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2023: APGA palaver versus Inec’s dilemma

By :Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
02 July 2022   |   2:44 am
For the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the 2023 general elections is crucial, because it would be the last to be overseen by the commission

Edozie Njoku

For the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the 2023 general elections are crucial, because they would be the last to be overseen by the commission on his watch. To Nigerians, the election would determine the future of democracy in the country.

   
Consequently, the INEC chairman should know that better is the end of a matter than its beginning. As such, even though he encountered huge trials when he mounted the saddle in 2015, next year’s exercise is sure to throw up greater challenges.
   
Developments in the polity, especially the current Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, show that more voters will take part in the balloting than in the previous election of 2019. Prof. Mahmood knows that the huge turnout of voters would engender its own challenges, particularly given the introduction of the Bimodal Verification Accreditation System (BVAS) and another electronic component in the electoral system.
   
Speaking recently when the Special Representative of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahmat Saleh Annadif, visited him at the INEC headquarters, Prof. Yakubu said conducting elections in Nigeria was daunting since according to him, doing so was like conducting elections in entire West Africa.
  
“There are 15 countries in the ECOWAS sub-region. In order to show the importance of Nigeria in our democracy, as of today, we have 84 million registered voters. Nigeria is one out of 15 countries in the sub-region.
  
“But, the total number of registered voters in the other 14 countries put together, is 73 million, meaning that Nigeria has 11 million voters more than other countries in the sub-region put together.”
   
However, the enormous hurdles confronting INEC on its path to next general election are not limited to the anticipated hiccups from processing a large number of voters for balloting. Some critical departments of the commission, particularly those concerned with Legal matters and Party Monitoring, would also come under great strains.
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And, barely seven months to the general elections, one crucial drawback for INEC as it concerns political parties and legal tangles involving its leadership and candidates, is presented by the lingering internal leadership crisis of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
 
   
APGA’s crisis is peculiar mainly because of its localisation in one out of the 36 states of the federation, thus making it impossible for developments within the party to receive national interrogation. Leaders of the party tend to believe that it is a closed system that should not bother outsiders.
  
First, the crisis began with the founding national Chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie and the pioneer national Treasurer, Chief Victor Umeh, after Okorie was suspended from office in what was more of a palace coup. The INEC assisted by the judiciary sustained the wrangling as both institutions failed to examine and pronounce on the propriety of a treasurer rising on the leadership ladder to replace the national chairman.
   
Although it is impossible to calculate the amount of money that went into the prolonged litigation in payment for professional fees and sundry pay-outs to influential actors, the APGA crisis has remained a source of free income to a motley crowd of jobbers and judicial officers.
   
The electoral umpire wrings its hands feigning helplessness in the claim that the commission does not interfere in the internal business of political parties. But, the law has empowered INEC to supervise and ensure that political parties conduct their affairs in line with their constitutions deposited with the commission.
   
The current leadership tussle in APGA between Ozonkpu Victor Oye and Chief Edozie Njoku sticks out like a sore thumb, even as it presents as a dark patch in the march to the 2023 general elections. Unlike the matter between Okorie and Umeh, Oye and Njoku’s battle started after the party held parallel national convention in Awka and Owerri on May 31, 2019.
    
While Njoku was elected at the Owerri convention, Oye was elected at the convention, which was held in Awka allegedly against a subsisting interlocutory injunction. In a bid to resolve the issue of who was the validly elected national chairman, Oye went to court seeking an order restraining Njoku from parading himself as APGA national chairman.
   
Njoku and the other officers elected at the Owerri convention obtained a judgment from the Federal High Court and with that sought a mandamus compelling INEC to recognise them as authentic leaders of APGA.
  
While the matter was on, Oye filed an interlocutory appeal, thereby arresting the Federal High Court from ruling on the matter on mandamus brought before it.
  
However, while the parties to the crisis were making judicial rounds, the Anambra State gubernatorial poll approached. Out of the blues, one Jude Okeke, emerged sacking both Oye and the APGA Board of Trustees, claiming that Edozie Njoku, having been suspended from office was no longer the national chairman of the party.
    
To compounds the already confused situation, the Jude Okoye leadership organised a parallel governorship primary in which a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji emerged as the flag bearer for the November 9, 2021, Anambra State governorship election.
   
On his part, Oye, supported by the immediate past governor of the state, Chief Willie Obiano, and held another governorship primary at the Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre in Awka where former Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo emerged.
    
But, a curious emerged in the entire APGA crisis, when INEC dillydallied to upload Soludo’s name only for the Jude Okoye faction to obtain an order from Jigawa State High Court sitting in Dutse, which mandated the commission to recognise Jude Okeke as the authentic national chairman, having replaced Njoku after his (Njoku’s) suspension.
  
INEC was also ordered to upload the name of Hon Umeoji as the validly nominated governorship candidate of APGA for the November 9, 2021 poll. Having been served with the Jigawa State High Court ruling, INEC wasted no time in uploading the name of Umeoji as the APGA candidate on its portal.
   
