Anambra Central Senatorial Seat: How PDP secured controversial court victory

Uche Ekwunife

The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Wednesday ordered the return of a Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in Anambra State, Obiora Okonkwo, as the duly elected member of the state’s Central Senatorial District in 2015.

The court in a brief judgement, delivered by Justice John Tsoho, granted the request listed as prayer three in the amended originating summons filed by Mr. Okonkwo’s lawyer, Sebastian Hon.

Mr. Hon asked the court to take judicial notice of the decisions made by the defendants in his suit, who had all withdrawn their earlier submissions against the plaintiff’s claims and had consented to having a judgement in favour of the plaintiff.

Mr. Hon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had asked the court to order the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to issue certificate of return to his client, as well as recognise Mr. Okonkwo as the authentic candidate to have participated in the March, 28, 2015 Senatorial elections in the state.

Mr. Hon had also requested the court to subsequently order that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, swears in his client as the senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District.

The court granted all the prayers sought by the applicant.

HOW THE LEGAL BATTLE BEGAN

Mr. Okonkwo, represented by his lawyer, had approached the Federal High Court in December 2014 to contest the nomination of a fellow PDP member from the state, Unche Ekwunife, who was controversially picked as the party’s flag bearer in the 2015 senatorial elections in the state.

Mr. Okonkwo’s argument had been that he won the primaries conducted within the party and should have been presented as the authentic flag-bearer of the PDP during the 2015 election in the state.

Ms. E‎kwunife was eventually declared winner of the election by INEC, but Mr. Okonkwo continued with his suit.

While Mr. Okonkwo’s matter was ongoing before Justice Okon Abang, the candidate representing the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Victor Umeh, approached the Anambara State National Assembly election tribunal to contest the emergence of Ms. Ekwunife as winner of the said election.

A three-member panel of judges in that tribunal, led by Justice Nayai Alabama, upheld the election of Ms. Ekwunife in October 2015.

Following the ruling of the tribunal, Mr. Umeh appealed the tribunal’s decision at the Appeal Court in Enugu State.

In its ruling, however, the Appeal Court nullified the nomination of Ms. Ekwunife and ordered a re-run election to be conducted within 90 days from the date the judgement was delivered on December 6, 2015.

The appellate court also ruled that Ms. Ekwunife and her party, PDP, should not partake in the re-run election ordered to be conducted for the vacant position.

Shortly after that ruling, on January 8, 2016, Ms. Ekwunife decamped to the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Ms. Ekwunife also contested the December 2015 Appeal Court judgement at the Supreme Court, resulting in the suspension of the election ordered to be conducted within 90 days.

While her appeal was being handled at the Supreme Court, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court again delivered another ruling still on the same election matter.

The trial court, in an application filed by the PDP on the December 6 post-election judgement, allowed the inclusion of the party in the scheduled re-run election.

Dissatisfied with that judgement Mr. Umeh again approached the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court which ordered a re-run election in its ruling on November 20.

A three-member panel of judges, headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, ordered the re-run election in the district within 90 days, and that PDP be exempted.

It was based on that ruling that INEC slated January 13, 2018 for the re-run.

The Wednesday ruling by the High court may, however, cause the electoral commission to review its decision.

INEC is yet to react to the ruling. The commission may choose to obey the ruling, appeal it, or ignore it since it is already acting based on a ruling of a higher court.

The judgement could also be a big plus to the PDP which recently lost the Anambra governorship election to APGA, the ruling party in the state. APGA, with Mr. Umeh as candidate, was expected to be the leading candidate for the January senatorial re-run.


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