PREVAILING circumstances in the polity raise apprehensions that some people have got tired of democracy, and are as such, ready to thrash it. On the hand, there are indications that the process of deepening Nigeria’s democracy is afoot. Yet the political upheavals in such states as Kogi, Rivers and Anambra; give cause for concern on how far major stakeholders imbibe democratic processes. From the heating of the polity that preceded last year’s general election, the contest for political power between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) has gained momentum. And in the unfolding new considerations, the following states have emerged as the arc of political controversies in the country:
Anambra: The Bug of Political Obduracy
“FROM the issue before us, nothing has been shown, which is not clear in the judgment. It is wrong for anyone to import into the judgment, issues which were not ventilated and decided upon.” With those words, Nigeria’s Supreme Court, last Wednesday rebuffed an attempt by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to make it revisit its ruling on the protracted leadership crisis in the Anambra State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Short of telling the apex court that it’s delivery on January 29, 2016; was incomprehensible, INEC had through its counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo SAN; sought a review of the judgment, especially as it relates to the position of nine members of the National Assembly from the state.
Perhaps, the full blame for the political confusion foisted on the law court by candidates that emerged from the primaries conducted by the Oguebego-faction, should be put squarely on the five-man panel of Court of Appeal, Enugu Division; which sacked Senator Uche Ekwunife from the senate. Judgments of the Supreme Court in both the Benue and Taraba governorship election petitions have shown that the Enugu Appeal Court judges granted a prayer that was not within their power. The apex court holds that it does not belong to a non-member of a political party to interrogate the primary election of a rival candidate. But the Appeal Court left the issue of who won a greater number of valid votes and danced around the nomination process that threw up Ekwunife
Coming under Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court rules, INEC prayed the court to interpret the import of its judgment for the legislators elected to the National Assembly from the state. But declining legal standpoint to engage in such clarification, the apex court noted that it did not look into the issue of nomination or selection of candidates for the party, adding that its ruling was clear and unambiguous.
Many watchers of the political abracadabra in Anambra State chapter of PDP looked up to the Supreme Court ruling as the final word on the various issues surrounding the question of whether Prince Ken Emeakayi or Ejike Oguebego, was the authentic chairman of the party. The two men had been laying claims to being the authentic state executive committee of the party in Anambra State.
But instead of putting the final seal on the recriminations and contestations, the January 29 ruling from the apex court opened a floodgate of curious interpretations and ejaculations about the position of the judgment on the various contending issues, both latent and potent. While Ejike Oguebego faction celebrated its victory at the apex court, they seemingly lost their heads in the reveling and declared that the judgment encapsulated the nomination exercise it conducted for candidates for various elective positions in the 2015 election.
Buying into the new meanings being read into the apex court judgment, candidates that emerged on the primary conducted by the Oguebego faction, surfaced at the INEC headquarters in Abuja demanding that they be issued with certificates of return, since according to them; the validation of their faction translated to automatic endorsement of its candidates as the authentic winners of the March 28, 2015 election to the National Assembly.
Torn between pressures by the Oguebego claimants to the National Assembly seats and confused as to what could be the real purported of the apex court ruling, INEC sought clarification from the court. The Supreme Court panel comprising Justices Sylvester Ali Ngwuta, Mary Peter-Odili, Datijo Muhammad, Kumai Akaa’hs and Inyang Okoro, declined jurisdiction.
Despite that stance, Justice Okoro, who delivered the reasoning of the panel, wondered where in the judgment the court decided on the list of candidates submitted to INEC for the election. He noted that though the court has the power to correct its own errors when they border on clerical imputation, the motion before them (from INEC) “is not seeking correction of any clerical mistake or some error arising from any accidental slip or omission…”
Continuing, the Supreme Court Judge read: “It must be clearly stated that it is not every slip or error in a judgment that would be allowed to undermine or derogate from an otherwise well-written judgment. I have seen the application by the applicant (INEC) and the issues thrown up for determination.
“I am of the view that this court has no jurisdiction to determine and pronounce upon them as it will have the effect of rewriting the judgment and in the process, making orders, which ought not to have been made in the first place. The judgment of this court is final by virtue of Section 235 of the Constitution.”
But despite the attempt to return INEC’s motion to ‘sender’, the apex court stressed that even where it was true that its ruling on January 29, 2016 upheld the earlier judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division; that the Ejike Oguebego-led executive committee of the Anambra chapter of the PDP was the authentic body to run the party’s affairs, “it did not give the EXCO the power to submit a list of candidates to INEC.”
Short of berating INEC for seeking clarification where no ambiguity exists, the Supreme Court pointed out that it did not order INEC to accept the list of candidates for the National Assembly election from the Oguebego-led executive committee or directed INEC to conduct fresh elections to the National Assembly in the state. “For instance, the applicant is seeking clarifications whether to issue certificate of return to persons in the list of Ejike Oguebego-led executive committee. This was not part of our judgment.”
