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Sunday, 7 January 2018

Proposed Anambra Central Senatorial re-reun: Why INEC must tread softly and shelve it

Proposed Anambra Central Senatorial re-reun: Why INEC must tread softly and shelve it

Mike Ozekhome

INTRODUCTION

INEC has fixed Saturday, January 13, 2018, for the re-run election to the Anambra State Central Senatorial election, an election that has been plagued by hot contestations both at the election field and in a multitude of adversarial cases in courts of law.

Cases emanating from the Anambra Central Senatorial election have dragged from specialized Election Petition Tribunals and ordinary courts of the land(such as High Court and Federal High Court) upto the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

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BACKGROUND FACTS

Chief Mrs Uche Ekwunife,the fearless,gladiatotrial political titan from Anambra State, had featured in Anambra Central Senatorial election in March, 2015 and emerged victorious.

Dr Victor Umeh of APGA, challenged this victory and the Election Petition Tribunal dismissed same. On further appeal to the Court of Appeal,the intermediate court nullified the election and ordered a re-run.

It is apposite to state that the Court of Appeal’s judgment never mentioned which parties or candidates were to participate in the re-run election,whether PDP,APGA or APC. INEC in attempting to consummate the rerun, excluded the PDP.

PDP was peeved and challenged her exclusion by INEC at the Federal High Court,Abuja. In a well considered judgment, Justice Anwuli Chikere, who delivered the judgment, agreed with PDP and ordered its inclusion in the rerun. INEC appealed against this judgment to the Court of Appeal, Abuja.

The only narrow issue presented to the CCourt of AAppeal for determination by the Appellant (INEC), was whether the PDP should be allowed to participate in the rerun, having regard to the fact that her sanctioned candidate,Uche Ekwunife,had earlier been disqualified, based on the invalidity of her nomination, a reason for which Dr. Obiora Okonkwa( a PDP aspirant) had gone to court.

The said Dr Obiora was never a party to the legal tussle between the PDP and INEC,as decided by Justice Chikere and over which INEC appealed. Dr Okonkwo’s issue or challenge of Ekwunife’s qualification for nomination was never an issue in the case between INEC and Ekwunife nor was it discussed or reflected in the processes leading to the judgment or in the judgment itself.

Okonkwo’s case simply bordered on the foundation of who was the originally qualified candidate as between him and Ekwunife in a totally different suit.

LATER DEVELOPMENTS

INEC is said to insist on going ahead with the rerun election for the Anambra Central Senatorial election based on three Court of Appeal orders, directing INEC to conduct rerun elections within 90 days, which it has allegedly fixed for 13th of January, 2018.

This is where INEC as an unbiased umpire must tread softly. It must not tread the path of ignoble dishonor or apparent favouritism.

SEEKING LEGAL OPINION

The reason is simple. In a well considered legal opinion written by its lead external Solicitor,Asiwaju Adegboyege Awomolo,SAN (which has been trending online in the last few days), the erudite senior lawyer recounted the events leading to INEC’s attempt to hold a rerun election, and referred to section 87 of the Electoral Act which views Okonkwo’s action as a pre- election matter.

This is because in a later suit filed by Dr Okonkwo against INEC and others,Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, had in his judgment, delivered on 13th December, 2017,entered judgment for Dr Okonkwo,and held that he was the validily nominated candidate of PDP(as against Ekwunife), during the 7th December, 2014 PDP primary election for Anambra Central Senatorial District,which held at Ekwueme square Awka.

Noting that the PDP had won the said Anambra Central Senatorial election which held on the 20th March, 2015,Justice Tsoho ordered a cancellation of the certificate of return issued to Ekwunife,and also ordered INEC to issue a certificate of return to Dr Obiora Okonkwo “forthwith as the the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District of Anambra State”.

The court concluded by ordering the Senate President to immediately swear in Dr Obiora Okonkwo to the said seat which had been vacant without an occupant at the Senate since the legal hostilities commenced nearly three years ago.

NOW THIS INEC SHOULD OBEY THIS STRAIGHT FORWARD JUDGMENT

Rather than obey this simple lucid judgment, INEC enmeshed itself in some needless labyrinth of legal conundrum, by referring to three earlier Court of Appeal judgments that did not even involve Okonkwo himself.

AWOMOLO’S TIMELY LEGAL OPINION

It is from this background that Chief Awomolo wrote his legal opinion, recalling that Nnamdi Nwaeze, esq, who had appeared for INEC in the case before Justice Tsoho had confirmed not having filed a counter affidavit in opposition to Okonkwo’s matter.

This means INEC did not contest the case. In other words, it agreed with Okonkwo. Indeed, Awomolo noted that Mr Nwaeze had undertaken that INEC as “a responsible organization was ready to abide by the decision of the court”.

Noting that Dr. Obiora’s case “falls squarely under section 87 of the Electoral Act”, Awomolo also noted that “the Supreme Court in most successful appeals ordered the return of the candidate (Okonkwo) who ought, lawfully to have been fielded but unlawfully denied”.

Observing that Dr. Okonkwo “was not party to any of the orders of the Court of Appeal” in the “three different orders of the Court of Appeal directing the Commission to conduct a rerun election within 90 days”, the Asiwaju concluded that INEC must, as one of two possible options (I only agree with this one), “obey the order granted in the judgment of Hon. Justice Tsoho delivered on the 13th day of December, 2017 because it relates to pre-election case which is given priority in election related matters and it is a cogent judgment binding on all parties.”

AND THIS

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WHAT INEC MUST DO

My unremunerated piece of legal opinion to INEC’s top management to escape the cold embrace of contempt proceedings through issuance of forms 48 and 49, is to obey this clear judgment that was most ably espoused by her legal Adviser/Solicitor, Chief Awomolo, by shelving forthwith, the 13th January, 2018, elections, and issuing Dr. Okonkwo a certificate of return immediately.

The Senate President should thereafter swear in the Senator- Elect, Dr. Okonkwo, and allow Anambra Central people have representation at the Senate which they have been denied of for nearly three years.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK “No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better.

So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better”.

(Jim Yong Kim). LAST LINE I hope Nigerians are reading and digesting this Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project by Chief Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb, and awaiting the next scintillating Sunday dish next week.

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