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General elections: Curious legal cobwebs entangle PDP, APC aspirations in Enugu

By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
18 January 2023   |   4:36 am
The Countdown to the 2023 general elections is on, but while political parties are attempting to deepen their campaigns and improve efforts to swing support to their side, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress....

[FILE] Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (left), Enugu State Governor and candidate of the PDP for Enugu North Senatorial District, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; PDP Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagun and vice presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa during the PDP South East Zone stakeholders meeting with Atiku, in Enugu….

 
The Countdown to the 2023 general elections is on, but while political parties are attempting to deepen their campaigns and improve efforts to swing support to their side, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State are not sitting comfortably for the exercise.
 
On a surface, the PDP has elevated the 2023 campaigns to an enviable height. So far, the party has left no room for doubts about its readiness to retain the state, which it has controlled since 1999.  The APC, on its part, which remains the largest opposition political party in the state despite incursions by the Labour party, has also tried to make impressions in the elections.  
 
But current litigations are threatening the quest for victory of the parties in the election. Added to the burden of the APC in the state is the internal crisis, which predates the current electioneering period and is taking a more dangerous dimension among its members.

 
It could be recalled that as part of effort to reduce strife and ensure that members of the party worked together in the election in the state, leaders and stakeholders of PDP had barred its aspirants from taking the outcome of the primaries of the party to court.
 
In fact, those of the governorship aspirants were made to undertake to support any among them that emerged from the pool of over 20 aspirants gunning for the topmost position in the state from the party.
 
While that achieved the desired objective, a few other developments that followed have shown that the party cannot run away easily with victory, as it may need to work harder to convince the courts on why it should continue to rule the state in 2023.
 
Earlier, the Action Democratic Alliance  (ADA) Senatorial candidate for Enugu North Senatorial District, Comrade Chika Emmanuel Idoko, had gone to court to seek the disqualification of all candidates of the PDP listed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), for the elections, for alleged breaches of the Electoral Act.

Listed as respondents in the suit, No FHC/EN/CS/217/22 includes the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its candidates for the elections in Enugu State.

Idoko had alleged that the PDP violated provisions of the Electoral Act, which prescribes a minimum number of days a party should serve its notice on INEC before conducting its party primaries for purposes of producing candidates.

He had sought a declaration that “by the interpretations of the express provisions of Sections 82(5) and 84(13) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the failure of the 2nd defendant (PDP) to submit the register of members 30 days to the primary election to the INEC as statutorily required renders the 2nd defendant’s primary election for nomination of the 3rd to 38th Defendants as candidates for Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly in Enugu State for the 2023 General Election held on 21st, 22nd, 24th and 23 and 25th May 2022 invalid.”

Other prayers before the Court by the Plaintiffs include a “declaration that by the interpretation of the express provisions of Section 84 (13) of the Electoral Act, 2022, the 1st defendant is under a duty not to include the 3rd to 38th defendants as Candidates of the 2nd defendant for Governorship, Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly in Enugu State for the 2023 General Election.”

The APC has joined in suing PDP on the same issue of Electoral Act violation, even as another suit stares the chairman of the party in the state in the face, for alleged forgery of documents sent to INEC concerning the primaries of the party that produced the candidates.

The Labour Party has as well indicated interest to become a party in the suit. Labour party’s motion for joiner, according to court filings made on its behalf by Messrs Chukwudei Igwe, Emeka Abba, Helen Ugwu, and Oluseyi Adegbejo, was brought pursuant to Order 26 Rules 1 & 2, Order 9 rule 14 (2) (b) of the Federal High Court of Nigeria (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019 and averred that it is interested in the matter as a political party in the election.

While the court is still looking into the matter, a group of youths claiming to be representing youth leaders from the 17 local government councils of the state have also asked the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja to disqualify PDP’s governorship candidate, Peter Mbah and the senatorial candidate of the party, Chimaroke Nnamani from contesting the 2023 elections, based on their alleged convictions for corruption following their plea bargain order in 2015. Recall that Mbah was Commissioner for Finance when Nnamani was governor in 1999 and was listed in the allegations against the ex-governor by the EFCC.

They stated that both candidates are ineligible to contest elections until after 10 years, starting from 2025.The plaintiffs, including Felix Ugwu, Jonathan Ndubuisi, Ikechukwu Eze, Agbachi Ude, Chris Ugwu, and Emeka Aroh, for themselves and on behalf of local government area youth leaders in 17 local government areas of the state asked the court to declare both candidates ineligible to contest the forthcoming general elections, following their alleged convictions for embezzlement of over N3 billion belonging to the state government.

