By Ben Agande
The refusal of the Senate to swear-in Alphonsus Igbeke as senator to replace Senator Joy Emordi whose election has been voided by the Court of Appeal is raising more questions than answers.
Â The SenateÂ has, in the last four years, built a reputation as a credible institution in the midst of institutional decay in the country. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, this is the first time that a Senate president would preside over the affairs of the chambreÂ without much controversy. It is a feat that distinguishes Senator David Mark, a retired military general who has had his fair share of controversy as a military man, has achieved where astute and erudite politicians like the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo failed.
ButÂ Markâ€™s seemingly unblemished record is being put to the test following recent developments in the Senate. After three years of battle in the courts, Chief Alphonsus Igbeke from an unpopular party in Anambra State secured the Court of Appeal, Enugu, verdict as the rightful winner of the Anambra North Senatorial District seat. The verdict came as a surprise not only to Joy Emordi, the incumbent senator, but it sent shock waves across the Senate.
When the verdict was conveyed to Emordi in the chambers of the Senate on a day she was preparing to vote on the amendment to the 1999 constitution, she quickly moved up the dais where the Senate president was seated and informed him of the development.
â€œShe was ready to leave the chambers immediately and pack her things out of the office and leave. But the Senate president insisted that she should wait until the end of the dayâ€™s session. But for the Senate presidentâ€™s intervention, Senator Emordi would have left the chambers and possibly the National Assembly and all this controversy would not have arisen,â€ one source told Sunday Vanguard.
That intervention of the Senate president seems to have turned around the situationÂ and is threatening to question the ability of the chambre to rise above collective solidarity when issues involve one of their own.
Shortly after the verdict became public knowledge, it became clear that Emordi whose membership of the Senate was as a result of sustained legal battle was not going to vacate her seat without a fight. And withÂ massive support from her (erstwhile) colleagues in the Senate, Emordi went to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division to seek interpretation of the judgment which snatched the Anambra North senatorial seat from her hand.
Amongst the reliefs being sought byÂ Emordi is that the judgment of 25 March, 2010 which returned Igbeke as the rightful winner â€œwas delivered without recourse to the earlier judgment in appeal No CA/E/EPT.73,2008 and the judgment of the Court of Appeal in appeal no: CA/E/EPT/73/2008 has conclusively determined all the issues canvassed in appeal no: CA/E/EPT/04/2009 delivered on 25 March, 2010.â€
Though the suit filed by Emordi did not seek to restrain the Senate from swearing in Igbeke, the Senate president, acting on the advice of his lawyers, ignored the Appeal Court ruling in favour of Igbeke and allowed the embattledÂ Emordi to remain on her seat.
For a man who is seen to have brought credibility to the Senate through his transparent and credible leadership, why would Mark seek to throw away this just to please his (erstwhile) colleague?
Emmanuel Aziken, until lately Vanguard Senate correspondent, provided an insight into what may have informed the special treatment being accorded the Senator Emordi by the Senate leadership.
Writing on the removal of the senator by the Court of Appeal, Aziken, who titled his piece, â€˜Has the Joy of the Senate Been Restrained?â€™ said: â€œWhy Senator Joy Emodi was dubbed the Joy of the Senate by the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, has never been revealed. But the woman who was removed from the Senate last Thursday by the Court of Appeal was an accomplished legislator who left a memorable legacy in her legislative and personal conducts that inspired joy in the gloomiest days of the Senate.
â€œMemory of Mrs. Emodiâ€™s time in the Senate is ingrained in her stewardship of the Senate Committee on Education. Before her advent as Chairman of the Committee on Education, that particular committee had been reputed for vice as encapsulated in the N54 million bribe for budget scam. To her credit mutterings of such malfeasances were suppressed in her timeâ€
It is this rather benevolent assessment of the person, Joy Emordi.
But should the Senate sacrifice the rule of law on the altar of the popularity of the person? This is the question that many Nigerians have been trying to find question to.
Justifying the decision of the Senate, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Information, Senator Ayogu Eze, said what the Senate did was not to favour one of its own but to respect the independence of the judiciary since the issue is in court for interpretation.
According to him, â€œWe have a procedure in the Senate. When a matter is in court and it is even in our law book, we will not deal with it in such a way that it will pre_empt or affect the outcome. The Appeal Court sitting in Enugu issued two judgments. One of them which was the first one returned Joy as duly and validly elected. Another one, the same court in another breath, issued another judgment returning one Igbeke as validly elected.
â€œWe will be failing in our responsibilities and duties to go and take any action that forecloses whatever that interpretation was meant to achieve. So we are just obeying lawful order and we do not have any reason in the light of this judgment to ask Joy not to resume her sit until we get interpretation. That is what happened.â€
Ayogu said contrary to the perception of Nigerians that the Senate was working to block Igbeke, â€œWe do not have any reason to support candidate A or B. they are all Nigerians striving to represent their people. We just want to be sure that whatever we are doing in the Senate is guided by the decision of the court. If tomorrow, the court comes with clarification stating that it is position A or B, the Senate will quickly align itself with the position without hesitation. We do not have a role in it. And we do not prefer any other. We are making sure that we do not fall foul of the law.â€
The Emordi saga, as the emerging issue is dubbed in Abuja political circle, has begun to attract more attention and criticism of the Senate. After days of silence on the matter, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, joined the fray in calling for the respect of the court ruling.
National publicity secretary of the party, Emmanuel Eneukwu, accused the Peoples Democratic Party dominated Senate of trying to precipitate crisis by its refusal to swear_in Igbeke.
â€œOur party is not happy that the litigation process lingered for three years since the election in April 2007. This is because the PDP has deliberately decided to delay the judgment so that Senator Emordi who is wrongfully sworn_in would continue taking allocation meant for the ANPP candidate who has only one year left to represent the people who gave him the mandate,â€ the spokesman stated.
With the battle line again drawn between Emordi and Igbeke, what ever the outcome of the court process, many commentators believe that the otherwise sterling credibility of the Senate president as a credible and transparent leader has been tainted by his failure to swear_in the ANPP candidate when the latter presented his certificate of returns issued to him by INEC after the Court of Appeal Verdict of 25 March, 2010.