*Orders swearing-in of ANPP candidate, Igbeke
By Tony Edike
ENUGUâ€”THE election of Senator Joy Emodi representing Anambra North Senatorial District in the National Assembly was nullified by the Court of Appeal, Enugu, yesterday, on the grounds that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, wrongfully declared her, winner of the 2007 election.
The court instead declared her opponent in the election, Chief Alphonsus Igbeke alias Ubanese of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP winner of the senatorial seat, which Mrs. Emodi had occupied in error for a period of two years and ten months.
Emodi, who until now was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, came into the Senate in 2005 after winning her petition at the same Appeal Court against Senator Emmanuel Anosike of the Peoplesâ€™ Democratic Party, PDP, who contested the April 2003 Senatorial election with her.
Anosike later emerged as Professor Chukwuma Soludoâ€™s running mate in the recent Anambra governorship election which they lost.
Emodi served her first term in the Senate between 2005 and 2007 before she was re-elected in 2007 on the platform of PDP to represent Anambra North comprising seven local government areas. But her mandate was cut short yesterday, courtesy of the Appeal Courtâ€™s verdict, which ordered her to immediately vacate her seat for Igbeke.
In a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Ayo Ariola, the court held that the INEC acted in error by declaring Emodi winner of the April 2007 senatorial poll, saying that from the evidence before the court, Igbeke of the ANPP won the election convincingly.
The court said the Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal was right in its decision to nullify Emodiâ€™s election based on the fact that elections did not hold in Onitsha South and Ayamelum local government areas.
Igbeke had asked the lower tribunal in Awka to declare him winner of the senatorial seat on the strength of the votes cast in five local government areas which gave him a clear lead over other contestants including Emodi. His petition succeeded and he was declared winner of the election but dissatisfied by the judgment, Emodi proceeded to the appeal court.
Igbekeâ€™s argument before the appellate court was that no election was held in Onitsha South and Ayamelum, insisting that he secured the highest number of valid votes cast in the five councils where elections held. He further contended that INEC neither published the result nor posted it on its website, adding that both Emodi and INEC did not front-load the result.
These were all resolved in his favour, yesterday, by the three justices of the appeal court which is the final bus-stop for election cases, and they went further to order that Igbeke be sworn in latest by Monday, May 29, 2010.
The court said that INEC which had the onus to prove that there were elections in the two councils failed to do so, adding that the law did not provide that Igbeke must be the one to prove the allegation that elections never held in the two councils.
Speaking with reporters after the judgment, counsel for Emodi, Mr. Hypo Onwuegbuke, said the decision of the appeal court did not in any way reflect what transpired at the lower tribunal but added that since the matter could not proceed beyond the appeal court level, they had to accept the verdict in good faith.
No election in Onitsha South and Ayamelum
Onwuegbuke said: â€œThe appeal court agreed with Igbeke that no election was held at Onitsha South and Ayamelum even when Senator Emodi had tendered her voterâ€™s card to prove that she voted at Onitsha South on the day of the election. Another witness, one Malachy from Ayamelum also tendered his voterâ€™s card and testified that the election took place in the area. But all these meant nothing to the court. Since we can not go beyond this level, we have to accept the verdict.â€
On his part, Chief Igbeke, whose supporters went into wild jubilation at the premises of the court after the judgment, thanked the court for restoring his â€œstolen mandateâ€, promising that he would ensure effective representation of Anambra North at the National Assembly.