The suit number FHC /ABJ/CS/2257/2022, was filed by their Counsel, Messrs A. G Okonkwo, E. Obumneme, O. Ezea, C. Arinze, and C. Dim.
Joined in the suit are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Attorney General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

The plaintiffs filed the suit against the defendants through an originating summons brought pursuant to section 36(9), 66(1)(d), 182(1)(e) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) Section 87 and 270(1), (12), (13) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

Mbah fights back
APPARENTLY perturbed by these developments and the damage it would create on his ongoing campaigns, Mbah has decided to fight back, especially on the one he considers personal to him. He has dragged a lawyer and the deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the State, George Ogara, before the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) for alleged gross violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners by supplying false information to mislead the court and defame him.

Mbah equally filed a petition against another legal practitioner, Ejike Obumneme, for filing and promoting a suit, that he allegedly knows or reasonably ought to know is false and intended to mislead the court and maliciously injure his person.

The petitions followed a lawsuit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/2257/2022 filed by Obumneme on behalf of the 17 youth leaders seeking Mbah’s disqualification from the 2023 governorship election on the grounds that he made a plea bargain and guilt entered on his behalf in Charge No. FHC/L/09C/2007 by the Federal High Court on July 7, 2015. According to the suit, the alleged judgment makes Mbah a convict and ineligible to stand for a governorship election.

The petition dated January 11, 2023, and filed on Mbah’s behalf by his lawyer, Osinachi Nwoye, reads in part: “On 7 December 2022, Ejike Obumneme Esq. filed an originating summons in the Federal High Court Abuja on behalf of Messrs. Felix Ugwu, Jonathan Ndubuisi, Ikechukwu Eze, Agbachi Ude, Chris Ugwu and Emeka Aroh, who claimed to be representing the youth leaders of the seventeen local government areas in Enugu State in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/2257/2022: Felix Ugwu & 5 Others v. Peter Mbah & 3 others against Peter Mbah, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Attorney General of the Federation wherein they sought inter-alia a declaration that by the express provisions of Section 182(1)(e) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the 1st defendant (Peter Mbah) is ineligible to contest any election to the office of Governor of a State within a period of less than ten years from 7th day of July 2015.”

Mbah insisted Obumneme knew it was false and malicious, as he never entered into any charge/plea bargain; however in Charge No. FHC/L/09C/2007, he had been discharged from the suit, about two years before the Federal High Court entered the alleged charge/plea bargain on 7/7/2015.

He explained that Justice M.N. Yunusa of the Federal High Court had in 2007 delivered a ruling upon an application by the EFCC through its counsel, Kelvin Uzozie, and discharged him and two other accused persons from the charge before the commencement of the trial.

He therefore, insisted that the allegations were to Mr. Obumneme’s knowledge false, contrived and intended to mislead the court to disqualify him from the governorship contest, adding that Mr. Obumneme undoubtedly knows or ought to reasonably know that the suit he filed was intended to maliciously injure and destroy his political ambition and reputation as a renowned entrepreneur.  He has asked the body to discipline the two lawyers.

Whether this petition would stop further action on the matter is not known for now but Mbah will not spare any effort to clear his name of any guilt.
FOR the APC, it does not appear that the party will be ready for next month’s general elections, going by festering internal crisis, despite its earlier boast that it would clinch power in the state for the first time using the exercise.
 
The current crisis pits the Ugochukwu Agballah leadership against several stakeholders in the state. The cold shoulders that the leaders of the party in the state gave to the presidential campaign rally of Bola Ahmed Tinubu/Shettima in Enugu last Wednesday were enough indication that all is not well with the party. To make up for the gaps at the rally, the two governors –Hope Uzodimma of Imo state and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state heavily induced people from their states to fill the venue of the Enugu rally.

Leaders of the party in Enugu State including former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governor, Sullivan Chime, former Speaker, Eugene Odoh, former state chairman of the party, Ben Nwoye; Director General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, Sen Ayogu Eze, former Secretary to state government, Onyemuche Nnamani, among others, had stayed away with their supporters from the rally held at Michael Okpara square.

