By Ibe Uwaoma
The good people of Anambra Central Senatorial District heaved a sigh of relief following the Independent National Electoral Commission’s decision to conduct the long awaited vacant senatorial seat in the zone on Saturday, January 13, 2018, as ordered by the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division in its judgement delivered by Justice TinuadeAkomolafe-Wilson on November 20, 2017.
The three-member panel of the Appeal Court headed by Justice Akomolafe-Wilson dismissed the Peoples Democratic Party, United Progressive Party and Mega Progressive Peoples Party’s preliminary objections and submission on the issue of the appellants’ (Chief Victor Umeh and All Progressives Grand Alliance) locus standi, the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the appeal and inclusion of fresh candidates to contest the election, and ordered INEC to conduct the rerun within 90 days.
In compliance with the order of court, INEC issued a statement signed by its National Commissioner and member, Information and Voter Education, Mohammed Kudu Haruna, that, “The commission has considered all the circumstances surrounding the election, particularly the 90-day time frame ordered by the Court of Appeal; the demand’s for preparing adequately for the election, as well as the coming yuletide and decided that the rerun election, shall take place on Saturday, January 13, 2018”. This is democracy in action and triumph of due process and rule of law.
With the well considered judgement of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on the matter, it is obvious that all encumbrances to the conduct of the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun poll have now been removed. The rerun election was initially scheduled for March 5, 2015, as part of over 80 court ordered fresh elections following the nullification of these elections by various election petition tribunals across the country set up to hear matters arising from the conduct of the 2015 general election. Four days to the election, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Anuli Chikere delivered judgement directing INEC to include PDP in the rerun in flagrant violation of the Court of Appeal Tribunal judgement which barred the party from participating in it.
INEC appealed the contentious judgement, Chief Victor Umeh, the APGA candidate in the election, also approached the Court of Appeal to set aside Justice Chikere’s ruling as it was a giant step backward in the nation’s jurisprudence and representative governance. Extensive legal fireworks took parties to Supreme Court which directed the appellate court to hear the matter expeditiously as “time is of the essence”.
It is this specific order of the Federal High Court, Abuja delivered by Justice Chikere that PDP should be included in the Anambra Central rerun poll of March 5, 2016, that the Court of Appeal dismissed, thus paving way for the conduct of the long awaited election which has deprived the good people of the senatorial district a representative in the past two years. Since facts are sacred, Justice Chikere who delivered the controversial judgement that scuttled rerun election has since reversed herself on March 14, 2017, in the same Anambra Central Senatorial matter brought by the All Progressives Congress.
With 720,000 registered voters ahead of the 2015 general election, in Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, close to 840,000 total registered voters in Bayelsa state, the people of the zone desire and deserve an effective representation in Nigeria’s Senate.
The same scenario played out in Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial Districts where the election petition tribunal sacked the two All Progressives Congress senators for failure of the party to conduct primaries for its senatorial aspirants ahead of the 2015 general poll. PDP challenged APC on the. The Court of Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision of the election tribunal and INEC conducted the polls excluding APC. PDP which benefitted from Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial seats following the court’s disqualification of APC and its candidates from participating in the rerun now insist on contesting the Anambra Central Senatorial fresh poll fully aware of the position of the law on the matter.
In its judgement of Nov 20, 2017, the Court of Appeal cited the Supreme Court judgement of February 13, 2009, delivered by Justice Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu between the Labour Party and INEC over the refusal of the electoral umpire to include its candidate in a rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal that nullified the April 14, 2007 Adamawa State Governorship election.
It is obvious that pre-election litigation is clearly an internal party affair that has no bearing in the on-going court ordered Anambra Central Senatorial rerun poll. As an umpire, INEC has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the rerun is faithfully conducted on Saturday January 13, 2018. The memories of the scuttled 1993 presidential election by Chief Arthur Nzeribe using the Federal High Court Abuja order are still fresh in our frail democracy.
It is manifest that if all suits instituted by political buccaneers masquerading as democrats will be determined before an election will be conducted, definitely there will be no elections in Nigeria in the next millennium. That will be the end of representative governance in the country.
Uwaoma writes from Lagos