Saturday, April 19, 2014

Was justice miscarried in dismissing the case against Akpabio’s election?

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An analysis of the ruling by an Abuja court that validated the emergence of Godswill Akpabio as the PDP governorship candidate in 2011.

Last Friday, Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court Abuja, delivered judgment in the petition brought against the nomination of Governor Godswill Akpabio as the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the April 2011 gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom state.

Some observers are of the opinion that justice may have been miscarried because the weighty evidence adduced by the plaintiff during the hearing appeared to have been ignored for other considerations, many say are not far from crass pecuniary interests.

The petition filed by one of the aspirants, Frank Okon, sought the decision of the court to invalidate the outcome of the January 15, 2011 re-run primaries, which saw Akpabio emerge the PDP’s candidate.

In the petition, Mr. Okon, among other demands, asked for restitution of his fundamental right allegedly breached with the unfair conduct of the primaries. He claimed he was manipulated out of the race by the PDP hierarchy.

Mr. Okon had also contested the outcome of the primaries and wanted the court to quash the governor’s election on the ground that it was a product of a corrupt and fraudulent process masterminded by the party’s hierarchy to derail his ambition.

Cleared but manipulated

Prior to the exercise, Mr. Okon said he was duly screened and cleared to participate in the January 9, 2011 primaries. However, after the annulment of the result by the National Working Committee, NWC, during its January 14, 2011 meeting, Mr. Okon claimed he was not duly informed of the new date fixed for the re-run; this resulted in him and his supporters not participating in the election.

The party’s guidelines stipulate that at least seven days’ written notice be issued to all parties in an event of a re-run poll. So, Mr. Okon claims that PDP breached his right as a member of the party, and contravened the party’s rule by rescheduling the elections less than 24 hours after the NWC’s decision to cancel the January 9, 2011 poll.

A signature of fraud

Mr. Okon said the final result sheet from the primaries submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, by the PDP bore the signature of an unauthorized official, the former National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, who never participated in the election and could not have been in a position to authenticate the outcome of a process he neither organized nor supervised.

Mr. Okon had argued that by January 15, 2011 when the re-run primaries held, Mr. Nwodo was no more in a legal position to preside over its conduct, as a court of competent jurisdiction sitting in Enugu had on January 12, 2011, more than 72 hours earlier, ordered his removal from office.

In a February 21, 2012 affidavit deposed to at an Abuja High Court and file as part of the application by Mr. Akpabio’s legal counsel to oppose Mr. Okon’s amended originating summons, Mr. Nwodo confirmed his sack from office on Wednesday January 12, 2011 following an order of an Enugu High Court presided over by Justice R.N Onuorah.

“As at the 13th of January, 2011, I had ceased to perform and carry out all functions relating to the office of the Chairman (of PDP)”, Mr. Nwodo said.

The order had restrained him from continuing to exercise the rights, powers, privileges as well as functions attached to the office of the National Chairman of PDP.

“I did not convene and/or attend any meeting on the 14th of January or any meeting whatsoever where the decision for rerun primaries for Akwa Ibom state was taken.

“That at the time the governorship primaries for Akwa Ibom State was cancelled and a re-run fixed, I had ceased to act as the Chairman (of PDP)”.

According to him, the result sheet used in the primaries, which bore his name and signature, was “pre-printed” by PDP prior to the 13th of January, 2011 when he had ceased to act as PDP’s National Chairman.

Loose claims

After hearing the submissions and arguments by all the parties, Justice Kafarati in his re-scheduled judgment, after the initial postponement from July 12, 2012, dismissed claims by Mr. Okon as not holding water in law.

According to the judge, having accepted in his application that he never participated in the January 15, 2012 re-run primaries, Mr. Okon lacked the locus standi to challenge both its conduct and outcome.

Drawing wrong parallel

He relied on the provisions of Section 87(7) of the Electoral Act, which defines an aspirant in an election as someone who contested a primary election conducted by a political party for the purpose of being nominated as a candidate.

“It is clear that the plaintiff was not a candidate or aspirant in the re-run primary election conducted on 15th January, 2011 by the Second respondent (PDP),” Mr. Kafarati said.

He cited the ruling by the Supreme Court, early this year in the case filed by Timipreye Silva, the former governor of Bayelsa State, against the PDP, to drive home his point.

But not a few legal critics faulted the comparison drawn by the learned judge between the circumstances of Mr. Sylva’s case and Mr. Okon’s.

Whereas, Mr. Sylva approached the court to seek redress after he claimed the PDP refused to clear his nomination to stand as candidate in his re-election bid, Mr. Okon was not only screened and cleared to stand as one of the candidates, but he actually participated in the January 9, 2011 primaries.

If indeed he participated in that exercise, could the learned judge be said to have been fair in his judgment that Okon’s right was not abused by his exclusion in the re-run of January 15, 2011?

See no evil, hear no evil 

Mr. Kafarati said in his ruling, that he would neither want the court to be dragged into the argument on who the PDP presented as its flag bearer in the elections, nor to be seen as dabbling in the internal mechanisms of the party, as long as the person presented was accepted by INEC without any objection to the electoral process that threw him up.

But if the Judge holds that his court lacks jurisdiction to entertain actions that preceded the conduct of the primaries, including PDP’s refusal to abide by its guidelines to formally issue a seven-day notice to all parties in a re-run elections, is the learned judge also right to overlook the glaring abuse of due process with the argument that these were the internal affairs and domestic rights of the party?

And though the argument can be that every member is subject to the supremacy of his party’s rules and its constitution, shouldn’t obedience be to the extent that it does not offend natural justice, equity and good conscience and without any injury to the fundamental rights of the member as enshrined in the country’s constitution?

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