â€¦as Appeal Court says governorship is not hereditary
By Tony Edike
ENUGU–THEÂ Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, Friday,Â has dismissed the application filed by the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) in the 2007 election in Anambra state, Dr Emmanuel Andy Uba seeking to be automatically sworn in upon the expiration of the tenure of Governor Peter Obi on March 17, 2010 without any election.
The court said it was in support of the position of the supreme court on the matter which had earlier held that there was no vacancy in the gubernatorial seat of Anambra as at the time the said election which purportedly returned Uba was conducted.
The appellate court was unequivocal in its decision to reject Ubaâ€™s prayer to declare him Governor-in-waiting on the strength of his earlier victory at the pools saying the governorship seat was not a traditional stool that should be hereditary.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by the five-man panel of justices led by Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, the appellate court held that although it had jurisdiction to entertain the application, but after due consideration and looking at the arguments by the applicant and respondents, the court had no choice than to dismiss the application in its entirety as it â€œlacks merit and has no moral basis and will be a judicial blunder of immense proportion to grant these reliefs being soughtâ€.
While dismissing the application in its entirety, the court said that each party should bear the cost of litigation. It however berated the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting the said governorship election in Anambra in 2007 even when Governor Obi was at the apex court seeking for the interpretation of his tenure.
In a quick reaction to the courtâ€™s verdict yesterday, National Chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh said the judgment has further shown the judiciary is committed to the sustenance of the nationâ€™s democracy, adding that anything contrary would have been counter-productive.
â€œOnce again, the judiciary has shown that it remains the last hope of the common man and that it is committed to our democracy. We hail the Court of Appeal for resisting this ignoble invitation to sabotage the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Democracy can only survive by upholding the rule of law and also jealously defending the constitution of Nigeria. The court of appeal and the judiciary have this day stood very firmly on the side of the constitution and it gives so much hope that democracy can be nurtured in this country through a firm intervention by the judiciary.
â€œThe judgment of the Court of Appeal today has vindicated an earlier position held by the National leader of APGA, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who had patriotically called for the supremacy of the constitution in this matter.
This verdict has now cleared the coast for the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State fixed for 6th of February 2010. APGA will continue to demand along with well meaning people of Anambra State for a credible, free and fair election in Anambra State come 2010.
Justice Ngwuta in the lead judgment which was concurred by the rest of the justices noted that it was prejudicial for the INEC to have gone ahead to conduct the April 14 gubernatorial election even when the matter in which INEC was also a party was yet to be dispensed with at the apex court.
He said that the Supreme Court eventually ruled that Peter Obiâ€™s tenure runs from March 17, 2006 to March 17, 2010, and ordered that Uba who had been returned by INEC and sworn in as the winner of April 14 2007 governorship election of Anambra State, vacate the office immediately for Obi to complete his tenure since there was no vacancy in the first instance.
Ngwuta maintained that Ubaâ€™s argument that he was governor in waiting since no tribunal or court nullified his election, does not hold water since, according to him, the court or tribunal cannot nullify what does not exist. He wondered where Uba got the governor-in-waiting appellation.
â€œThe April 14 2007 election is a nullity ab-initio, it is an indisputable fact that the election was conducted outside the law. The election is nullity, there is no need for court to set it aside, it does not exist in law. A court does not act in vein, so there is no need setting aside what does not exist.
â€œThe seat of power in Anambra State is not a hereditary stool, it is only through due process as prescribed by the electoral act and the constitution can somebody be elected to occupy that seat. The election that brought Uba was an illegal act and nobody demands right or relief on illegal act. Accordingly reliefs 1 to 4 are hereby dismissed and consequently the application is dismissed. Each party should bear its cost,â€ he ruled.
Justice Ngwuta had argued that based on the Supreme Court judgment, which said that Obi remains governor till March 17, 2010, the election of Uba therefore violates Section 178 (2) of the 1999 Constitution which prescribes that election to the office of the governor should hold not earlier that 60 days and not less than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent.
Granting the application, according to him will equally rob Obi of his right to seek a second term in office in line with the law, as well as disenfranchise those who were not of voting age in April 14, 2007 but who will be in March 17, 2010.
The appellate court maintained that the consequential relief being sought by the applicant was substantial in nature after critical examination but that enough evidence were not taken in that regard. He stated that since the court remained the final court in governorship election cases, it had become very important for it to be careful in granting the relief so as not to foreclose the right of others to seek further redress.
The other justices including Justice Kekere Ekun, Paul Galinje, Abdul Adoki and Jean Omokiri all aligned themselves with the lead judgment.
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it would abide by the judgment by going ahead with the planned governorship election scheduled to take place in Anambra on February 6, next year. It said the judgment had finally laid to rest all the ambiguities and controversies surrounding the conduct of the April 14 gubernatorial election in Anambra state.
Speaking with newsmen, Counsel to INEC in the case, Chief Amaechi Nwaiwu (SAN) hailed the judgment as been â€œvery thorough and in-depthâ€ noting that they had finally secured the clarification and guidance which the commission had all while the case lasted prayed the appellate court to provide to them.
â€œThe judgment is a landmark decision in the sense that the court has laid to rest all the controversies concerning the governorship seat of Anambra after March 17 next year. Weâ€™ll abide by the judgment by going ahead to conduct the scheduled election in the state next year. We are happy,â€ Nwaiwu stated.
The APGA National Chairman, Chief Umeh, tasked the INEC to ensure that the forthcoming election in Anambra State was conducted in a free and fair manner. â€œThe INEC should key into the firmness and boldness demonstrated by the Court of Appeal in this case in the discharge of its own responsibilities in the conduct of the forthcoming governorship election in the state.
APGA and the people of Anambra State will resist any attempt to compromise that election. The Federal Government has assured of providing adequate security for that election but that is not enough. The Federal Government should also ensure that INEC conducts that election in a credible, free and fair manner,â€ he stated.
In his reaction, the governorship candidate of the Action Congress (AC) in the next yearâ€™s gubernatorial election in Anambra state and former governor of the state, Dr Chris Ngige hailed the judgment as representing the overall interest of the people of Nigeria. He stated that the judgment has emboldened them to formally kick off the campaigns for the governorship of Anambra state.