By Jonas Ogwudile
FOR sometime now the media, both print and electronic, have been inundated with advertorials, commentaries and articles, all criticising the position of the Senate leadership that until the case between Senator Joy Emodi and Hon Alphonsus Igbeke is finally determined at the court, it cannot swear in Hon Alphonsus Igbeke as the Senator representing Anambra North Senatorial District in that hallowed chamber.
This position is very understandable as the Court of Appeal Enugu caused all this confusion. In its first decision on the contested seat, given on February 10, 2009 Justice Mohammed L. Tsamiya in his lead judgement stated that there were, amongÂ others, two major issues to be determined: (1) Whether the election held on 28th April 2007 in the Anambra State North Senatorial District was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2006 and (II) whether the First respondent, that isÂ Senator Joy Emodi, was duly returned as the winner of the said election. The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal answered the question in the affirmative by declaring that the answer to the proposition above was yes indeed,Â a capitalÂ YES.
That isÂ that the Court below, the Election Petition Tribunal was right in upholding theÂ election of Senator Emodi. This was in the case between Hon. Jessie Balonwu and Senator Joy Emodi. It is significant to note that Hon Balonwu was joined in this suit challenging Joy Emodiâ€™s victory by 26 other candidates.
If the Elections Petition Tribunal, after due consideration of all the issues that were brought before it determined that an election was held on theÂ said date and that Senator Joy Emodi won the election as confirmed by the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all reasonable people and men of conscience will assume that the matter wasÂ closed.
Curiously, one Hon. Alphonsus Igbeke who from all accounts did not actually contest the election as he was never seen on any campaign, later emerged as the winner of the said election, having contested on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). Is it not a surprise that a party that has not won a ward election in the entire state since 1999 will suddenly become so popular as to win a senatorial election, all but one of the State House ofÂ Assembly seats, the six House of Representatives seats andÂ the two other senatorial seats having been won by the Peoples DemocraticÂ Party (PDP).
The second judgement of the Court of Appeal Enugu which awarded victory toÂ Igbeke is certainly strange and a great surprise as the result of the election did not follow the known voting trend in Anambra State since the inception of the Third Republic in 1999.
All attempts by Senator Emodiâ€™s lawyers to call attention to the need to thoroughly educate the unenlightened thatÂ S.149 of the Electoral Act 2006 states that if the Election Tribunal or the Court of Appeal, as the case may be, determines that a candidate returned as electedÂ was not validly elected, then if a notice of appeal against thatÂ election is given within 21days from the date of the decision, the candidate returned as elected, shall notwithstanding the contrary decision of the election tribunal or the court remain in office pending the determination of the appeal.
Senator Emodiâ€™s return to the Senate was validated by the Election Tribunal and affirmed by the Court of Appeal Enugu which later gave a contradictory judgementÂ in a separate case that returnedÂ Igbeke to the Senate. Again, Senator Emodi, on observing the injustice and bias inherent in allowing three justices of the Court of Appeal who had earlier sat and ruled against her in the case between herself and Igbeke petitioned and served a motion in the same court that the justices should disqualify themselves from sitting on the panel to review the case.
Her motion was expectedly thrown out. How can you sit in judgment over a case you have given your opinion earlier? This is gross injustice. One wonders why the President of the Court of Appeal and the National Judicial Council should keep quiet over these ugly developments.
Senator Emodi, in exercising her constitutional rights as a citizen of Nigeria, has appealed against this conflicting judgment and taken the matter to the Supreme Court. Right of fair hearing is a guaranteed right to every Nigerian in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.
Therefore if the distinguished Senator feelsÂ Â she has been denied this right by the Justices of the Court of Appeal Enugu, she is empowered by the Constitution to refer the matter to the Supreme Court.
The argument that disputes over National Assembly elections end at the Court of Appeal is illogical as there are constitutional matters that are involved in this case. We are aware that disputes over state governorship elections also end at the Court of Appeal.
Yet it is common knowledge that the Supreme Court is being awaited to give aÂ final decision in July 2010 on the case between Governor Ikedi Ohakim and Chief Martin Agbaso. This is because legal issues of whether INEC has the right to cancel an election whose results have been certified are involved. Senator Emodi, therefore, should continue to sit in the Senate until the Supreme Court; the final arbiter on constitutional matters gives its judgement on the case.
Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria adequately deals with inherent powers of the Supreme Court to review court judgments. Similarly section 22 of the Supreme Court Act has similar provisions. Provisions for such reviews in our laws save the hapless and innocent citizens from the tyranny of public officers, including those at the temple of justice.
Even if the Senate leadership is intimidated by legal pundits to deny Senator Emodi her seat in the Senate, her inalienable right to seek justice at the Supreme Court must be exhaustively pursued.
Observers and analysts will be surprised to be informed that Igbeke was one of the first people to congratulate Senator Emodi on her victory at the 2007 senatorial election. How he later emerged as a candidate who â€œwonâ€ majority of votes cast in the same election has been a mystery. The character of the Anambra politician should be a subject for serious research.
The Senate should not be stampeded or blackmailed into committing a breachÂ of the provisions of the Electoral Law and its own rules which state in OrderÂ 53 that it should not intervene in any matter that is in court.
The case between Igbeke and Senator Emodi also throws up issues of forgery, a serious crime in our books. The members of the Election Petitions Tribunal ( during itsÂ ruling ofÂ June 17, 2008) which gave victory of the election to Senator Emodi observed that the duplicate result sheets tendered by the so-called ANPP candidates was â€œless than authenticâ€.
What more does any discerning observer need to conclude that the so-called victory of the ANPP candidate is tainted with fraud and forgery. Instead of his being apprehended for his crime, he is being imposed on our people as our representative in that hallowed chamber. This can only be aÂ theatre of the absurd.