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Anambra Guber: Green smokes on Soludo’s mandate

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
27 November 2021   |   3:16 am
The ghost of recent Anambra State governorship election is yet to go to rest. A winner has emerged, but a loser believes that it is not over until it is all over.

Soludo. Photo/FACEBOOK/ProfCharlesSoludo

• Why Uba Is Banking On Tribunal
• Anxiety Over November 30, December 8 Court Verdicts

The ghost of recent Anambra State governorship election is yet to go to rest. A winner has emerged, but a loser believes that it is not over until it is all over. The development makes it imperative that two scenarios are sure to unfold in the coming days.

In the first instance, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo and his supporters in All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) are already looking forward to March 17, 2022, for a change of baton from Akpokue to Mr. Solution. But, while the governor-elect’s fans are getting ready for Soludo’s inauguration, the series of litigation lined up against their candidate remain a source of concerns in the state.

The most proximate among the cases in court is the one that comes on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. Following on that is another at the Federal High Court Abuja, on December 8, 2021, which is about the oldest matter that preceded even Soludo’s emergence as candidate of APGA.

Although it remains four days for the deadline for the filing of election petition to the tribunal, candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Andy Uba, is yet to make good his threat to drag Soludo, APGA and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the governorship poll.

Most commentators have described Uba’s plan to approach the tribunal as a political exercise intended to sustain his control of the APC structure in Anambra State. But, Uba, who emerged as the second runner-up in the election, explained that there are infringements in the process that threw up Soludo as winner, stressing that the hullabaloo over his intended litigation is not necessary.

While contending that his intended petition was within his rights as a Nigerian and stakeholder, the APC candidate recalled how a similar legal process cut short his election as governor in 2007, adding that heavens did not fall when the apex court sacked him.

Speaking to his supporters and party faithful on his planned litigation, Senator Uba pointed out that there were recorded instances of official by-pass of the use of the BVAS (Bimodal Voter Accreditation System) in some polling units, as well as cases of over voting.

He expressed optimism that when the number of votes earned by APGA through over voting are deducted from their total tally and votes denied him in many polling units are recalibrated, Nigerians would get the true picture of how Anambra people voted during the ballot.

However, many people in the state point to President Muhammadu Buhari’s congratulatory letter to Prof. Soludo as evidence that the APC candidate was merely fishing for luck and attempt to replicate the Imo State experience in Anambra State.

Further, the fact that the President followed up his congratulatory message with a declaration that the election was “free, fair and credible,” has been celebrated by APGA supporters, who believe that it was game over for Senator Andy Uba.

It would be recalled that President Buhari commended INEC and security agencies for the roles they played to make the free and fair election possible. Speaking through the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, after the National Security Council (NSC), noted that the manner the November 6 Anambra State governorship poll was conducted, is an indication of his administration’s commitment to promoting democracy and guaranteeing the success of the 2023 elections.

The President stated: “The president was particularly happy that a free and fair gubernatorial election in Anambra. And he was quite happy that the combination of INEC and the security agencies, from the military to the police and other agencies made that possible, with the support of people of Anambra and the government and we all saw the outcome.”

Disqualification or null
COME Tuesday, November 30, an Abuja Federal High Court, would deliver its judgment in a suit filed by Adindu Valentine and Egwudike Chukwuebuka, in which the plaintiffs are seeking the disqualification of Prof. Soludo and his running mate, Dr. Onyeka Ibezim from the governorship poll.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo had fixed the date after listening to arguments from counsel to the parties. While the plaintiffs allege that Soludo provided false information in his affidavit (Form EC9) to INEC, they contended that the candidates should be deemed unqualified to stand for election.

INEC, which was joined in the suit, declined from filing any processes, just as its counsel, Bashir Abubakar disclosed that the commission decided to leave the court to use its discretion in the suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/711/2021.

The plaintiffs’ counsel, A. O. Ijere and Kelvin Okoko, submitted that Soludo stated that he was contesting the Aguata 2 Constituency seat when, in fact, he was contesting the Anambra governorship seat. They asserted that having provided a wrong seat he was contesting, what the APGA candidates did amounts to false information, and thereby violated extant legal provisions.

But in his submission, counsel to APGA and Soludo, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), dismissed the arguments of the plaintiff even as he described the suit as unmeritorious.

While contending that the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs, Ikpeazu said, the error in an affidavit cannot constitute a basis to disqualify a candidate. “The false information contemplated in Section 31 of the Electoral Act was criminal in nature,” Ikpeazu declared.

His submission was upheld by counsel to Ibezim, C. Mbaeri, who urged the court to uphold his objection and dismiss the suit. Next to the disqualification suit over clerical error on Soludo’s nomination form is the one relating to the leadership tussle in APGA.

On December 8, the Federal High Court Abuja, would determine the case involving Chief Edozie Njoku and INEC. Njoku had approached the court seeking an order of mandamus to compel INEC to deal with his faction as the authentic leadership of APGA.

But, after applying to be joined in the matter as an interested party, Ozonkpu Victor Oye wanted the court to decide on the issue of legal representative and for the name of APGA to be struck off the cause list since according to him, he never briefed any lawyer to represent APGA.

However, the court declined to rule on the prayers, stressing that pronouncing on the items would amount to veering into the substantive issues of the case, which borders on the authentic national convention of the party.

Vexed by the Federal High Court’s refusal to grant their prayers, Oye went to the Court of Appeal on an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the Federal High Court, stressing that Justice Umar was right to withhold ruling on Oye’s motion until the final judgment on the substantive matter.

