•Judges, lawyers having a field day as usual

By Vincent Ujumadu

ANAMBRA State made history in Nigeria’s democracy when the Supreme Court, the nation’s apex court, decided in 2007 that the four -year tenure of a state governor begins on the day he is sworn in, thus pioneering the staggered governorship election in the country.

Before that landmark decision, the court had nullified the 2003 election that brought Dr. Chris Ngige of the then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, into office and declared that Mr. Peter Obi who contested on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in that election, was the duly elected governor. The legal battle lasted for almost three years and on March 17, 2006, Obi was sworn as governor of the state.

The following year, 2007 was the normal election year and like in other states, the governorship election was conducted in Anambra State and Dr. Andy Uba was declared winner and sworn in. Obi, who was barely a year in office, had to step down. He however headed to the court, insisting that he was sworn in for a year – tenure and therefore urged the court to declare that the Independent National Electoral Commission ought not to have conducted election in Anambra State in 2007.

After another round of legal battle, the landmark interpretation that an elected governor has to serve for four years before another election could be held in his or her state was delivered by the Supreme Court, citing section 180 of the Nigerian Constitution and Uba had to leave office after only 17 days as governor. That was how Obi continued in office until 2010 when he had to face the electorate again for reelection. Since then, Anambra’s governorship election has been taking place ahead of the country’s general elections.

By the INEC timetable, another election will take place in the state on November 6, 2021 to elect Governor Willie Obiano’s successor who will be sworn in on March 17, 2022.

Eighteen political parties have nominated candidates for the election, although indications are that some of them are holding the tickets in proxy for some people who lost in the primaries of the major political parties. For now, the candidates whose names were published by INEC were  Ekene Nwankwo for A Party, Ifeoma Maduka –Arisa for AA, Sylvester Chukwudozie for AAC, Akachukwu Nwankpo for ADC, Douglas Umeozeoke for ADP, Andy Uba for APC and Chukwuma Umeoji for APGA under controversial circumstance.

Others are Chukwuma Eze for APM, Azubuike Echetabu for APP, Jerry Okeke for BP, Emmanuel Agbasimelo for LP, Leonard Ohajinkpo for NNPP, Adaobi Opkeke for NRM, Nnamdi Nwawuo for PRP, Arinze Ekelem for SDP, Ifeanyi Ubah for YPP, and Uchenna Ugwoji for ZLP.

The PDP was the only political party that did not have a candidate at the time INEC published the list. However, an Anambra High Court sitting in Awka ordered the Commission to enlist Senator Ugochukwu Uba as the candidate of PDP, thereby generating further tension in the party, especially when the Federal High Court also sitting in Awka said it never ordered that the name of Val Ozigbo should not be listed by INEC as the candidate of PDP.

As it is, the judges and lawyers across the country have been having a field day over the Anambra poll.  For instance, while the Federal High Court in Awka was deciding on a case concerning the authentic candidate of PDP, another Anambra High Court at the instance of Ugochukwu Uba was deliberating on the same matter. In the case at the Federal High Court, one of the aspirants of PDP, Mrs. Genevieve Ekwochi, in a case against PDP, INEC and 17 governorship aspirants of the party wanted the court to pronounce Ozigbo as the candidate of PDP for the election. But Justice H.A. Ngangiwa said: “For the avoidance of doubt, there is no order made restraining anybody, including INEC, from doing any act”, adding that “the parties are made to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons.” At that sitting, Mrs. Wendy Kuku, counsel to INEC submitted that there was an order that INEC should not take any further step, arguing that it was based on that that the Commission did not publish the name of Val Ozigbo as candidate of PDP.

At the same time Justice Ngagiwa was sitting, another case brought by Senator Uba was being heard at the state High Court where Justice Obiora Nwabunike delivered a judgment directing INEC to list Uba as the candidate of PDP.  Justice Nwabunike also awarded N10 million damages against the defendants namely, the PDP and Mr. Val Ozigbo, the other candidate of the party produced at the primary supervised by the leadership of PDP.

According to the judge, the primary that produced Uba was authentic because there was a court ruling by Justice Adeniyi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, which had not been vacated.

“An order of court, whether it is right or wrong, must be obeyed until it is vacated. The peculiarity of this case is that there was an existing court order that is still alive” he said.

He said the plaintiff, Uba, relied on the judgment of the FCT High Court to conduct the PDP primary that took place at Paul University, Awka on the 26th of June, explaining that since the PDP did not like the judgment of the FCT High Court, it should have endeavoured to vacate it before deciding to use super delegates during the primary that produced Ozigbo.

