By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
FORMER National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and party’s Anambra Central Senatorial Candidate in the 2015 election, Chief Victor Umeh, wants the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately put machinery in motion to conduct a rerun senatorial election for Anambra Central. This is to enable the zone have a representative in the Senate and to obey the February 10 judgement of the Supreme Court on the issue. Chief Umeh made the call during an interview with some journalists in Lagos on Monday, where he also spoke on how impunity destroyed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and how he stopped the party from reaping from fielding multiple candidates for a position in Anambra among others.
On his reaction to the latest judgement of the Supreme Court on the conduct of Anambra Central senatorial rerun election
You are all aware that Anambra Central Senatorial District remains the only senatorial district out of 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria, which still has no senator representing it in the National Assembly. It is very unfortunate because the people of this senatorial district have been denied a representation in all the businesses of the Senate that impact on the lives of citizens of this country, including the opportunity to obtain for that senatorial district deserved attention in all senatorial matters.
The National Assembly, which includes the Senate, makes laws and appropriation for all aspects of development. Our case ought not to have lingered up till this point if not for the clear attempts by the PDP to do everything to manipulate the process and frustrate the rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal on December 7, 2015 from taking place for the simple reason that the PDP is out of the race.
The Court of Appeal, which is the final court vested with the authority and jurisdiction to decide on all matters relating to National Assembly elections, nullified the election into that senatorial district and ordered a fresh election. The PDP, instead of accepting their fate that they will no longer participate in the election, their candidate having been disqualified by the decision of the Court of Appeal, decided to use frivolous actions to frustrate the rerun election from taking place.
However, on February 10, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgement, affirmed that the decision of the Court of Appeal was final in all aspects over the dispute relating to the Anambra Central senatorial rerun election.
The candidate of the PDP in that election had to take an adventure to the Supreme court to get the judgement of the Court of Appeal set aside when the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to stop the election. The Supreme Court affirmed the final decision of the Appeal court on the matter.
That being the case, the order made by the Court of Appeal on the 7th of December in the matter and the decisions remain final. No court below the Court of Appeal can do anything to frustrate that order.
One of the justices of the Supreme Court, said “the order made by the Court of Appeal on the matter remains final forever; it cannot be revisited by anybody.”
PDP, having lost out completely in this matter, resorted to filing frivolous actions at the high court to frustrate the order made by the Court of Appeal, which was affirmed by the Supreme court. What they are now posturing in the press is that they have several litigation pending in the High Court,which must be respected by INEC before conducting the rerun election. That is against the process of law because a High Court cannot come to any decision that will be contrary to the decision handed down by a superior court. There are two superior courts in this instance- the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Anything the PDP is doing at any lower court, be it magistrate, customary court, high court of a state and federal high court in any division will not affect the decision of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court and it will be an affront.
The INEC, which was a party in all the proceedings both at the Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court is very much aware that the matter has come to a final rest. INEC now has every authority under the law to conduct the rerun election without the candidate of the PDP.
The Supreme Court had since 2009 delivered a judgement in a case cited as Labour Party vs INEC on the fate of any fresh candidate in a rerun election that will be ordered by the tribunal, the Court of Appeal or even the Supreme court in the case of presidential election. Where an election is nullified, a rerun or fresh election that will be ordered by the court that nullified the election will now be between the parties and candidates that participated in the general election that was nullified by the court. It does not admit any new candidate by way of withdrawal and substitution or by any means.
Some PDP chieftains said the 90 days originally granted by the court for a rerun election had lapsed and what they are asking for now is fresh election. What is your take on that?
PDP in Anambra State is being totally mischievous because all the fresh elections ordered by the courts after the 2015 election did not come until 2016, one year after. PDP clearly is standing the law on its head. They know the truth but they are just trying all they can to continue to delay the election.
There is nothing like that. The general election took place on March 28, 2015. This outstanding election is an offshoot of that election, which was nullified by the Court of Appeal, it is not a general election.
The PDP knows this very well. INEC is not going to conduct a general election, it is a rerun election pursuant to the order of the judgement of the Court of Appeal that nullified the general election conducted on March 28, 2015.
You said the PDP is doing all it can to prevent the senatorial election from holding. Why do you think this is so?
It amazes me too but I believe they are engaged in these antics so that Anambra Central will not have a senator until 2019. That is their plan but with God on our side their plans will never work. Our people are very anxious about this development and we are happy with the judgement of the Supreme Court, which has given INEC the nod to proceed with the election without delay. This has cleared the way for eligible candidates to go into the rerun election. I must commend INEC for standing their ground that PDP cannot participate in the rerun election and they have been vindicated by the judgement of the Supreme Court. I want to appeal to them not to succumb to the latest antics being employed by the PDP even after the judgement.
Our people are very worried about these efforts by PDP to prevent rerun election from taking place because they (PDP) are no longer going to be part of it. If you recall, INEC had prepared for this rerun election for March 5, 2016. They had recruited ad-hoc staff, trained them, prepared all the materials, including ballot papers for that election to take place on March 5 only for the Federal High Court to make an order four days to the rescheduled rerun election that PDP should be included. Under such circumstance, INEC could not have printed new ballot papers. Even INEC officials were embarrassed that a judge whose ruling stopped the APC from fielding candidates in Kogi East and Kogi Central senatorial zones, could turn around to order INEC to include PDP with a fresh candidate in rerun election in Anambra Central senatorial zone.