With the latest outing at the Supreme Court, the crisis in Anambra PDP has exposed the political illiteracy of some of the gladiators. The Electoral Act 2010 as amended makes it clear that election petitions for Houses of Assembly, Representatives and the Senate, terminates at the Court of Appeal. At no point did the law permit the apex court to adjudicate on matters pertaining to the nomination or election of those categories of officials.
Again, the same apex court had in countless rulings, held that only the National Executive Committee (NEC), of a political party has the legitimate right to submit the names of its candidates to the INEC. That may be why Justice Okoro demanded from INEC to show his panel where it granted Oguebego faction the right to supplant PDP NEC or the right to send list of candidates. But counsel to the faction, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, betrayed the fact that he could be part of the source of the confusion upon which the Oguebego faction continues to search literally for the horn of a dog, by deceiving itself that its victorious appeal has omnibus implications.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the sitting of the apex court panel, Uche, SAN, explained that having declined jurisdiction and reaffirmed the judgment of Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, his clients can now approach INEC to demand certificate of return. Either the learned senior counsel is feeding on the naivety of his clients or dancing around logical interpretation to bewitch them. As a senior lawyer, Uche knows that the Supreme Court had, after the celebrated Rotimi Amaechi versus PDP and Celestine Omehia case, held that any candidate that did not participate in an election should not be rewarded with the laurels of electoral victory.
But as seasoned politicians, those seeking to replace elected members of NASS, ought to know that the apex court’s position, especially where it stated that the Appeal Court serves as court of final instance in National Assembly elections; sounds the final death knell to their ambition. Yet knowing that possession of a law degree is not a basic requirement to understanding judicial pronouncements such as the one it delivered on January 29, 2016; Justice Okoro declared: “It is untrue that parties do not understand the import of our judgment. Where in the judgment did we state that the Oguebego-led committee should take over the functions of the National Executive Committee of the PDP so that it can submit list of candidates to INEC? I think counsel, are not fair to this court when they say they do not understand the judgment of this court, which was written in simple English Language.”
Perhaps, the full blame for the political confusion foisted on the law court by candidates that emerged from the primaries conducted by the Oguebego-faction, should be put squarely on the five-man panel of Court of Appeal, Enugu Division; which sacked Senator Uche Ekwunife from the senate. Judgments of the Supreme Court in both the Benue and Taraba governorship election petitions have shown that the Enugu Appeal Court judges granted a prayer that was not within their power. The apex court holds that it does not belong to a non-member of a political party to interrogate the primary election of a rival candidate. But the Appeal Court left the issue of who won a greater number of valid votes and danced around the nomination process that threw up Ekwunife. That may be why Ekwunife described the panel’s ruling as Father Christmas judgment.
Secondly, owing to the factional situation in the Anambra State chapter, would it not amount to irresponsibility or dereliction of duty for the PDP NEC not to field candidates for the National Assembly seats in Anambra State? Faced with that puzzle, the PDP put together a special committee that saw through the primary election where candidates emerged. The Appeal Court seemed to have glossed over the aspect of existing faction, to pick holes in the primary election that produced Ekwunife and committed what has come to be described as the first judicial political murder.
Again the fact that members of the National Assembly, which the Oguebego faction seeks to sack were not joined in the various litigations make it improbable that they should suffer the negative impact of the judgment. Perhaps, having realised the strategic mistake of not joining the members of the National Assembly in the suit, the Oguebego faction reposed so much confidence in the Port Harcourt Federal High Court, hoping that the pronouncement would make all things fit for its candidates.
One other issue parties to the Anambra PDP imbroglio failed to consider is that the ruling in Port Harcourt, which recognised Oguebego as the authentic state chairman, noted that the situation should subsist pending the determination of the substantive suit. Further, when Hon. Charles Odedo sought to be joined in the matter between Oguebego and Emeakayi, the apex court threw his application out.
Ruling on the application, the Supreme Court had noted: “On the affidavit evidence before us, the appellant (Odedo) has shown that his emergence as a candidate for the election was as a result of the primaries conducted by the Anambra State chapter of PDP…the appellant has hoisted his application for joinder on the primaries conducted by the state chapter of PDP.
“This court had an occasion to consider the propriety of the Anambra State Executive Committee of PDP conducting a primary election for the nomination of the National Assembly candidates to fly the flag of the PDP in an election. This was in the case of Emeka v. Okadigbo (2012) 18 NWLR (pt 1331) 55 or (2012) LPELR 9338 (SC) page 36. In that case, it was held that the Anambra State Executive Committee of the PDP has no right whatsoever to conduct National Assembly primaries.”
