By Innocent Anaba & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has deepened further, due to the inability of courts to determine who should be the authentic governorship candidate of the party in Enugu, Anambra and Ondo States ahead of next month’s general elections.
All the courts across the federation are currently under lock and key following the indefinite strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, JUSUN, since January 5.
Meanwhile, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr Joseph Daudu, has said the strike was illegal, as it has imposed undue hardship to different segment of the society.
The development had foisted a state of helplessness on the ruling party which was statutorily required to submit the names of its governorship flag-bearers in the affected states to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, within a specified period.
Left with little option, the national leadership of the party, despite subsisting court orders, had gone ahead and submitted to INEC, names of aspirants it said emerged from its primaries in the four politically-turbulent states.
The said primary elections are, however, the subjects of the litigations before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, with more than two aspirants in each of the states laying claims to the governorship ticket of the party, having emerged from parallel primary elections in their states.
Meantime, the decision of the party to submit names of its choice candidates to INEC ahead of the impending general election has, however, exposed it to contempt proceedings.
Specifically, Justice Evoh Chukwu of the Federal High Court, had on December 18, ordered PDP and INEC not to submit or accept anyone as the governorship candidate of the party till January 14, a day he adjourned to hear separate suits lodged by two PDP governorship aspirants in Enugu State, Senator Ayogu Eze and owner of Peace Mass Transit Limited, Dr. Samuel Maduka Onyishi.
Whereas Senator Eze is praying the court to not only okay the parallel primary election that produced him, but to also declare him as the authentic flag-bearer of the party for the impending governorship election in the Enugu State, Onyishi who also purchased the expression of interest/nomination forms for the election, is seeking an outright cancellation of the December 8 primaries for being in breach of section 87(4) (b) (I) of the Electoral Act.
Also, the court granted an application by Hon Ifeanyi Ugwanyi, who was said to have won the controversial primaries, to be joined in the suits as an interested party.
Ugwuanyi, who is a member of the House of Representatives, had in his application through his lawyer, Mr. Patrick Ikwueto, SAN, insisted that he ought to be joined as a party in the suits since the outcome could affect his political interest in the state.
Onyeshi prayed the court to, not only direct PDP to conduct a fresh governoship primary election in Enugu State, grant an injunction restraining INEC from accepting/acting upon any name whatsoever forwarded to it by PDP as the winner of the election purportedly held on December 8 or as the candidate of the party for the forthcoming governorship election in the state.
Similarly, Senator Eze in his suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/2014, prayed the court to restrain “the PDP, the National Working Committee, NWC, and INEC, by themselves, agents, officers, officials, privies or representatives and other person whatsoever, deriving authority from them from submitting, forwarding or sending the names of any other person other than himself, as their duly elected governorship candidate for 2015 governorship election in Enugu State, pending the final determination of the substantive case.
Meanwhile, the Anambra chapter of the PDP has asked the court to jail INEC chairman, Prof. Jega for flouting a court order in relation to the outcome of its National Assembly primaries in Anambra State.
The court had on December 5, 2014, restrained INEC from accepting “any delegate list or nominated candidates” from the congresses or primaries conducted by the caretaker committee that was purportedly set up by the party’s national leadership to manage the affairs of the Anambra PDP.
Delivering judgment on a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/854/2014, which was filed by the Chairman and Legal Secretary of Anambra PDP – Ejike Oguebego and Chuks Okoye – (for themselves and the state’s executive committee of the party), Justice Chukwu affirmed the plaintiffs’ as leaders of the party in the state.
He equally declared the caretaker committee illegal on the ground that it was wrongly constituted while the tenure of the Oguebego-led EXCO was yet to expire.
Therefore, the court stopped INEC and its agents from accepting any delegates list or nominated candidates from primaries or congresses conducted by the said illegal committee.
In Ondo State
The story is not different in Ondo State where different factions of the PDP in the state are fighting over who should be regarded as the authentic gubernatorial flag-bearer of the party for the forthcoming election.
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the high court had earlier fixed January 6 to begin hearing on a contempt charge initiated against INEC by the Olu Ogunye-led executive of the party in the state and some aspirants to the House of Representatives.
The contempt proceeding emanated from an order of the court that directed INEC to only relate with the Ondo State PDP executive headed by Ogunye in respect to the conduct of primaries and election.
It was alleged that rather than comply with the said order made by Justice Ademola Adeniyi, the electoral body received two lists of nominees from the PDP national body and the plaintiffs.
However, although the PDP went ahead and submitted the names of some of the candidates against the subsisting court order, the ongoing strike by JUSUN has however stalled the planned hearing on both the contempt and substantive suit.
Also, hearing was aborted on who should be recognised by the electoral body as the bona-fide governorship candidate of the PDP in Niger State.
The high court had originally slated January 8 to hear and determine whether INEC should publish the name of Alhaji Umar Nasko or that of Mr Mu’azu Hanafi Sarkin as the candidate of the party in the state.
Sarkin had through his lawyer, Mr. Chukwuma Ekomaru, SAN, argued that the voting that took place at the Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, Minna, was in contravention of Article 19 (1) of the PDP Electoral Guidelines and Section 87 (8) of the Electoral Act, 2010.
He contended that evidence on record before the court as admitted to by the party in its counter-affidavit, showed that only a single agent of the party purportedly wrote names of delegates and cast votes on their behalf, contrary to Section 199 of the Evidence Act, and urged the court to direct the defendants to produce “all the illiterates they helped to write their names during the primaries”
Ekomaru also challenged the 908 votes “purportedly cast for Nasko” at the primary of the party held on December 8, arguing that the said primary was unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect as the process was conducted in breach of specific provisions of the Electoral Act, 2010.
Daudu, Coordinator Rule of Law Development Foundation, in a statement in Abuja, said the effect of the strike is phenomenal, because “aside from the economic and social losses occasioned to the country, which runs into billions of Naira, the psychological trauma inflicted on the nation by this strike, especially in view of the impending election, is incalculable.
“Pre-election cases that will determine appropriate and or eligible candidates for the said elections have been put under lock and key by JUSUN’s action. Governorship election petitions now pending suffer the risk of being caught by section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, which prescribes that all petitions must be concluded within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition and does not provide for any allowances arising from force majure situations.
“The current industrial strike by JUSUN is not only ill-timed but it is lawless, illegal, and unconstitutional and is also made in the utmost bad faith. We call upon JUSUN to call off its strike, return to the drawing board and restrategise in view of the inherent and indeed manifest constitutional weakness of its cause.
“It is in the overall interest of Nigeria that JUSUN is not unwittingly used to arrest the nascent democratic growth of this great country.
“Nigerian political history is replete with persons, groups etc who have played the same kind of role that JUSUN is now playing and have in the process set the nation’s political timetable back.”