2023: Like AA, judicial pronouncement unsettles APGA candidates
The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) is currently grappling with new challenges over the candidates it fielded for the 2023 general elections. The recent clarifications released by the Supreme Court on its October 14, 2021, judgment, have thrown the party into a frenzy of reconsideration.
Questions are already being posed regarding what becomes of the various candidates put forward by the Victor Oye leadership, ranging from the presidential, National Assembly, gubernatorial and state Assembly elections for next year’s poll.
Also, weighing the implications of the apex court verdict, the party’s lone state governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State, like a dog smitten by a wasp, was said to have rushed to Abuja, where in the company of Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN, he is searching for solution to the unfolding political quagmire. Ikpeazu has been around in APGA’s chequered history of leadership crises.
Concerns are high that the Anambra State governor, Soludo, may be gravely affected by the Supreme Court ruling, which reaffirmed Chief Edozie Njoku (Onwa Ibeku) as the national chairman of the party.
The leadership disputation between Njoku and the erstwhile national chairman, Ozonkpu Victor Oye, travelled to Nigeria’s court of final instance, leading to the October 14, 2021, judgment, which held that officers elected at the party’s national convention of May 31, 2019, at Owerri, Imo State, constitute the authentic national executives of APGA.
However, characteristic of the many legal battles that have defined the life story of APGA, a fleeting mistake in the judgment provided the loophole for further disputation and controversy. In the judgment, which was delivered by Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili as the lead of four other justices on the panel, the name of Ozo Victor Oye was erroneously inserted instead of that of Chief Edozie Njoku, whose purported suspension gave rise to the Jigawa State High Court ruling that Oye appealed against at the Court of Appeal Kano.
Recall that acting on the ruling of Jigawa State High Court sitting in Birnin Kudu, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had uploaded the name of Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji as the party’s candidate for the November 9, 2021, Anambra State gubernatorial election.
The Jigawa High Court had ruled that the purported suspension of Chief Edozie Njoku and Jude Okeke’s appointment as his replacement in acting capacity as the party’s national chairman was in order.
But affronted by the judgment, which he described as a miscarriage of justice, Oye, supported and activated by the then Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, filed an appealed at the Court of Appeal, Kano. The appeal succeeded, describing the Jigawa State High Court sitting as lacking in territorial jurisdiction.
Yet, insisting that Oye was not a party to the matter, Jude Okeke filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, which not only upturned the Kano Appeal Court ruling, but also declared that the removal of Chief Edozie Njoku was not justiciable. Nonetheless, citing the clerical error that documented his name as the 2nd respondent, Oye went away with the erroneous impression that the apex court had validated his claim to the office of the national chairman.
Having noticed the glaring mistake, Chief Edozie Njoku applied for a review and consequent correction to avert the unintended judicial murder of the innocent.
The four Justices on the Supreme Court panel, namely, Justices, K. M. O. Kekere-Ekun, Mohammaed Lawal Garba, Ibrahim Mohammed Saulawa and Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, reflected the correction in their separate clarifications.
But instead of INEC acting upon the new information and enrolled order, the commission prevaricated and allowed Oye, instead of Njoku, to upload the list of candidates that emerged from his primaries as APGA candidates for the 2023 poll. To make matters more confusing, Dr. Festus Akande, the Director of Media, Press and Information of the Supreme Court, released a statement denying that all the CTCs (Certified True Copies) of the amended judgment issued to Chief Edozie Njoku.
Emboldened by that peculiar but odd development, where a Director of Media could rubbish the testimony of Supreme Court Justices, Oye accused Njoku of forging the revised judgments and lodged a complaint at the Police Headquarters, Abuja, as well.
Nonetheless, the doughty national chairman, Njoku, pressed ahead, even as INEC expressed doubts about why the presiding Justice did not send in a clarification. On November 7, 2022, Justice Mary Peter-Odili, released her clarifications on the judgment.
With that, the Supreme Court declared unequivocally that Chief Edozie Njoku and not Victor Oye is the authentic national chairman of APGA. Justice Peter-Odili also stressed that the former national chairman, Oye, was not a party to the appeal decided on October 14, 2021, but benefitted from a slip of the tongue and pen.
In a letter addressed to Chief Njoku dated November 7, 2022, the apex court noted that it corrected some clerical errors contained in the judgment delivered on October 14, 2021, in which the name of Chief Victor Oye was recorded instead of that of Chief Edozie Njoku, the current national chairman.
Signed by Justice Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili, the letter was copied to the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Kayode Ariwoola and Justices, K. M. O. Kekere-Ekun, Mohammed Lawal Garba, Ibrahim Mohammed Saulawa and Emmanuel Akomaye Agim, the retired Justice noted that the correction was necessitated by the slip of the tongue and the pen.
