Friday, 31 March 2017

INEC and Anambra Central Rerun Election

The delayed Anambra Central senatorial rerun election has, no doubt, become an issue of great concern to most discerning Nigerians, who believe that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) no longer has reason to continue to put the exercise on hold. After the Supreme Court pronouncement of February 10, 2017, that Court of Appeal decision on National Assembly election matters is final, it is expected that by now INEC would have done the needful and fixed a date for the rerun poll in Anambra Central which has lingered for too long. In the judgement delivered by the apex court, following the appeal brought by Mrs. Uche Ekwunife whose election as Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District was quashed by the Appellate Court, Justice Amina Augie said: “Looking closely at the wordings of Section 246 (3), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final.
This court is completely bereft of jurisdiction to entertain the appeal. Once the Court of Appeal delivers its judgment on a National Assembly Election Petition appeal, the judgment becomes final. For the umpteenth time, the Constitution does not approve of the apex court to entertain this appeal no matter how cleverly it has been framed.” INEC was about to conduct the Anambra Central rerun poll on March 5, 2016, but suddenly postponed the exercise indefinitely, after a Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Anwuli Chikere ordered it to include the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The judge was reported to have directed PDP to replace its candidate, Ekwunife, who had at that time defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) following the nullification of her election based on invalid sponsorship by the PDP in the March 28, 2015 poll. The electoral body, knowing full well, that Chikere’s ruling in favour of PDP was against the verdict of the Court of Appeal, which disqualified PDP candidate and barred the party from participating, suspended the conduct of the rerun and appealed the judgement. The electoral umpire was insistent that fresh candidates are not allowed in a court-ordered rerun poll, anchoring its position on a decided case between Labour Party and INEC by Supreme Court since February 13, 2009. A year after her contentious judgement on the side of PDP that gave rise to the series of litigations responsible for the unnecessary delay in the conduct of Anambra Central rerun, Justice Chikere, recently, dismissed a suit brought by Sharon Ikeazor seeking to compel INEC to accept her as a substitute to Dr. Chris Ngige. Ngige, the current Minister of Labour and Productivity was the candidate of APC for the annulled election. He had said he was not interested in partaking in the rerun. Ikeazor was picked by APC to replace him. Ruling on the Ikeazor’s suit, Justice Chikere held that the time for political parties to nominate candidates for the 2015 elections had expired. According to her, “The time for the nomination, withdrawal or substitution of candidates for the court-ordered election in Anambra Central senatorial district has elapsed.”
Therefore, as it stands, APC can only participate in the rerun if Ngige decides to contest. As for PDP, the party has been completely knocked out of the race by the December 7, 2015 verdict of the Enugu Court of Appeal duly affirmed by the highest court in the land. In his reaction to Chikere’s latest judgement barring Ikeazor as APC candidate, the flag bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, who is obviously the frontrunner in the Anambra Central rerun contest said: “INEC has nothing holding it anymore from going ahead to conduct the Anambra Central senatorial election going by the judgement by the Federal High Court Abuja which dismissed the suit by Sharon Ikeazor seeking to compel INEC to accept her as a substitute to Ngige for Anambra Central rerun election which is consistent with the law and the firm position of INEC on the matter all along… So there is no other case that INEC can wait for before fixing the date of the election. The status of the APC has been defined by the court judgment yesterday as there is no change of candidate permissible in the fresh election. So the position now is that 14 out of 15 political parties that took part in the March 28, 2015 election with their previously nominated candidates are qualified to go for the re-run election. Only PDP is out of the election by the combined effects of the Court of Appeal judgments of December 7, 2015, the Supreme Court judgment of February 10, 2017 on the Anambra Central senatorial poll and the Supreme Court judgement of February 13, 2009 between Labour Party and INEC.” The Anambra Central Senatorial Zone Chapter of Anambra Youths for Progress (AYP), joined their voice to the call on INEC to, immediately, put necessary machinery in place to conduct the much-delayed rerun election, to pave way for the senatorial district to take part in governance through a representative at the highest legislative body of the country. Speaking through their General Secretary, Kanayo Mokwugo, the youths said it was unfortunate that it is only Anambra Central that has no representation in the Red Chamber almost half way into the current tenure of the lawmakers. According to the group, with the Supreme Court verdict in favour of Umeh, the electoral commission has no justification for its further delay in kick-starting the process of conducting the long-awaited rerun poll. AYP said: “We are calling on the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to, as a matter of urgency, pick a date for the conduct of the election into our senatorial district. It is not as if we can’t take laws into our hands but we have chosen to be patient all this while because we want the law to have the final say.” Another group, Anambra Central Grassroots Movement (ACGM) also expressed worry over INEC’s delay to fix date for the election when the February 10 Supreme Court Judgement has laid to rest the legal battle that had denied the people of the district representation at the Senate. ACGM noted that the people of the area are going through so much pain due to neglect occasioned by their lack of representation in the Senate. The leader and facilitator of the group, Chief Ben Anyaorah told newsmen that the group will embark on protest against INEC if they refused to take a decisive action on the rerun poll.
Anyaorah observed that “The people of Anambra Central Senatorial District are not only disturbed but also distressed and deprived because the people have no voice in the Senate. Democracy dividends and projects coming to the senatorial districts from the centre have continued to pass us by because we have nobody to speak for us. It is high time INEC and the court stopped entertaining unreasonable legal distractions from enemies of the people and enemies of democracy.”

Jegede, a media practitioner writes from Abuja

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