Anambra Central: How multiple legal battles frustrated conduct of senatorial election for two years

Election, voters
Voters used to illustrate the story

The legal and political drama over the 2015 Anambra Central Senatorial District election appeared to be reaching conclusion as the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, announced the date to conduct a rerun.

In a statement, Mohammed Haruna, a National Commissioner at INEC, said the commission has fixed January 13, 2018 for the conduct of the re-run election to fill the vacant seat.

Anambra Central has been without a senator for over two years, a development which analysts said is detrimental to the constituents.

The seat became vacant in 2015 following the sack of the senator declared winner of the seat, Uche Ekwunife, by the election tribunal. She had contested on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party but her return was disputed at the tribunal.

At the March 28, 2015 National Assembly elections, Mrs. Ekwunife, was declared winner with 101,548 votes.

But her main contender, Victor Umeh of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, who polled 77, 129 votes challenged her victory.

Since 2015, the two major contenders of the election have been embroiled in a series of legal tussles which climaxed in the Appeal Court judgement of November directing INEC to conduct a fresh election within 90 days.

Below is a timeline of court cases and judgements that led to INEC’s decision to conduct the election.

FROM POLL TO TRIBUNAL

Mrs. Ekwunife was declared winner of the seat by INEC after the March 28, 2015 National Assembly elections.

However, Mr. Umeh headed to the Anambra State Election Petition Tribunal to challenge her victory on the grounds that she was not an authentic member of the PDP when she contested the election.

Delivering its judgement in October 2015, the Justice Nayai Agabana-led three-member National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Awka upheld the election of Mrs. Ekwunife.

Justice Agabana, who read the judgment unanimously adopted by the panel, dismissed all the reliefs sought by the petitioner and declared that Mr. Umeh failed to prove his case.

APPEAL COURT JUDGEMENT

Mr. Umeh got judgement in December 2015, when the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu, sacked Mrs. Ekwunife.

The court voided her election for not being “the product of a valid primary and was therefore not duly and legitimately nominated.”

At its ruling, the Court described the tribunal’s ruling as a perverse judgement, which cannot stand, thus, pronounced the sack of Mrs. Ekwunife and ordered INEC to conduct fresh election within 90 days.

The court also disqualified Mrs. Ekwunife and her party, PDP, from contesting in the re-run.

In a bid to make herself eligible for the re-run, Mrs. Ekwunife dumped the PDP and joined APC in January 2016. But a five-member screening committee set up by the APC disqualified her from being fielded as the party’s flag bearer.

SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT

Pained by the party’s decision, Mrs. Ekwunife headed to the Supreme Court to challenge the nullification of her election.

Delivering judgment in February 2017, Justice Tanko Mohammed of the apex court held that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain matters emanating from the conduct of National Assembly elections.

“Looking closely at the wordings of Section 246 (3), it is clear that the decision of the Court of Appeal is final. The decision, therefore has no business climbing or driving to this court for adjudication because this court is completely bereft of jurisdiction to entertain and determine any such appeal from the lower court.

“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 there to, no matter how cleverly framed,” Justice Augie said.

INEC ON HOLD

INEC was set to hold the bye election on March 5, 2016 without the PDP as directed by the Court of Appeal. But the PDP got a judgement from an Abuja High Court compelling INEC to include it in the exercise against the ruling of the Appeal Court.

The Appeal court judgement upheld by the Supreme Court had disqualified PDP and its candidate from participating in the election.

The High Court judgement prompted the electoral commission to postpone the poll indefinitely. The electoral commission then appealed the High Court ruling it believed was given in bad faith.

The Chairman of INEC, Mahmud Yakubu, in August 2017 said the commission had not been able to hold the bye-election because of court orders on matters already decided by the Supreme Court.

He said: “For instance, the famous Labour Party versus INEC case in 2009, says that once an election is nullified on account of candidate disqualification, the disqualified candidate cannot participate in the rerun election and the party that fielded the disqualified candidate has also lost the right to field candidate in the election.

“But unfortunately, some political parties went back to the court and we have been served injunctions that fly in the face of the decision of the Supreme Court. That is why the only rerun election in Anambra Central Senatorial District hasn’t been conducted till date.”

FINAL APPEAL COURT JUDGEMENT

In reaction to the High Court judgement in favour of PDP, APGA and Victor Umeh, filed a suit challenging the February 29, 2017 judgement.

Delivering judgment in the appeal, the three-member panel of the Appeal Court headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson ordered INEC to conduct the re-run within 90 days.

Justice Akomolafe-Wilson, who led a three-member panel of the Appeal Court, dismissed PDP’s preliminary objections on the issue of the appellants’ locus standi and the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

Following this judgement, which takes out every form of legal encumbrances delaying the re-run since 2015, the electoral body decided to go ahead with the election.

“The commission has considered all the circumstances surrounding the election, particularly the 90-day time frame ordered by the Court of Appeal; the demands for preparing adequately for the election, as well as the coming yuletide and decided that the rerun election shall take place on Saturday, January 13, 2018,” the statement announcing the re-run read.


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