It was Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1596) who said, “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory”. The Anambra Central Senatorial election conundrum has become an embarrassment and dent in Nigeria’s emerging democracy. The election was conducted on 28th March 2015, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) along with other National Assembly elections across the country. Despite glaring irregularities, rigging, ballot snatching, manipulation of results and failure of the card-reader device, INEC declared Mrs Uche Ekwunife of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner.
Chief Victor Umeh, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) challenged the charade called election at the Anambra State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal and lost but won at the Court of Appeal Tribunal which also disqualified Ekwunife from taking part in the fresh election ordered by the Court within 90 days.
INEC fixed the fresh poll for 5th March, 2016. Four days to the election, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, presided over by Justice Anwuli Chikere delivered judgment directing INEC to include PDP in the rerun in flagrant violation of the Court of Appeal Tribunal judgment barring PDP from participating in it. It was a travesty of justice as the Court of Appeal Tribunal is the final court to adjudicate on National Assembly polls, a position the Supreme Court upheld in its judgment in appeal number SC/204/2016 between PDP and another, and Chief Victor Umeh (OFR) and another in which PDP and Mrs Ekwunife sought a review of the Appeal tribunal judgment that nullified the Anambra Central Senatorial election.
In its judgment of Friday 10th February 2017, the five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Tanko Mohammed held that the court has no jurisdiction to entertain matters emanating from the conduct of the National Assembly elections. Justice Amina Augie who delivered the lead judgment upheld the position of Chief Victor Umeh, the APGA candidate, stating that the Appeal Court is the final court of all disputes over National Assembly elections.
Augie declared, “Looking closely at the wordings of Section 246(3) (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final…. Once the Court below delivers its judgment on a National Assembly Election Petition Appeal, the judgment is final and this court has no jurisdiction to hear any appeals related thereto no matter how cleverly framed”. Section 246(3) of the Constitution provides, “The decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of appeals arising from election petitions shall be final”.
The Supreme Court has spoken loud and clear on the Anambra Central Senatorial rerun. All eyes are on INEC to kick-start the process for the conduct of the election it earlier slated for 5th March, 2016. The preparation and conduct of the rerun poll are without prejudice to the pending appeals in court emanating from Justice Chikere’s contentious ruling.
The same scenario played out in Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial Districts where the election petition tribunal sacked the two All Progressives Congress (APC) senators for failure of the party to conduct primaries for its senatorial aspirants ahead of the 2015 general elections. PDP challenged APC on the matter at the tribunal which nullified the elections and disqualified the party and its candidates from participating in the rerun polls. The court of appeal tribunal upheld the decision of the election tribunal and INEC conducted the polls excluding APC.
In the case of Anambra Central Senatorial rerun, PDP which benefitted from the Kogi East and Kogi Central Senatorial seats following the court’s disqualification of APC candidates insisted on participating in the fresh election fully aware of the position of the law in the mater. It is a dangerous political naivety affirming in the words of Charles Caleb Colton (1780 – 1832) that, “Man is an embodied paradox, a bundle of contradictions”.
In 2007, the Labour Party approached the Federal High Court to seek interpretation and application of the law as it relates to the right of political parties to field a candidate of their choice in any election, having been prevented by INEC to present a fresh candidate for the rerun ordered by the Court of Appeal that nullified the 14thApril, 2007, Adamawa State Governorship election. The Federal High Court referred the matter to the Court of Appeal. In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Joseph Okoro on April 10, 2008, the appellate court held that the Adamawa Governorship rerun was not a bye-election, and only candidates who participated in the first election were qualified to contest the rerun election. He noted that the rerun poll ordered did not refer to a bye-election because it merely returned the candidates to the status quo ante.
Dissatisfied with the judgement, the Labour Party went to Supreme Court which upheld the verdict of the lower court. In its landmark judgement of 13th February 2009, delivered by Justice Ikechi Francis Ogbuagu, the apex court declared:
“Where a general election has been held and there is a false start, for example, a candidate who ought to have been part of the election was unlawfully excluded or there was no level playing ground for all the candidates and that election is subsequently either cancelled by the regulating authority like INEC or nullified by an order of a court or tribunal, and a re-run or re-start is ordered, it is my humbled view that the re-run or re-start refers to that general election cancelled or nullified, and not a bye-election.
“The consequence of this is that all the candidates including the one unlawfully excluded would now get back to the starting line for fair and free contest. It does not admit of any other candidate since as it were the period for nomination and screening of candidates would have elapsed. In the final analysis or conclusion, this appeal, I hold in my respectful but firm view, is unmeritorious. It fails and it is accordingly dismissed”.
Benjamin Disraeli was right when he said “Justice is truth in action”. It cannot be suppressed, denied or manipulated for the benefit of political hirelings masquerading as democrats who want to deny the good people of Anambra Central Senatorial District effective representation in the Senate through frivolous bottomless pit of litigation. As the famous Magna Carta 1215 succinctly put it, “To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice”.
The legal war of attrition by the PDP, APC, United Progressive Party (UPP) and Mega Progressive People’s Party (MPPP) to frustrate the conduct of the rerun poll with spurious applications and motions at various courts, is justice juxtaposed. The Court of Appeal Tribunal did not disqualify the candidates of APC, UPP and MPPP from participating in the rerun, it is amazing that these parties also approached the court to further delay and obstruct the wheel of justice in resolving the Anambra Central Senatorial poll imbroglio.
As an umpire, INEC has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the rerun is conducted in spite of the shenanigans of political hawks who sworn that the election would not hold till 2019 general polls. Election is the beauty of democracy and should not be scuttled to settle political score with leading candidates just as some unpatriotic Nigerians and political parties went to court to stop the 2015 general election and lost. The memories of the scuttled 1993 presidential election by Chief Arthur Nzeribe using the Federal High Court Abuja order are still fresh in our democracy.
Justice must be done and seen to have been done. The Supreme Court has dispensed justice in the Anambra Central Senatorial poll quagmire, will the truth propel INEC to conduct the rerun and save our frail democracy? Time will tell. The whole world is watching us.
Dr Maduabuchi, a public affairs analyst writes from Lagos