He added: ‘Super delegates are officials of PDP. It is their right to serve as delegates, but the issue was that there was a court judgment. Having conducted the primary, this court notes that it was not done according to the law, which might be why PDP appealed against it. The court order, which produced Senator Uba is still existing.”

The decision did not go down well with the leadership of PDP, which argued that Justice Nwabunike’s decision was meant to derail the course of justice by making away with the case file on the Senator Ugochukwu UBA Vs PDP & Ors in a desperate bid to frustrate an appeal against his judgment on PDP Anambra state governorship primary election.

National publicity secretary of PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, while reacting on the development charged Nwabunike to immediately release the case file, as the compromises in the case were already known to the public, especially the people of Anambra state.

The PDP image maker said: “The only reason Justice Nwabunike disappeared with the case file and refused to make copies of his judgment available to the PDP and its candidate, Valentine Ozigbo, is because he (Justice Nwabunike) is aware that his perverted judgment cannot stand in any appeal.

“On July 5, 2021, Senator Ugochukwu Uba, who did not participate in the PDP primary, instituted a suit against the PDP, our candidate, Valentine Ozigbo and INEC, wherein he challenged Ozigbo’s candidature for the November 6, 2021 governorship election.

READ ALSO: Group faults INEC over crisis in Anambra primaries

“Barely 24 hours after Senator Uba instituted the suit, Justice Nwabunike curiously granted an ex parte injunction restraining INEC from carrying out their constitutional duty and also abridged the time within which the Defendants are legally obliged to file their defense from 42 days to only 3 days in violation of Order 16 Rule 1(2) of the Anambra State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019.

“Despite the obvious hardship created by this strange ex parte order, the judge, on the day of hearing, being the 16th of July 2021, denied the defendants time to respond to the processes served on them and proceeded with the hearing of the Plaintiff’s case.

“Regardless of the 180 days provided by the constitution for the hearing and determination of preelection matters, the Honorable Court hastily concluded proceedings and delivered judgment within 14 days.

“The most unfortunate part of this episode is that the judge, after hastily delivering the Judgment, made away with the case file and refused to release copies of his judgment to the defendants despite their application in the open Court as well as the officially written application to the judge.

“However, to the chagrin of the defendants, the Court has gone ahead to issue copies of the Judgment to the plaintiff, Senator Uba.

“Moreover, the trial judge has been making every effort to frustrate the notices of appeal filed by the PDP and her candidate, Valentine Ozigbo.

“The PDP notes that the reason Justice Nwabunike is employing these legal shenanigans is to frustrate the defendants’ appeal against his judgment, which was aimed to assist an individual who did not participate in our primary to distract our party ahead of this crucial election.

“We therefore call on the Chief Judge of Anambra State, Honorable Justice O.M Anyachebelu and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to quickly call Justice O.A Nwabunike to order as there must be an end to judicial abuse.

“Justice Nwabunike must be made to release the case file, as well as the copies of the judgment because his continued refusal is capable of pitching the Judiciary against the people of Anambra, whose mandate, as being expressed in our candidate, Valentine Ozigbo, is being undermined.” At the last count, there were about 10 pending cases in various courts concerning PDP’s governorship ticket.

While Ozigbo and Uba are battling for the ticket of PDP, the case in the ruling APGA is a bit different. In the buildup to the primaries of APGA, tension was so much that the party’s aspirants were attacking each other through their media aides. In APGA, there is this recurring issue of people who claim to be members of the party from outside Anambra State usually infiltrate the party hierarchy and cause so much disquiet by creating parallel structures which serve as conduit pipes used in milking some governorship aspirants.

After the decision of the screening committee that disqualified Hon Chukwuma Umeoji, a member of House of Representatives and others and cleared a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Professor Charles Soludo and three others, the bubble burst in the party. Two persons, Mr. Edozie Nkoku from Imo State and one Jude Okeke started laying claim to the national chairmanship of APGA on the basis that the national chairman, Chief Victor Oye had allegedly been removed from office. As the Oye –led APGA nominated Soludo as its candidate in a primary that took place at the Dora Akunyili Women Development Center, Awka, Nkoku said he had been nominated as the candidate of the party, stating that although he is from Imo State, he is qualified to contest for the governor of Anambra State because he had contested elections previously in Anambra State. Elsewhere, Jude Okeke –led faction of the party announced the nomination of Umeoji as its candidate and so, three candidates emerged from the party.

A major surprise was to come when Umeoji obtained a court order from a Jigawa State High Court declaring him as the candidate of the party a day before INEC was to publish names of candidates for the 18 political parties participating in the Anambra election. And when the list was eventually made public on July 16, Umeoji’s name appeared for APGA as the candidate of the party, while the name of Soludo was conspicuously missing.

