Why INEC must not rush any election in Anambra Central, by Obiora Okonkwo

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In 2014, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, joined the race for the ticket of Anambra Central Senatorial zone on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  A victim of the impunity that engulfed the party, and eventually led to the zone not having a senator till date, he has been in the courts fighting for restoration of order in the zone. According to him, “the pre-election matter is vital in determining progress of the senatorial zone.”

Dr. Obiora Okonkwo

TWO years after the 2015 polls, Anambra Central still does not have a senator and you have been in court over that. What purpose is your law suit serving, given that preparations for another election are on-going?

We are in court for justice and we will be vindicated in the end and whenever this matter is determined. We have remained steadfast and relied on due process and court rules. We have reasons to seek a logical conclusion of this matter in Anambra Central. In the contest were the then incumbent senator and Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Chief Victor Umeh, the national chairman of the ruling party in Anambra, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). The PDP had myself, Senator Annie Okonkwo, then incumbent member of the House of Representatives Uche Ekwunife, Sylvester Okonkwo, Chike Maduekwe and others. Any of these names could have been contesting to be the state governor.

During the court processes, some of them were involved and applied to join; we looked at the position of each aspirant, dealt with it, before we arrived at where we are now. It has been a long and tough process. At this point, there is nothing to wait for anymore; there is only the need to determine this matter expeditiously. Three judges have withdrawn in the course of this matter. I don’t know why, but that has caused delay because each time a judge withdraws, we start all over again.

What is the fate of the case in the face of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixing a January date for the rerun election in Anambra Central?

Fixing a date for the election without dealing with the critical and genuine matters in court makes me wonder what INEC wants to achieve. Does the commission want to just waste taxpayer’s money? We have also wondered why APGA and its candidate are misinforming the public, if it is not to get into the Senate through the backdoor.

All I know is that this rerun in Anambra Central cannot be decided without dealing with my pending case in court. It is a pre-election matter, which is superior to any post-election case as far as the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria is concerned. We see that given that the Appeal Court has, rightly or wrongly, ordered for a rerun, APGA and its candidate are misrepresenting that judgment, and using propaganda to push INEC into an act that will a nullity.

Although the Appeal Court ordered a rerun, the court in the same judgment confirmed and affirmed the victory of PDP with the highest number of valid votes cast in the election and didn’t declare APGA, which came second, as winner. My case, which is a pre-election issue can decide the fate of a post-election matter. In 2007, while former governor of Anambra, Peter Obi was at the Supreme Court fighting to validate his four-year mandate, INEC hurriedly conducted an election into the office of governor in Anambra and declared a winner. But less than three weeks later, the entire exercise was voided.

Ordinarily, an order of court must be obeyed, but in this case the Court of Appeal is not the final arbiter on this matter. It is also obvious that INEC has been served with the notice of appeal at the Supreme Court and stay of execution in this matter. All the records of Appeal have been transmitted to the Supreme Court. It is therefore expected that INEC should comply and wait for the outcome of the appeal at the Supreme Court rather than engage in an act that will prejudice the Supreme Court. INEC cannot truthfully take an uninformed decision by stating in their statement that there is no other case in any court in Nigeria that has direct effect on the election in Anambra Central. So, my worry is if it is possible that INEC is not aware of this matter at the Supreme Court even when it was served with all documents?

Didn’t the Court of Appeal judgment also order that PDP should not be part of the rerun?

The Appeal Court judgment that ordered a rerun, did not imply that the PDP should not have a candidate. If it were otherwise, it would have been clearly stated in the judgment. It was not categorical. The disqualification contained in that judgment is strictly as it concerns the candidate of the PDP as a party in that suit. It did not affect any other aspirant of the party in the primary. The court made the point that the party’s candidate at the time was not validly nominated. It did not invalidate the election and the result from it. People tend to forget that APGA’s candidate in the matter, did not ask for a rerun; he asked to be declared winner and be sworn in. The court didn’t grant him any of that. This means that the victory of PDP in Anambra Central, in the 2015 senatorial election, is still intact and I will continue to defend that mandate.

So, anybody who is interested in the Anambra Central election must be interested in my 2014 pre-election case.

What is your grouse with APGA?

The party’s candidate has left the issues and gone personal. He has refused to be decorous even with the same people he says he wants to represent in the Senate. There is no place for deceit or dishonesty in this matter and it is also not a question of life or death. In advancing your cause, you don’t have to be blind to other parts of the judgment and propagate a single aspect, which mentioned a rerun.

Can a case in court deter INEC from conducting this election?

If this was part of a constitutionally scheduled election time-table, the commission will not be stopped, but surely not a court-ordered election, except the matter has been finally decided by the Supreme Court, or, if it is not encumbered with other court matters.

Is INEC party to your suit?

The commission is a party to the suit and they have never missed one day in court. They want to abide by the judgment of the court and that is why I am asking why the deceit of trying to hold an election when the case is still in court? If INEC, by any way is misinformed, they should go back and look at their records on this case.

Do you visualize any sort of anxiety with voters in Anambra Central over the January elections?

They are anxious to have someone in the Senate. We all desire that. But we want that election to be conducted under the proper environment, devoid of any legal encumbrances. So, I am yet to see any person from Anambra Central who would want to be dragged into an election process where he will waste time and money for a rerun election only to come back to realise that the election was a mere academic exercise.

How has the withdrawal of Uche Ekwunife impacted on their suit?

Her withdrawal is a welcome development at this point for several reasons, which I won’t dwell on here. However, in an earlier development, our party, the PDP, had surrendered to the judgment as part of efforts to right the wrongs in the party. The interim party leadership had also reviewed the matter and in its findings concluded that from available evidence that I won the primary election and that in the interest of justice, they have no other choice than to withdraw their own defence and in an affidavit, stated that I won the primary election. That was also a welcome development. Therefore, I have no doubt that justice can only be delayed, not denied.

Did you anticipate the case to drag this far in the court and how long do you think you can pursue it?

I am ready to hang in there and it can go as long as there are legal processes to exploit. I am engaged in other spheres of activities through which I have continued to provide services to my community. It will be vain to say there is no ambition here, because I intend to use this opportunity to add value to the life experience of my immediate community in Ogidi and the zone and Anambra. I am in this to change anything I can through the legal process to enhance the political process. There are some who have been victims of impunities and gave up because they did not have the stamina to fight. I will pursue this till it is over. I know that the people of Anambra Central are missing out in quality representation in the Senate; but what is right is right.

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