The Court of Appeal, therefore, reverted the case back to the Federal High Court to deliver its arrested judgment. However, whichever way the FHC rules, it would be in the shadow of Supreme Court’s judgment in a similar case between Jude Okeke and APGA, Ozonkpu Victor Oye, Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliu and INEC.

It would be recalled that on October 14, 2021, the apex court ruled on the Suit No: SC/CV/687/2021. Justices on the panel were Justice Mary Ukaego Peter – Odili, Justice Kudirat Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun, Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba, Justice Ibrahim Mohammed Musa Saulawa and Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim.

In a unanimous judgment, the apex court held that the Jigawa judgment was a judicial misadventure and forum shopping that does not deserve any legal attention. They affirmed the judgment of the Appeal Court Kano to the effect that the judgment of the Jigawa State High Court, which declared Jude Okeke the Acting National Chairman of APGA, on the grounds that Chief Edozie Njoku had been suspended as national chairman, even as they declared the suit as an abuse of court process.

The Supreme Court also affirm that the issue of national chairmanship of APGA or any other political party is not justiciable, stressing that parties have a mechanism for resolving leadership matters.

Fight back
UNFAZED by the series of existing and expected litigation, APGA disclosed that it has begun recruiting lawyers to defend the mandate given to Prof. Chukwuma Soludo and APGA.

Speaking to journalists on the threat by Uba and others to use the court to stop APGA and Soludo, the party’s former national chairman, Senator Victor Umeh, said the APC candidate should realise that “Anambra State is not Imo.”

While waving off Uba’s threat to approach the tribunal and upturn Soludo’s election, Umeh said the party is not afraid of political busybodies intent on embarking on judicial excursion.

He stated: “Our lawyers are fully prepared for the challenge, any time Uba is ready. Uba has no mandate to reclaim, because the people of Anambra voted for APGA. The election took place in the entire 21 local government areas of the state and he didn’t win any council area.

“The outcome of the election was a true reflection of what Anambra people want. Anambra people didn’t give Andy Uba any mandate. They wanted Soludo, and they voted for him massively. We are used to such cases. APGA is not afraid of taking on Andy Uba in court.

“The Nigeria Judiciary is not an undertaker. Please tell him, we are waiting for him in court. Anambra is not Imo State, where a fourth candidate in election suddenly became a governor.”

Psychological warfare
The electorate in Anambra and even the entire Southeast are relieved that the governorship poll produced an interesting outcome. The people expect much from the governor-elect, just as the people are looking forward to his inauguration.

However, recent developments in the polity suggest that a psychological warfare has continued against the outgoing governor, Chief Willie Obiano, to deny him the garland of the electoral triumph as APGA leader.

First was the sudden decision by the authorities to withhold permission to commission the Anambra State Airport at Umueri, which was sold as an attempt to influence voter perception in favour of APGa and Soludo.

But while the APGA candidate won the election without the Airport in operation, residents of the state were surprised when reports made the rounds that Governor Obiano is on the watch list of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

It would be recalled that prior to the governorship poll, there were allegations that funds meant for the Airport project were round tripped to finance Soludo’s electioneering, as well as claims that the attempt by the government to obtain a N60billion supplementary budget was aimed at achieving same purpose.

However, incensed that EFCC should leak a letter to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) when Obiano’s tenure was yet to elapse, the state government fingered the APC chieftains in the state for the attack on the governor.

In a statement titled, ‘EFCC’s inelegant dance,’ Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don. Adinuba, said, “everything that can be wrong with politically motivated statements like this one is obviously wrong with this statement.”

Adinuba remarked that, “EFCC knows full well that it is acting inelegantly in this instance, and so has tried as much as possible not to make an official public statement on the alleged placing of Chief Obiano on the watch list.”

While insisting that the commission “furtively gave a section of the media the news report it wrote based on ostensibly its letter to the NIS on November 15,” the Anambra State Information commissioner declared: “Governor Obiano is out of the country currently.

“And he travelled through one of the country’s international airports. He did not disguise himself, but rather left the country with his identity fully disclosed at the necessary immigration point.”

The government regretted that EFCC was making a show of its investigation, noting that media trials have never served any useful purpose for the anti-graft agency.

Part of the statement read: “The EFCC sounded more inelegant when it claimed in the sponsored press report that it received intelligence reports that the governor plans to “flee” from Nigeria once he hands over power next March 17 to the newly elected Anambra State governor, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo.

“Chief Obiano has never left any persons in doubt that he will relocate to his base in the United States once he finishes his tenure. As early as Wednesday, March 4, 2020, he announced his decision to a meeting of the Anambra State Council of Elders, comprising such personages as the erstwhile Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, who is also the chairman of both the Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Southeast Council of Traditional Rulers; a former Anambra State governor, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; an ex-Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih, mni; the founding Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Professor Elochukwu Amucheazi; the Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church in Anambra State, The Most Reverend Dr Maxwell Anikwenwa; and the Catholic Bishop of the Awka Diocese, Rev Dr Paulinus Ezeokafor.

“Governor Obiano has a whole four months to remain in office as the Anambra State chief executive. Nobody in Nigeria can circumscribe his constitutionally conferred immunity, which shields him from both criminal and civil prosecution. The EFCC went too far to announce in November that it is observing him. We are not aware of any state governor who had up to four months to be in office and the EFCC went on to sponsor media reports that he was being investigated.”

Unless the various after-election machinations succeed in preventing Prof. Soludo from being sworn in as governor of Anambra State on March 17, 2022, they would end up as green smoke spewing from envy.

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