2015. It is a triumph of the rule of law that has deepened and strengthened the nation’s jurisprudence and renewed hope in the judiciary as the final refuge of all aggrieved people.
It is amazing that political parties that are not excluded from participating in the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun also rushed to court and filed spurious and frivolous applications to further delay and obstruct the wheel of justice including the All Progressives Congress, United Progressive Party and Mega Progressive Peoples Party with the fallacious assumption that the rerun poll will not hold till 2019 general election.
It is obvious that pre-election litigation is clearly an internal party affair that has no bearing in the on-going court ordered Anambra Central Senatorial rerun poll. As an umpire, INEC has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the rerun is faithfully conducted on Saturday 13th January, 2018. The memories of the scuttled 1993 presidential election by Chief Arthur Nzeribe using the Federal High Court Abuja order, are still fresh in our frail democracy.
Section 87(10&11) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provide: “Notwithstanding the provisions of the Act or rules of a political party an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of this Act and the guidelines of a political party for election may apply to the Federal High Court or the High Court of a state, for redress. Nothing in this section shall empower the Courts to stop the holding of primaries or general election under this Act pending the determination of the suit”.
It is manifest that if all suits instituted by political buccaneers masquerading as democrats will be determined before an election will be conducted, definitely there will be no elections in Nigeria in the next millennium. That will be the end of representative governance in the country.
Uwaoma, a public affairs analyst wrote in from Lagos.