Although Nnamani, Chime, Odoh and a few others had earlier received Tinubu and his team at the Akanu Ibiam International airport, Enugu, but while the entourage made their way to the venue of the rally, the aggrieved stakeholders retired to the residence of Chime where they addressed reporters.

They had vowed to give Tinubu more than 25 percent votes in Enugu. Nnamani who declared that all loyal party members would work for the victory of Tinubu in the election, stressed that they decided to shun the rally because “we are not aware of preparations for it”, adding that the “rally was pretty much organized from outside Enugu state”

Aligning with Nnamani, Chime stated: “We received our presidential candidate at the airport. We believe in him, he is the best. However, we are not at Okpara Square because of the internal issues we have in Enugu within the party. It has been there and this is because sometime in October 2021, a non-member was foisted on us after the botched state party congress as a so- called chairman.

“The party leaders went to Abuja, complained but nobody took them seriously, the issues continued. So, we have to distance ourselves from the local chapter of the party. After today, we expect that the party will do the right thing”

Another Chieftain El Aja, stated that Agballah was foisted on the party in the state by Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, even when he never resigned from the PDP and is not registered with APC, adding that the crisis will fester until the right thing is done.

On 9th, January, 2023, leaders of the party under the aegis of Concerned Members of the APC led by Pioneer Deputy Chairman, Adolphus Ude had protested at the national headquarters of the party in Abuja over alleged embezzlement of $ 1.5million 2022 national convention allowances meant for Enugu delegates and the sum of N283 million meant for purchase of nomination and expression of interest forms to fill all elective positions in the state.

The aggrieved members who had linked Agballah and the governorship candidate of the party, Chief Uche Nnaji to the fraud called on the national leadership of the party to immediately remove Agballah and appoint a caretaker committee to save Enugu State chapter of APC before the 2023 general elections.

They had also requested the national leadership to compel Agballah and Nnaji to immediately account for the money meant for the interest and nomination forms.

The aggrieved members had raised the fraud allegation after the parade of Barr. George Ogara from Enugu North senatorial zone as the deputy governorship candidate of the party in the state, whereas the real deputy governorship candidate on the INEC list and website is Chief Robert Ngwu, the state secretary of the party. They complained about what they saw as illegality in simultaneous occupation of the deputy governorship candidate and state secretary of the APC by Chief Ngwu, adding that Ngwu and Nnaji are from the same senatorial zone of Enugu East.

Sources indicated that Ngwu had actually been used as a placeholder, while Nnaji scouted for a reputable deputy but may have failed to meet the time frame to substitute with Ogara. Nnaji, it could be recalled, was the only contender in the governorship primary of the party as only one nomination form was printed for the exercise.

Agballah had in response however denied knowledge of such money and attributed sponsorship of the protest to the PDP state chapter, accusing the party of employing every available means to de-market its campaigns in the state. Agballah insisted that nothing would distract APC from winning the 2023 elections in the state.

He had claimed that the continued presence on INEC website of the name and particulars of Chief Ngwu rather than those of George Ogara as deputy governorship candidate of APC in Enugu was an error, which the election management would correct in an expected update.

But an updated list from INEC last weekend published by a national daily still did not reflect the name of Ogara, a development that may leave the party with producing a governorship candidate and his deputy from the same senatorial zone if sustained.

Meanwhile, the PDP, which has however denied having a hand in the crisis rocking APC in the state, has called on the EFCC to intervene and probe into the allegations of embezzlement against Agballah. The party through its Campaign Spokesperson; Nana Ogbodo dismissed Agballah as “an attention seeking rabble rouser, who has turned himself to a Clergy without congregation”

The Guardian recalls that after a crisis-ridden state congress in 2018, the former state Chairman of the party, Dr Ben Nwoye led the main faction while Deacon Okey Ogbodo led the aggrieved members who did not believe in Nwoye’s leadership. The factionalisation in the party then was carried into the 2019 general elections with both camps producing parallel candidates even at the governorship level that went into the election and failed woefully.

Another futile attempt to reunite and recover the party was made in 2021 using the state congress that held in the month of October. Agballah, who had indicated interest to join the party a few weeks before the congress, was thrown up after some hired thugs drove delegates away from the venue.

Another congress that held at the state secretariat the same day had produced Alphonsus Ude.  While Agballah has continued to enjoy the support of Imo governor, Hope Uzodimma, who is the leader of the party in the zone, issues surrounding Agballah’s emergence are still unresolved in the courts.