By Pascal Opara
The question of who becomes the bonafide candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Imo North Senatorial seat persists between Ifeanyi Ararume and Frank Ibezim as the duo has been frequenting the courts to establish their individual candidacy for the seat despite the party’s insistence that Ibezim is its official flag bearer as decided in a free primary election.
However, the emergence of Ibezim from the party’s primaries did not actually go down well with some of the aspirants among whom is Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.
Since then, a lot of legal tussle are ongoing. Ibezim has won some of the cases and lost some too but is very hopeful that he would make it to the senate in the end.
Supreme Court, on February 5, ruled in favour of Ibezim by refusing the plea of Ararume to be declared the authentic candidate of the party after dismissing two of his appeals. The Court held that the appeals lacked merit and should be dismissed.
Ruling in two separate judgments, the apex court led by Justice Amina Augie, affirmed the decisions of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division, which voided the proceedings and decisions in the suit filed by Lady Uchenna Onyeiwu Ubah before the Federal High Court in Owerri.
Justice Tijani Abubakar, who read the lead judgments, held that the Court of Appeal was right in coming to the conclusion that the first respondent (Ibezim) was shut out and denied his right to be heard as a necessary party in the suit at the Federal High Court.
While Ibezim and his supporters went to town in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling, an Appeal Court sitting in Abuja upheld the disqualification of Ibezim as the candidate of the party.
The appellate court in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to remove Ibezim’s name from the list of candidates for the by-election, after it found him guilty of submitting falsified documents.
The trial court held that Ibezim was not qualified and eligible for nomination to contest the by-election, having made false declarations in the affidavit and certificates he submitted to INEC for the purpose of contesting the Imo North Senatorial by-election and the irreconcilable conflicts in his names. It, therefore, barred INEC from accepting him as the candidate of the APC for the senatorial by-election.
Following the judgment, Ibezim had challenged the ruling of the appellate court at the Supreme Court. He also faulted the judgment, saying that the court was wrong on many grounds. He regretted that the judgment was based on weak evidence of mere name variation.
He said in disqualifying him based on allegations of certificate forgery, the petitioner failed to invite Uboma Secondary School, Ikperejere, Etiti or the West African Examination Council (WAEC) as witnesses in the suit to deny or confirm the veracity of the certificates he presented, and with regard to variations in his name, Ibezim had maintained that it wasn’t sufficient evidence to disqualify him.
“On the issue of using Frank and Francis, my photograph would have been enough proof that I’m the bonafide owner of the results and that the opponent could not contest that,” says Ibezim.
Ibezim had maintained that the issue of Frank and Francis is just making a mountain out of a molehill and added that Frank is a variant of Francis. Moreover, he pointed out that a better proof of his ownership of the certificates is his photographs which has not been proved to be forged.
As the Supreme Court sits to determine who represents the people of Imo North in the Senate of the Ninth National Assembly, it should take those pertinent questions to mind. These are indeed few of so many questions, seeking answers. There is no doubt that at the end of all this protracted case that has cost Imo North so much, Nigeria’s jurisprudence would have been enriched so much in knowledge and practice.