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Anambra Central: Re-run holds after a long wait

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Anambra Central: Re-run holds after a long wait

The long wavering over the Anambra Central re-run would be resolved tomorrow as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducts the court-ordered poll to elect a representative for the senatorial district, FELIX NWANERI reports

 

The people of Anambra Central senatorial will go to the poll tomorrow to elect their representative in the Senate after over two years the court ordered for a re-run in the district. The seat became vacant after the sack of Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, who was declared winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The Returning Officer for the March 28, 2015 National Assembly elections, Dr. Pius Okoye, while announcing the election result said Ekwunife, who contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), polled 101,548 votes to defeat 14 other candidates.

Former National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh and a former governor of Anambra State, Senator Chris Ngige (who is presently Minister of Labour and Productivity), who contested on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) came second and third respectively with 77, 129 and 20, 850 votes respectively.

While Ekwunife declared the outcome of the election as “victory for the masses” and urged her opponents to sheathe their swords and accept her victory in good faith, the APGA and APC candidates rejected the results. Ngige particularly called for a cancellation of the election, while Umeh headed to the State and National Assembly Election Tribunal to challenge Ekwunife’s victory. After four months of legal battle, the tribunal, which sat in Awka, the state capital, on October 9, 2015, dismissed the petition filled by Umeh.

The Justice Naiyi Aganaba-led three-man tribunal unanimously upheld Ekwunife’s election and struck out all relief sought by the APGA candidate. Affirming the result declared by INEC, the tribunal declared that by its calculation, Ekwunife scored 93,300 votes as against Umeh’s 85,898 to win majority of votes cast during the election.

Justice Aganaba also ruled that the petitioners – Umeh and APGA – failed woefully to establish their case, which they hinged on alleged mutilations and incorrect figures of results upon which the PDP candidate was declared winner by INEC. He also ruled that the petitioners failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt that some errors and mutilations found in some result sheets as spotted by the petitioners were enough to nullify the election.

Umeh had approached the tribunal for it to declare him winner on the ground that he got the highest number of lawful votes cast. At the tribunal, through his lawyers, the APGA candidate, going by the ruling of the court, was able to show that the result announced by INEC was false by re-calculating the figures on the certified true copies of the results declared by INEC. A re-calculation of figures presented by INEC showed that PDP got 93,860 on the face value instead of 101,548 while APGA scored 85,898 instead of 77,129.

There was also the issue of whether Ekwunife was validly nominated. Umeh in his petition argued that the PDP in Anambra State had been factionalised in the past 12 years. He argued that before the primaries started, internal squabbles in the PDP took a heavy toll on the party, necessitating that Ekwunife and her group became candidates without going through any primaries or any process as provided by the Electoral Act. Despite the issues raised by Umeh, the tribunal ruled that the election was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act.

Expectedly, the APGA candidate appealed the judgement and after about eight weeks of legal tussle, a Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, on December 7, 2015, sacked Ekwunife and ordered a fresh election within 90 days.

Chairman of the three-man appeal panel, Justice A.D Yahaya, in his lead judgement faulted the earlier judgement of the lower tribunal which upheld Ekwunife’s election. “The perverse judgment of the lower tribunal cannot stand.

The appeal succeeds. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should conduct fresh election in Anambra Central within 90 days to elect a new senator for the senatorial district,” he ruled. The two other judges in the appeal panel, Justices T.O. Awotoye and D.S. Sanga, also concurred with the lead judegment.

While, series of litigations by interested parties stalled the re-run, hope was raised for the people of the district in November last year, when the electoral commission announced January 13th date for the poll. But, their optimism of electing a senator was dampened shortly after the timetable was announced, when a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, ordered INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, who is one of the PDP aspirants as the validly elected representative for the district. Though INEC responded by saying that it is studying the judgement, one of the contending parties –APGA – went ahead to flag-off its campaign for the re-run.

The party’s candidate, Umeh, who assured that the re-run will hold as scheduled, said the court order was a ridiculous one, especially as it came from a High Court in a matter that has been settled by the Supreme Court.

While the conflicting positions raised doubt over the poll, the coast was cleared yesterday, following the refusal of the Court of Appeal to stop the election. The Abuja division of the appellate court in refusing an application that sought to restrain INEC from conducting the rerun held that the earlier order made on November 20, 2017 directing INEC to conduct election for the senatorial seat within 90 days cannot be reversed so as not to make mockery of the judiciary.

Another PDP aspirant, Senator Annie Okonkwo, had approached the appellate court for leave to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal which had on November 20 last year ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election into the vacant Anambra Central senatorial seat within 90 days.

Senator Okonkwo declared that he was interested in challenging the judgement of November 20, 2017 as a senatorial aspirant. However, the application could not be entertained because most parties joined in the application were not served with the court processes.

Okonkwo then applied for an adjournment to enable him serve court processes on the respondents. He also applied for an order compelling INEC not to conduct the election until his application has been dully determined. INEC, however, objected to the request on the ground that huge public fund has been expended on preparation for the poll.

The commission’s position was upheld by the court as Justice Yahaya ruled that the court cannot compel INEC to make any undertaken to postpone the election because of an application that was not ripe for hearing. He further ruled that the Appeal Court having made an order on November 20, last year, cannot probate and reprobate at the same time.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we have not restrained INEC from conducting the election as ordered by this court on November 20, 2017,” he said. With the coast cleared for the poll, 14 candidates will file out tomorrow to seek the electorate’s mandate to represent Anambra Central in the upper legislative chamber.

INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Anambra State, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, who declared this yesterday, however explained that the PDP would not participate in the exercise following a court order barring it from fielding a candidate.

He added that a total of 7,670 ad hoc workers have been recruited for the election scheduled to hold in 1,548 polling units. The REC further said that non-sensitive materials have already been distributed to the seven local government areas that make up the senatorial district.

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