APC’s intrigues to retain sole senatorial seat in South East
Allegedly plots dissolution of electoral panel
At the conclusion of the Senatorial election in Imo State on March 28, last year, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Chief Athan Nneji Achonu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the Imo North Senatorial zone (Okigwe zone).
Nneji, according to the Commission defeated others including the former Speaker of the State House of Assembly and All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, Benjamin Uwajumogu; and former Vice Chancellor of the Imo State University, Mazi Clement Owunna. He was promptly issued with the Certificate of Return, which enabled him resume at the Senate.
Soon after, the candidate of the Accord Party (AP) in the election, Mrs. Rita Ibemere raised objection to the exercise. She complained that her party was excluded from the election as INEC failed to cite their logo on the ballot sheet.
She argued that the development affected the outcome of the process and proceeded to court where the Appeal Court voided the result of the election in the area.
This set the tone for the rescheduled Senatorial election on July 23 through 30, which was keenly contested between Achonu and incumbent winner, Chief Benjamin Uwajumogu.
According to Prof Arinze Agbogu, the INEC returning officer who announced the result, Uwajumogu secured 56,076 votes to beat Achonu who polled 43,815 votes. Unfortunately, Mrs. Ibereme, at whose behest the court invalidated the election of March, did not participate in the re-run election. This fuelled the speculation that she was prodded to contest the outcome of the poll, as she has reportedly not returned to the state since then.
Achonu was not satisfied with the outcome of the re-run election, alleging that the process was marred with irregularities and that APC fraudulently procured the victory. He, therefore, petitioned the three-man election Appeal Tribunal headed by Justice Geraldine Ono Imadegbelo, seeking the nullification of the victory of Uwajumogu.
However, the tribunal was disbanded last week, allegedly on the objection of Uwajumogu and the APC. They were said to have protested the inclusion of Justice Saka Oyejide Falola in the membership of the panel.
The Guardian gathered that the party reportedly accused the judge of bias, stressing that he had participated in an earlier panel that sat in the state and would therefore not get fair judgment from him.
Supporters of the parties had returned to court on October 19 to be told by the Tribunal’s secretary and registrar publicly that the Tribunal would not sit because it has been disbanded and a new one would be set up by the President of the Court of Appeal.
Reacting to the development, Achonu, who spoke through his campaign Director-General, Paulinus Udechukwu, insisted that it was part of the tactics employed by the APC to ensure that his petition would not be determined.
Udechukwu said: “While the senior and other counsels to Achonu were taken aback and surprised by this unfortunate development, the respondent’s lawyers were excited and happy. Indeed, senior counsel to Achonu, Ken Njemanze (SAN) had in the open court on October 11, 2016, expressed his client’s confidence in the panel that was handling the matter under the chairmanship of Justice Geraldine Ono Imadegbelo with Justice Saka Oyejide Falola and Justice Sanni Kano as members,” he claimed.
Achonu pointed out that Falola had never participated in the proceedings of the panel after the objection was raised by APC and its candidate and wondered why the entire panel would be disbanded.
“The tribunal sat on the 11th and 17th of October 2016 without Falola participating. It is therefore unfortunate that a panel that had been discharging its duties impartially and independently is being disbanded at the behest of Uwajumogu and APC,” he said.
Achonu’s media aide who is also a lawyer, Mr. Ihejirika Emeka told The Guardian that the dissolution was to enable the APC and Uwajumogu delay justice, stressing, “They don’t have documents to prove the victory they are laying claims to; but no matter the length of time it may take, truth will surely surface one day.”
Arguing that the dissolution was targeted at Achonu, Emeka avowed that the facts of the case being referred to by the APC and the present case were not the same and that the position has been countered in court. “The case which they said Falola participated in the state was the issue of exclusion; now it is not exclusion but outright rigging that gave undue advantage to the other party. So we are still shocked about the decision,” he added.
Investigations, however, revealed that two quick rulings by the panel against Uwajumogu and APC as well as the purported disposition of the members towards the APC might have been responsible for the dissolution.
For instance, although he (Uwajumogu) was sworn in on September 28, the tribunal was said to have on a single day, granted two motions by the PDP for service by substituted means and inspection of electoral materials at the INEC office. Sources asserted that the Uwajumogu, his party and Governor Rochas Okorocha did not take kindly to the development and therefore moved for the dissolution of the panel.
An APC chieftain, Chief Aloy Enwerem was to confirm this later, when he accused Achonu and the PDP of desperation, insisting that they connived with the former panel to undo the party and the winner of the election in the zone.
He indicated that the panel showed openly that it was compromised by the kind of ruling it made within the few days it sat, adding that the APC was not comfortable with one of the judges “because we know him as a member of the opposition party”.
His words: “We felt that the panel was a panel for justice but that was not what they manifested. They openly showed bias, apparently because of what they want to get. All we did was to complain and I think that those who heard us confirmed our suspicions that all was not well with the panel”
Okorocha’s Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuamaedo lent credence to the position when he stated “those who disbanded the panel have a reason for it”.
He, however, distanced Okorocha from the misfortune of the panel: “People should leave Okorocha alone. Okorocha has no power to influence or dissolve tribunal that he never constituted in the first place. Those who constituted the tribunal dissolved it based on their own reasoning. I do not believe that the dissolution came just like that; something must have prompted it.
Mr. Chinedum Igwe, a Public affairs analyst, however said the development was part of the power intrigues in the state in which certain individuals have vowed to continue to determine the political direction of the state.
He contended that the development at the tribunal was part of the bargain entered with Okorocha by some heavy weights, which included Senator Hope Uzodinma and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume among others for a symbiotic electoral collaboration.
The deal, which was struck during last year’s election, according to him enabled Uzodinma to retain his seat, adding that it was responsible for the movement of Ararume, who had been the pillar of PDP in Imo North zone to APC prior to the election.
“Imo North zone is the stronghold of the PDP. The six local governments of Obowo, Ehime Mbano, Ihite Uboma, Isiala Mbano, Okigwe and Onuimo are dominated by the PDP. The plot to entrench APC solidly in the zone began during the last election when Ararume joined the APC. You could see that while APC won the House of Representatives seat for Okigwe South comprising Ehime Mbano, Ihite Uboma and Obowo local governments, the PDP won in the North covering Isiala Mbano, Onuimo and Okigwe local governments.
“So if they have equally divided the zone into two, it means that the next contest will be that of prominence and the only way to do it is to ensure that APC controls the Senate. It is also remarkable because this is the first Senatorial seat the party is getting anywhere in the state,” he maintained.
Igwe said personal interest was propelling politics in the area, noting that Achonu and Uwajumogu had worked together in the PDP until their selfish interests separated them.
He argued that the same interest was responsible for the “connivance against Senator Mathew Ifeanyi Nwagwu who was there before last year’s election. Those who felt that Achonu has enough resources snatched the ticket from Nwagwu and gave it to him”
He contended that the power tussle would spill over to the 2019 general elections and that it was not a matter for the new panel to resolve.