With a tone of finality the apex court added: “Suffice it to say that it is the National Executive Committee of the PDP that is imbued with the responsibility for the conduct of the party’s National Assembly primaries. Any purported attempt to conduct such primary by state chapter of PDP cannot be validly characterized as competent. The act is totally illegal and will confer no right as it is a nullity and also constituting an abuse of court process.”
In the final analysis, money, which underscores political decisions in Anambra State forms the beacon upon which such abuses of court processes stand.
RIVERS: From Law To Mob Courts
THE situation in Rivers State is intriguing. Shortly after the APC defeated PDP in the March 28, 2015 presidential election, the party expressed optimism that it would score landslide victories in the ensuing governorship election. To the Director of APC Presidential Campaign, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the presidential victory conferred on him the aura of a lion killer. And in the euphoria of presidential conquest, Governor Amaechi believed that his plan of planting a successor was as governor was as good as accomplished.
Prior to the April 11 governorship poll, the situation in Rivers was tense. The state was marked as one of the probable flash points of violence. The PDP governorship candidate, a former political ally of Amaechi; Nyesom Wike, was the minister of state for Education in President Goodluck Jonathan’s federal cabinet. To some extent Amaechi, and by extension, the APC wanted to prove that the defeat of Jonathan would be consolidated by defeating his protégé, Wike in the governorship contest. That feeling was buoyed by the thinking that bereft of the backing of federal might; Wike and PDP continue the losing run.
In a hotly contested and combustible ballot, Wike was returned as winner. But the battle did not end there. Action moved over to the election petition tribunal where APC felt that the fear of the new federal might would cow the justices to ‘behave’ in line with the prevailing anti-corruption sentiment. A second governorship election petition tribunal was set up after the first one was accused of showing bias and inclination to favour the incumbent governor.
Pleading security, the second panel was moved to Abuja, where after more than one month of trial, a verdict of sack was returned against the incumbent. Dissatisfied with the ruling, Governor Wike proceeded to the Court of Appeal. It was after the Appeal Court affirmed the tribunal’s verdict that the optimism of the APC increased to a very high level. Wike was described as acting governor of Rivers State.
But the Supreme Court punctured the aspiration of APC to capture the oil-rich state. And no sooner did the apex court pronounced that final decision than further litigation at the mob level took over. Name-calling became the order of the day as the Supreme Court justices were traduced and their integrity impugned. The situation in Rivers has continued to be steeped in controversies even as most residents expressed relief at the apex court ruling.
Recently, piqued by the ongoing mob and media reviews of the governorship election in the state, especially the Supreme Court judgment, the state government cried out that the ruling APC was setting the country on the path to national retrogression, stressing that the virulent attacks by the party against the apex court and its ruling on the state’s governorship election was setting a bad precedent. The government complained that the ruling party was not reciprocating Governor Wike’s peaceful disposition in the aftermath of the general election, adding that it believes that since elections were over the time was now for development and nation building.
Kogi: The Alchemy of Making Two Wrongs Right
KOGI State descended the alley of notoriety when INEC introduced the spectre of inconclusive elections in the state. And the death of APC governorship flag bearer, Prince Abubakar Audu, the first of such tragedy in the middle of an election in the country; politicians in the state decided to murder democratic principles. The prevailing political unease in the Confluence state splashes national shame on the ruling party.
Conniving with INEC, APC has not proved itself as good manager of political conflicts. The national chairman of APC, did not seem to have handled the fallout of Kogi governorship election prudently.
Faleke, the dead flag bearer’s running mate was denied the flag few inches to the tape only for an outsider to be fetched from home to pick the flag. From this denial, the former running mate denied the new flag bearer a running mate. Yet a lone ranger, unknown to the nation’s laws participated in a governorship and was declared winner. Two months ago, he was sworn into office as a single candidate, without a deputy. Another oddity!
Sensing that the courts would pick holes in the various processes that brought him on the throne, the governor has been weaving schemes preparatory for a possible rerun, not minding if his candidacy would be upheld ultimately. Why did the governor wait till after his swearing in to nominate a deputy? Does that provision cover the defect of lack of running mate in the first instance? The puzzles mount as confusion reigns in the state.
As the circus in Kogi continues, the governorship election petition tribunal has gone to work. Would the tribunal consider the issue of lack of running mate for the APC midterm candidate as a pre-election matter? Even if the nomination of candidates is the exclusive preserve the party’s NEC, was the setting in Kogi one of the conditions precedent for such privileges, knowing that the law frowns at the introduction of fresh candidates in a rerun election? Again, does the supplementary election qualify as a rerun election or fresh poll? Should the tribunal find reason to nullify the election, would it find justification to order a rerun? If it orders a rerun would the APC be allowed to field a candidate after breaching the relevant laws concerning the selection of running mate? Finally, would the fear of ceding victory to PDP make APC to throw the weight of federal might into the bargain?
Indeed the confusion in the nation’s polity demands for judges with the Wisdom of Solomon!
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