Part of the letter read: “I indeed recall your letter dated 6th May, 2022 to me as the Presiding Justice of the Panel and the other four justices, which requested for correction of the 14th October, 2021, Supreme Court Judgment, wherein the name of Chief Victor Oye was erroneously inserted instead of the name of Chief Edozie Njoku.
“It is to be placed on record that I corrected the mistake by replacing Chief Victor Oye’s name with that of Chief Edozie Njoku on paragraph 13 of the 14th October, 2021, judgment. The correction was made having cognizance that on the day of delivery of the judgment, being 14th October, 2021, by a slip of the pen and tongue, the name of Chief Victor Oye was brought in.
“This error was pointed out to me by other members of the panel, who reminded me that Chief Victor Oye was not a party to the appeal or the proceedings, which emanated from the Jigawa (State) High Court. However, in the course of the trajectory of errors, the name of Chief Victor Oye kept recurring in the record of the judgment instead of the right party to the proceeding, Chief Edozie Njoku.”
On the statement released by the Director of Media, Press and Information of the Supreme Court, Dr. Festus Akande, which denied all the CTCs (Certified True Copies) of the amended judgment issued to Chief Edozie Njoku, the then presiding Justice said it “clearly stemmed from the misconception of the true position.”
“By this clarification, it is to be noted that Chief Victor Oye was not a party to the proceedings and the proper party for whom the judgment and orders referred is Chief Edozie Njoku. To further buttress the point, I would hereunder restate the parties the appeal and judgment of 14th October, 2021 thus:
“Chief Jude Okeke (Appellant) and 1. All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), 2. Chief Edozie Njoku (national Chairman of APGA for himself and on behalf of the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of APGA elected on 31st May, 2019, 3. Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliyu, 4. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (Respondents). I hope the situation is clarified and the matter put to rest,” Justice Peter-Odili declared.
APGA presidential candidate nominated by the Chief Edozie Njoku leadership, Dr. Chekwas Okorie, told The Guardian over the phone that the ball is now in court of INEC, stressing that in anticipation of the recent development, Njoku was carrying the electoral umpire along.
Okorie stated that although Njoku was given the pin code to upload names of candidates that were elected from the party’s primaries, there is no longer any inhibition for the commission from doing the right things now.
It could be recalled that last Friday, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered INEC to remove the name of Hamza Al-Mustapha as the presidential candidate of Action Alliance (AA) for the 2023 elections.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Zainab Abubakar, in a suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/1759/2022 filed by the Adekunle Omoaje faction, the court ordered INEC to “upload and display the names of the applicant’s candidates for the 2023 general election, which had been forwarded to the respondent as its candidate for the said general election.”
Although the Federal High Court judgment that invalidated the nomination of Hamza Al-Mustapha was open to appeal, the fact that the Supreme Court is the court final instance makes the APGA case interesting.
The immediate implication of the development is that Prof. Peter Umeadi would yield his position as the presidential candidate on the Oye faction to Dr. Chekwas Okorie, who was nominated by the Edozie Njoku APGA leadership.
Another notable candidate on the Oye list of candidates is the wife of the immediate past governor, Mrs. Ebele Obiano, who clinched the party’s ticket for Anambra North Senatorial District.
Money has always played a central role in the convoluted litigations of APGA chairmanship. At various times, sources disclosed that N350 million and five million Pounds Sterling were used to make the litigations unending.
This is the first time the APGA crisis witnessed a conclusive determination at the apex court ever since the founding national chairman, Okorie was replaced by Chief Victor Umeh in 2004.
In his reaction, Njoku disclosed that having passed the relevant documents to INEC, the APGA NWC was eagerly awaiting the reflection of the true position of the party’s leadership in the commission’s dashboard of activities leading to the 2023 poll.
“I give God the glory. It has been a painstaking and costly journey. But I’m relieved to affirm that eternal vigilance remains the citizens’ bulwark for democracy. Nigerian will get it right and the judiciary has proved that it remains the last hope of the common man,” he stated.
Executive Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thought (ASSPT), Dr. Sam Amadi, told The Guardian that the matter has been a complicated situation. “It is important that the proper intention of the Justices be reflected and acted upon by INEC and other persons and bodies in and outside Nigeria. Everything should be done to make the correction effective. INEC should accept such formally presented correction
“It is surprising that a judgment of this caliber contained such basic error. It is also surprising that it was not detected on time and corrected on the record. The proper thing would have been to enroll a new judgment or order with the correction,” Amadi stated.
Nigerians have heaved a sigh of relief that the country’s judiciary has risen to the occasion of straightening the nation’s democracy and curtailing the excesses of huge pocket politicians that are prepared to go to any length to turn the hand of justice to their desired end. The APGA case would be a litmus test on INEC’s determination to play the impartial electoral umpire.