How Onuigbo, Electoral Act 2022 survived legal ambush
As Apex Court Dismisses APC’s Appeal On Abia Central Senatorial Primary
Nigeria’s Supreme Court, yesterday, botched the legal ambush laid by the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) against the nomination of Hon Samuel Ifeanyi Onuigbo as the party’s candidate for Abia Central Senatorial District.
Shortly after the straw poll for Abia Central Senatorial District was concluded, some APC chieftains had rallied round Chief Emeka Atuma, who was the first runner-up in the APC governorship contest, to begin a judicial challenge of Onuigbo’s emergence from the May 28/29, 2022 Senatorial primary.
But, piqued by the surreptitious attempt to substitute his name with that of Atuma, Onuigbo, who is also the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change, approached the Federal High Court, Abuja for an order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from accepting the name of Atuma as APC candidate for Abia Central, claiming among other reliefs that by virtue of Sections 29(1) and 84 of the Electoral Act 2022, Atuma did not participate in the processes leading to the conduct of the Abia Central Senatorial primary.
Onuigbo further asserted that he defeated Henry Ikoh, who has been appointed a minister of state, by 157 to 152 votes, adding that the result of the primary signed by the chairman and Secretary of the National Assembly primary election committee, was officially received by the APC headquarters.
Justice E. N. Anyadike of Federal High Court had ruled that in the absence of a valid result showing that the plaintiff won the rescheduled primary of the 1st defendant, he cannot complain that his name was unlawfully substituted with that of 3rd defendant (Atuma).
That ruling was, however, quashed by the Court of Appeal, which ordered INEC to list Hon. Samuel Onuigbo as the APC candidate for Abia Central Senatorial District.
The three-man panel led by Nosakhare Pemu (PJCA), held that “the 1st respondent it is who produced the results of the primary election of May 28, 2022, which result is signed by Daniel Swan, showing the appellant (Onuigbo) as the winner of Abia Central Senatorial District.
“That result remains unimpeachable, valid and authentic. It has evidential weight and the 1st respondent cannot deny its authenticity or legality… The appeal succeeds and is hereby allowed. I hereby set aside he decision of the Federal High Court, Umuahi delivered on October 4, 2022.”
Justices Oludotun Adebola Adefope-Okojie and Samuel Ademola Bola also concurred with the led judgment, stressing that the appeal “is meritorious, I abide by the decision and the consequential orders made.”
But, the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division, in setting aside Anyadike’s judgment, held that there was nothing to support the claim that a fresh primary election held for Abia Central Senatorial District after the one on May 28, 2022.
The Appeal Court further ordered as follows: “That the unilateral substitution of the appellant’s name as the validly elected candidate for that of 3rd respondent, who never participated in the primary election of the 1st respondent (APC) for Abia Central Senatorial District is hereby declared null and void.
“That the election result submitted by the 2nd respondent (INEC) on the 16th of June, 2022, parading the name of the 3rd respondent as the candidate of the 1st respondent in the Abia Central Senatorial District is hereby nullified and set aside.
“That the 2nd respondent (INEC), is hereby restrained from recognising the 3rd respondent, whose name was sent by the 1st respondent to the 2nd respondent as the candidate and the winner of the 1st respondent primary election held on 7th of June, 2022, As the appellant (Onuigbo) was validly declared winner of the primary election of the 1st respondent for Abia Central Senatorial District held on the 28 and 29th day of May, 2022, which is valid and subsisting.
“That the 2nd respondent is hereby ordered to immediately include the name of the appellant as the candidate of the 1st respondent for the Abia Central Senatorial District, the appellant having emerged winner of the primary of the 1t respondent held on the 28 and 29th of May, 2022.
“That the 2nd respondent (INEC) is hereby ordered to publish the names of the appellant, Hon. Samuel Ifeanyi Onuigbo, as the winner and the valid candidate of the 1st respondent for the Abia Central Senatorial District primary election and the 2023 general elections.”
But, peeved by the court ruling and in a curious twist, the APC approached the apex court, stating in its notice and grounds of appeal that “being dissatisfied with the decision or judgment of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Judicial Division, delivered on 30th day of November, 2022, between Hon. Samuel Ifeanyi Onuigbo vs All Progressives Congress (APC) and 2 others, doth hereby appeal to the Supreme Court.”
APC stated that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal “erred in law, when it held that the appellant and the 3rd respondent did not challenge the primaries of MY 28, 2022 and that nowhere did they challenge the result of the primaries of May 28, 2022.”
Consequently, the party prayed the apex court for “an order setting aside the entire judgment or decision of the Court of Appeal and all the orders made therein,” among other reliefs.
Yet, in the judgment delivered, yesterday, by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the apex court dismissed the appeal filed by Atuma and upheld the judgment of Court of Appeal, Owerri, which affirmed the candidacy of Onuigbo as the duly nominated APC candidate for Abia Senatorial District.
The matter, with case No SC/CV/1626/2022, Atuma had contended that a repeat straw poll was held on June 7, 2022, even as he alleged that the national headquarters of the party cancelled the original senatorial primary. He, therefore, approached the party to submit his name to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the nominee.
However, the Supreme Court found no merit in the case and accordingly dismissed the appeal and upheld the decisions of the court of Appeal, Owerri delivered on October 4, 2022.
Justice Agim in delivering the judgment also held that respective parties shall bear their cost in the matter.
It could be recalled that ever since the Electoral Act 2022 came into force some gladiators in the forthcoming general election continued to operate according to the old order.
In an interview with The Guardian Onuigbo, who was a member of the Technical Committee on the Electoral Bill, said the essence of society is moderate actions and establish order.
He advised that the leadership of the Nigerian judiciary “should hold refresher sessions on electoral laws for them to complement the work of te legislature. “They should realise that a situation where the legislature does so well like we have done in this Electoral Act and then maybe one or two judges are turning a blind eye, ignoring critical provisions like section 84 (1), section 84 (13) of the same Electoral Act that says that where a political party fails to comply with the provisions of this act in the conduct of its primaries, its candidate for election shall not be included in the election
“Society is where things are orderly, predictable and people are protected. You cannot come to say this is a society and then it is the rule of man, then you can get strangled and nobody answers, no, that is not a society.
“So, the essence of the Electoral Act 2022 is to contribute, making sure that even if we are doing our elections, they will be done in a such a way that certain things can easily be predicted. That is how societies run,” Onuigbo stated.