By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to forthwith, issue Certificate of Return to Dr. Obiora Okonkwo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the validly elected representative for Anambra Central Senatorial District.
The court, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice John Tsoho, further ordered the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki to immediately swear-in the plaintiff to occupy the Senatorial seat which has been vacant since 2015.
The verdict followed a suit marked FHC/Abj/CS/1092/14, which Okonkwo filed against the PDP, its former National Chiarman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, INEC and Mrs. Uche Ekwunife.
The plaintiff had in the suit he filed in 2014, told the court that he contested and won the primary election PDP conducted for the district held on December 7, 2014, at Ekwueme Square in Awka by scoring the highest number of votes cast at the said primary.
He said the primary was conducted by the National Executive Committee of the party.
However, the plaintiff told the court that Chairman of the Electoral Panel that was sent to Anambra state to conduct the exercise, refused to sign and forward the Result Sheet of the primary poll and insisted that Abuja had directed them on whom they should return whether the Plaintiff scored the highest number of votes or not.
Dissatisfied with action of the party, the plaintiff filed the suit wherein he sought an interpretation of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, by the court, even as he alleged breach of provisions of 2014 PDP Guidelines for primary election.
The Plaintiff said he was aware that the Court of Appeal in Enugu had in an election petition No CA/EPT/28/2015, held that Ekwunife did not win the said primary election and was not qualified to contest the National Assembly Election.
He insisted that what the appellate court decided in the petition that was filed by Chief Victor Umeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, against the PDP, was what he equally went to court to challenge, to the effect that he was the the validly nominated candidate of the PDP that scored highest number of votes at the primary and not Ekwunife.
Meantime, after about three years into hearing of Okonkwo suit, all the defendants including Ekwunife, withdrew their objections to the suit, saying they would abide by the decision of the court.
Consequently, Justice Tsoho agreed with counsel to the plaintiff, Chief Sebastine Hon, SAN, that in view of the withdrawal of counter-affidavits by all defendants, he said the court was at liberty under the law to enter judgment in Okonkwo’s favour.
Justice Tsoho therefore granted relief three and sub-paragraph (i-iv) of the plaintiff’s amended originating summons dated June 20, 2017.
Specifically, the court granted: “An order that the Plaintiff/Applicant is the validly nominated candidate of PDP at the 7th December, 2014 PDP Primary Election to nominate its candidate for Anambra Central Senatorial District at Ekwueme Square Awka Anambra State whose Political Party (PDP) contested and won the National Assembly Election that was held on the 28th of March, 2015.
“An order directing that INEC the 3rd Defendant/Respondent cancels the Certificate of Return (if any is subsisting) issued to the 4th Defendant/Respondent (Chief Mrs Uche Ekwunife).
“An order that the 3rd Defendant/Respondent (INEC) issue a Certificate of Return to the Plaintiff/Applicant Dr Obiora Okonkwo forthwith as the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District of Anambra State.
As well as, “An order that the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria swear in the Plaintiff/Applicant Dr Obiora Okonkwo forthwith as the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District of Anambra State in the Senate of National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as there is no occupant of the said seat at the Senate at the moment”.
Justice Tsoho agreed with the plaintiff’s counsel that based on Supreme Court judgments, pre-election matters like the instant case take priority over decisions by election tribunals and other courts in election disputes based on a political seat already contested for.
He said the court was not bound by section 87(9) or 151 of the Electoral Act, 2010.
It will be recalled that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had on November 20, ordered INEC to conduct a re-run election for Anambra Central Senatorial District within 90 days.
A three-member panel of the court headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson, gave the order while delivering judgment in a suit that was filed by APGA and its candidate, Chief Umeh.
Umeh and his party filed the appeal to challenge the February 29 verdict of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which ordered the inclusion of PDP and its candidate, Ekwenife in the Anambra Central Senatorial re-run poll.
Anambra Central Senatorial seat has remained vacant since Ekwunife’s election was nullified.
The Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal sitting in Awka had in their concurrent judgments nullified the election that produced Ekwunife as Senator for the district in 2015, on the premise that she was not validly nominated.
Both the tribunal and the appellate court directed INEC to conduct fresh re-run election in the district.
Dissatisfied with the verdicts, Ekwunife who was formerly a member of APGA before she defected to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, took the case to the Supreme Court for redress.
Ekwunife had since defected to the All Progressive Congress, APC.