Today, in the National Assembly, the PDP occupies Kogi Central and Kogi East seats in the Senate as a result of the judgement that disqualified APC given in the same manner as that of Anambra Central. Also, the seats of Okene/Ogori/Magongo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Ankpa 1 and Ofu State Constituencies in Kogi Assembly all now belong to the PDP due to the same judgement of the Court of Appeal that stopped APC from taking part in the reruns.
This does not only apply to Kogi State because a PDP member now represents Akko Federal Constituency of Gombe State in the House of Representatives because the APC candidate that initially won the seat had his election annulled and was equally barred from participating in the rerun poll. These are indications that PDP is indeed the greatest beneficiary of such judgements of the Appeal Court where elections were cancelled and the original winners barred from participating in the reruns ordered. So it beats me why the same PDP will insist it must be part of the rerun in Anambra Central against the Appeal Court verdict, using all sorts of tricks to frustrate the conduct of the exercise.
Why do they want the case of Anambra Central to be treated differently? These are the challenges we face in Nigeria but we believe that in the end, the right thing will be done. Our prayer is that time should not be allowed to fritter away before this election will be conducted. INEC should exercise its right based on the verdict of the Supreme Court and proceed with the election without further delay. The Supreme Court judgement has cleared the way in taking a decisive action to prevent the unnecessary delay that has denied the entire people of Anambra Central the right to have representation in the Senate for almost two years out of four years. INEC can conduct the election within two weeks, all it needs is retooling because it has printed electoral materials and trained ad-hoc staff.
The matter is worse for PDP. It was the party in default. It put a candidate that was not qualified to contest the election as allowed by law. If Ekwunife had remained in PDP, is she qualified to contest the election? The answer is no. Since Senator Chris Ngige, the APC candidate is now a minister, can the APC bring another candidate to replace him? The answer is still no because the time for withdrawal and substitution has elapsed and Ngige is still alive.
Ngige is free to run
So, Senator Chris Ngige is qualified to run. If he wants to run, he has to join the race and resign within 30 days to the election date. That is what the law says.
Beyond rhetorics, PDP is dead as far as Anambra Central senatorial rerun election is concerned.
I don’t attempt to do anything that is not within the ambits of the law and that is what PDP should be doing. Look at their leadership dispute at the national leadership. When their leadership dispute started, I told some friends in Enugu that Ali Modu-Sheriff would win at the end, they said I was drunk. Last Friday, he won at the Court of Appeal and they called me and asked how I knew whether I am a lawyer. I said I am not a lawyer but when somebody is on the path of impunity you know that the law will stop that person along the line.
How PDP killed itself with impunity
Impunity is what is hunting PDP today. They try it everywhere. In Anambra State, when I was going to the tribunal, I told the press that I was going to fight PDP’s impunity in Anambra State. Apart from the way they rig elections, they don’t go through due process. That is why they are always fielding multiple candidates. Once the INEC says primary will take place on a particular day, they will pick a date. They will not conduct any one, five persons will throw themselves up and be claiming victory at the PDP primary. They will proceed with these people to the elections, campaigning and nobody will check them.
So, I said my own will be the last. Uche Ekwunife was unfortunate to have contested against me. Nobody would have been able to go through the process I went through to get her election nullified in Anambra State. That was why her colleagues escaped. Lawyers to the other candidates were not able to tackle this issue the way I did. A few of the APGA people that were represented by the same lawyer with me, they pleaded the same thing with me: non-conduct of primaries but they didn’t obtain the National Assembly results of the PDP to use at the tribunal and Court of Appeal. I was able to get for my senatorial district, miraculously. I challenged the return based on fraudulent conduct of the election and qualification of Uche Ekwunife to contest the election. There is a process laid down by the law. The Electoral Act in Section 138 clearly states that for you to qualify to represent any party as a candidate in an election, you must be a product of a primary. If your party fails to conduct primary, a member of another party can take up on that because you breach the law.
What are your chances in the rerun election?
I believe that whatever God has said will happen, no matter how anybody tries to delay it. God has decided through his own action that Anambra Central senatorial district must have a senator, who will be their choice, and I do not need to start telling you who their choice is. Just by looking at people behind me, it is saying, I am the choice.
While the case was ongoing, were you sure you would emerge victorious?
Many people have always referred to me as a man of the courts because this is the third time I went to the Supreme Court and won. I was in this Supreme Court on March 25, 2011 when I defeated Chekwas Okorie. On January 15, last year I was there, I won, I defeated Maxi Okwu. Now, I have triumphed again. I don’t know how many people who have travelled to the Supreme Court three times and won all. I always make sure I adhere to the law, the provisions of the constitution and judicial precedents in pursuing my defence. From day one, it was clear that this appeal was brought in total disobedience to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And the constitution you know is the grand norm. That is the supreme document. If there is a clear provision in the constitution, there is no way you can circumvent it in pursuit of your personal interest or ambition. I once said the only way the appeal will succeed is if the constitution is amended. And if it is amended today, it will not take a retroactive effect.
So what is your message to the people of Anambra Central?
I understand the pains and frustration of the people of Anambra Central. They are the only senatorial district in the whole country without an elected representative but as painful as it is, let our people be patient. Now that the clog in the wheel of our progress has been removed, I believe that very soon, the election will be conducted. I am also calling on well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on INEC to do the right thing by conducting the election. We have just two more years to the end of the current dispensation and the term cannot be extended beyond 2019.