As expected again, Soludo and his lawyers went to Court of Appeal to vacate it, while another court in Awka presided over by Justice Chukwudi Okaa was hearing a case instituted by APGA and Mr. Sylvester Ezeokenwa, a lawyer, on the same issue. Those dragged to court as defendants were Edozie Njoku, Okoro Benedict and INEC. In the judgment, Justice Okaa ruled that the national officers of APGA elected in the national convention of the party on May 31, 2019 are validly in office and are therefore entitled to carry out all the necessary activities and steps, including the conduct of primary election for the selection of the APGA governorship candidate in the forthcoming November 21 election.

The judge restrained Njoku and Okoro from taking any action relating to the leadership of APGA and conducting any primary on behalf of the party. He also restrained INEC from according any recognition to anybody claiming to have been elected for the purpose of selecting any person as the gubernatorial candidate of APGA for the November election and ordered the electoral umpire to publish the name of Professor Soludo for the 2021 governorship election.

After he was declared candidate of APGA, Soludo said the exclusion of his name from the list published by INEC came to him as a surprise, adding however, that he was consoled by the outpouring of support from the over 20 million Anambra indigenes both within and outside of the country.

Soludo said: “When it came last week, I was a little bit surprised, though not terribly so because I have been through this road before. When I ran in 2010, we had about 13 court cases in three months and thank goodness, the Nigerian judiciary stood firm and came through in the end.

“Surprising that INEC could take that seemingly surprising decision, but not surprising because we see this all the time around the country. What happened was a very important step in the whole process.

“Of course, those other court judgments have been appealed appropriately. One is confident that the Court of Appeal and probably, if it ends in the Supreme Court, will do the sound justice.”

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Chief Festus Okoye, however, explained that the commission took the decisions in obedience to court orders served on it in relation to the primaries of the affected political parties.

Though the All Progressives Congress, APC does not have multiple candidates, there is disquiet in the party, with some stakeholders keeping mum, which political analysts say might be more dangerous that the plethora of court cases in the PDP and APGA. After its controversial primary supervised by Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, Senator Andy Uba was declared winner amidst protests.

Eleven out of the 14 governorship aspirants, as well as the leader of the party in Anambra State, Senator Chris Ngige, were emphatic that not primary took place in any part of the state and wondered where the committee that came to supervise the primary generated the figures that emerged.

Spokesman of the aspirants, Chief George Moghalu said that in the 326 electoral wards of the state, people came out to vote, but none of the APC team saddled with the responsibility to conduct the primary and INEC officials were seen. Moghalu, who is the managing director of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) said anybody who claimed that there was primary is fraudulent and did not wish APC well in the November 6 election.

Although the aggrieved aspirants called on the party leadership to conduct another primary that would be acceptable to members of the party across the state, nothing has happened in that direction, while the candidate, Uba is already mobilizing for his campaign ahead of the November poll.

Some stakeholders have however waded into the matter to ensure that the party approaches the election as a united body. A group, APC Media Frontier has called on those opposed to the emergence of Senator Andy Uba to sheathe their sword in the interest of the party.  Mr. Ikemba Iyke –Oliobi, spokesman of the group argued that since the primaries had come and gone, all the stakeholders should join hands and support the candidate of the party, Senator Andy Uba to ensure victory.

The group, comprising of professionals in the media industry, as well as APC faithful with immense grassroots reach, said they stepped into the matter at this critical period to ensure that Anambra becomes an APC state after the November 6 governorship election.

Iyke –Oliobi said: “On June 26th, 2021, the All Progressives Congress held its governorship primary to elect the party’s flag bearer for the November 6, 2021 governorship election in Anambra State.

“The direct primary mode was chosen by the National Working Committee of the party, with option A4 method of voting and party members trooped out across the 326 electoral Wards in Anambra State and primary election was conducted and a candidate, Senator Andy Uba emerged the winner as declared by the chairman of the primary election committee, Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State with 230,201 votes.

“However, the outcome of the primary election didn’t go down well with few of the party’s governorship aspirants and supporters, who cited irregularities and non-voting in some places.

“The controversy has since raged on, unabated – a development which is now threatening the life and chances of APC in the November 6th governorship election, if urgent steps are not taken by all stakeholders.

“We, members of the APC Media Frontier, note that this is an unusual time in Anambra State, with every major political party having internal issues with the process and outcome of their governorship primary elections.

“We are therefore mindful of the fact that in order to stand a chance of winning the governorship election, the APC must manage the fallouts of the party’s primary election with care, maturity and humility.”

As it stands, two Uba brothers, Andy and Ugochukwu, both former senators, are holding tickets of APC and PDP respectively, while their younger brother, Chris, is holding sway as the leader of the PDP faction that produced his brother as the PDP candidate.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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