Nonetheless, stung by the dramatic turn of events, Oye described Okoye as an impostor, even as he queried INEC’s judgment in listing Umeoji as the party’s candidate when he (Oye) was not joined in the matter at Jigawa State High Court.
   
Consequently, in his efforts to quash the court order, Oye approached the Court of Appeal, Kano, seeking an order setting aside the ruling of the Jigawa State High Court for being an abuse of judicial process and an illegal fruit of forum shopping. The Court of Appeal Kano granted Oye’s prayers and set aside the ruling of the Jigawa State High Court, but also ordered INEC to accept the name of Prof. Soludo as the APGA governorship candidate.
  
Undeterred, Jude Okeke went to the Supreme Court for an order setting aside the Kano Appeal Court judgment, contending that the court erred in law by granting Oye’s prayers.  On Thursday October 14, 2021, the apex court sat on the matter with suit No SC.CV/687/2021 between Chief Jude Okeke (appellant) and APGA (for himself and on behalf of the members of the NWC of APGA elected on May 31, 2019), Chief Edozie Njoku, Alhaji Rabi’u Garba Aliyu and INEC (respondents).
   
In its ruling, the panel of five Justices led by Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, Kudirat Motomore Olatumbo Kekere-Ekun, Mohammed Lawal Garba, Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa and Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, dismissed the appeal.
   
The Supreme Court held that “the trial court in law, lacked the requisite territorial jurisdiction to entertain and adjudicate over the action initiated by the 3rd Respondent since the entire facts and events upon, which the action was predicated happened and occurred; completely, outside the territorial boundaries of Jigawa State, to which the trial court is restricted and limited by the provisions of Section 270 (l) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
    
However, in the apex court ruling, a clerical error was observed where the court stated that the suspension of Victor Oye instead of Chief Edozie Njoku, as national chairman of APGA, was non-justiciable.
  
Upon noticing the error, Njoku approached the Supreme Court with an application seeking a correction of the imputation that it was Oye rather himself (Njoku) that was purportedly suspended, which gave rise to the Jigawa State High Court matter.
   
The Supreme Court Justices saw merit in the application and went ahead to correct what it called slip judgment, thereby upholding the fact that Njoku’s suspension as national chairman of APGA was non justiciable.
    
Yet, no sooner was that correction effected than Oye and his group countered, claiming that the judgment was a product of forgery, even as they called on the nation’s security agencies to arrest Njoku and bring him to book.
   
But, enquiries at the Supreme Court registry revealed that actually, the Justices reviewed the wordings of the judgment they delivered on October 14, 2021 and inserted the right names.
     
Ever since the Supreme Court corrections were effected, the Edozie Njoku leadership has been making representations to INEC, even as Oye maintains that Njoku was engaged in a desperate attempt to blackmail INEC with a fake and altered judgment of the Supreme Court.
   
But, on Thursday, June 30, Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, who was on the panel, signed a certified true copy of the judgment in which he stated: “As succinctly set out in the leading judgment delivered by my Learned Brother, Mary U. Peter-Odili, JSC, this appeal is an offshoot of the action initiated by the 3rd Respondent; Alh. Rabi ‘u Garba Aliyu at the Jigawa Slate High Court against the Appellant and the 4th Respondent, primarily, claiming the right to be appointed the Ag. National Chairman of the 1st Respondent, instead of and in place Of the Appellant, who was said to have been appointed at the convention held at Owerri, Imo State.
   
“The Jigawa State High Court (trial court) took cognizance of and adjudicated over the action and eventually dismissed the action in the judgment delivered on 30th of June, 2021, but made orders in favour of the Appellant which was neither claimed nor sought for by him.”
   
Justice Garba’s position successful removed every doubt that the Supreme Court judgement which revised clerical errors that imputed that Oye’s suspension rather than Njoku was non-justiciable, was not a forgery.
 
But the issue is why INEC is finding it hard to act on the instant judgment just as it did when Jude Okeke obtained the Jigawa State High Court ruling, which has been thrown out. Njoku disclosed that he has availed INEC of all documents the commission needs to take reasonable action, stressing that it is mindboggling that INEC should be vacillating to act on the ruling of the nation’s apex court.
 
    
On why INEC should be foot-dragging in the matter, Okorie, who emerged as APGA rival presidential candidate, told The Guardian, that, “the purpose is to set a fait accompli on us, believing that maybe when the date (for substitution of candidates) has elapsed, then they will now recognize Njoku.

“But, that is wrong, because Oye is not qualified to sign nomination forms, that is what the judgment means. If they continue this way, the danger that APGA will not have a candidate for the election is clear, but the bigger danger is that the constitution is also clear that if a party is excluded, which is what denying Edozie Njoku recognition will amount to because Oye is not the party. If a party is excluded in an election that election will be nullified. So, the entire election coming up is under jeopardy, because of the compromising attitude of INEC officials.” 
      
Could it be that INEC is worried about what could become of the nomination processes that have progressed according to its schedule of activities or merely playing the ostrich so that time would play on the APGA matter? The earlier the commission takes a stand on the matter, the better for all concerned and the public goodwill it needs to prosecute the historic 2023 poll.