Two hundred and twenty-five days after a member of Enugu State House of Assembly resigned his position after becoming a national official of the Peoples Democratic Party, the Speaker of the House has declined to inform the Independent National Electoral Commission of the vacancy.
Sunday Udeh-Okoye stepped down as the lawmaker representing Agwu-North state constituency on December 10 after he emerged the National Youth Leader of the PDP at the party’s national convention December 9. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu is among top politicians from the constituency.
But nearly eight months after Mr Udeh-Okoye stepped down, the House Speaker, Uchenna Ubosi, had declined to notify electoral authorities for another election to be conducted.
“The position is that there are certain persons who should declare a seat vacant,” said Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner Emeka Ononamadu. “One is the Speaker of the House of Assembly.”
Electoral laws empower leaders of federal and state legislatures to notify INEC when a seat has become vacant for any reasons from immobilisation to death.
“It is not a responsibility of INEC to declare that seat vacant. People of the constituency that is vacant also know what to do. If the seat is declared vacant, we will conduct an election within 30 days,” Mr Ononamadu said.
Constituents have decried the situation as an attempt to disenfranchise them, with critics of both Mr Udeh-Okoye and the speaker accusing the two of conniving to keep the seat vacant until the current assembly elapses next June.
“We are now very worried about the attitude of politicians in this area,” said Andrew Mbah, a legal practitioner in the constituency. “The electoral law did not envisage that someone so selfish and insensitive could become the speaker when it dictated that only the speaker can notify INEC about a vacant seat.”
“That section of the electoral law is clearly illogical,” Mr Mbah said. “It is time to do away with it because it is not that difficult for INEC to verify if someone has dead or resigned from the legislature.”
INEC recently announced it would conduct elections in Bauchi, Katsina and Cross River states to fill seats that became empty following the deaths of two senators and a state lawmaker, all of which occurred this year and months after Mr Udeh-Okoye’s seat became vacant.
Mr Ubosi declined comments to PREMIUM TIMES despite days of repeated requests.
Mr Udeh-Okoye confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that he resigned on December 10, but denied conniving with the speaker to keep the seat vacant, saying he is also pained that he is not being represented.
“I resigned my position since December 10,” Mr Udeh-Okoye said. “I want somebody to represent me, but the position is not my father’s property so I cannot go and be discussing the matter with the speaker personally and I do not have any power over him.”