Following Supreme Court’s ruling that sacked all the National Assembly lawmakers from Anambra State, all stakeholders appear confused as no one seems to agree on the way forward, reports Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu
SINCE Friday, January 29, when the Supreme Court sacked all the Anambra State’s members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there has been confusion in the state’s political theatre.
The apex court had ruled that the list of nominated candidates in the last election from the Ejike Oguebego-led executive of Anambra State PDP was the only one to be recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Before that ruling, the Court of Appeal had sacked Senator Uche Ekwunife (Anambra Central) and ordered a re-run.
So, completing the circle, the apex court sacked the two remaining senators and 11 members of the House of Representatives from Anambra State. The affected senators are Andy Uba (Anambra South) and Stella Oduah (Anambra North).
For the House of Representatives, the lawmakers ordered to vacate their seats include: Anayo Nnebe (Awka North and South), Obinna Chidoka (Idemili North and South) Lynda Ikpeazu (Onitsha North and South) Emeka Anohu (Ihiala), Eucharia Azodo (Aguata) Chris Azubogu (Nnewi North/Nnewi South/Ekwusigo), Chukwuka Onyema (Ogbaru), Tony Nwoye (Anambra East and West) and the member for Orumba North and South.
Justice Binta Ogunbiyi, in her judgment, held that the lawmakers were illegally foisted on the PDP by an unrecognised state executive of the party.
Ogunbiyi also held that the Oguebego-led executive was the only constitutionally recognised leadership of the PDP to conduct the party’s primaries.
It would be recalled that in December 2014, the Federal High Court had given similar ruling when it held that the Ejike Oguebego-led executive was the only constitutionally recognised leadership of the party in Anambra State that could conduct the PDP primaries.
But notwithstanding that ruling, the state executives of the various factions of PDP went ahead to conduct parallel primaries. While the other faction elected Andy Uba, Stella Odua and Uche Ekwunife as their senatorial candidates, after the end of the Ejike Oguebego-led executive, Chris Uba won the ticket for Anambra South Senatorial District, Prince John Emeka for Anambra North Senatorial District and Annie Okonkwo for Anambra Central Senatorial District.
That was the beginning of the current confusion in the state because during the National Assembly Election proper, each of the factions held on to its claims. Even now, with the Supreme Court’s ruling, the sacked lawmakers are still laying claims to the seat, insisting that the judgment of the Supreme Court did not really sack them but was only misinterpreted by their political detractors.
Their supporters argued that it would be unfair for the apex court to install people who neither campaigned nor participated in the elections at the Senate and House of Representatives. Others said all the factions of the PDP were guilty of imposition and so offering the positions to the Ejike Oguebego-led executive would amount to injustice against the others.
Senator Annie Okonkwo, one of the beneficiaries of the Supreme Court ruling, who had written INEC earlier, kicking against the commission’s removal of his name, which had been uploaded on its website as the candidate of the PDP ahead of the 28th March, 2015 Election into the Anambra Central Senatorial District seat in the National Assembly, was one of the first to commend the apex court’s ruling. Highlighting the deeper confusion in the Anambra Central Senatorial District, Okonkwo said it was obvious that Chief Victor Umeh, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, petitioned the wrong person, Ekwunife, who is not the candidate of the PDP for the election.
It would be recalled that Ekwunife, who was inaugurated in June, 2015, as a PDP senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, was announced the winner of the election as she polled 101,548 votes to beat former National Chairman of the ruling party, APGA, Umeh, who got 77,129 votes and former governor of the state, Senator Chris Ngige of APC, who got 20,850 votes.
But the Appeal Court sitting in Enugu on December 7, 2015, in its judgment on the appeal filed by Umeh, picked holes in Ekwunife’s nomination as PDP candidate in the March 28, 2015 National Assembly Election. It therefore upturned her victory, ruling that her election “did not meet the prescriptions of the Electoral Act.”
In the lead judgment, the chairman of the three-man appeal panel, Justice A.D Yahaya, not only sacked Ekwunife but also ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election in the zone within 90 days.
Since then, the politics of Anambra Central Senatorial District has become most intriguing as the aspirants and political lords, with very deep pockets; quickly returned to the field for what observers said would be ‘a grand battle.’
To deepen the intrigues, Ekwunife promptly dumped PDP and declared for the rival All Progressives Congress (APC). She did not stop there but expressed interest to get the party’s ticket for the senatorial seat, since the original candidate, Senator Chris Ngige, a former governor of the state, had been appointed the Minister of Labour and Employment.
Political analyst told The Nation that this move made the Anambra Central Senatorial Election rerun one of the most absorbing in the country
Chief Vitalis Nwulu, a political chieftain in Anambra State explained it to The Nation then when he said, “Without mincing words, may I admit that we never expected Ekwunife to dump PDP at the time she did and to go for APC ticket. I say so because I am aware that not all the leaders of PDP in the state agree with the conclusion that the court’s ruling meant end of the road for Ekwunife in PDP. No! Now that she opted to go to APC, no one needs be told that this Ngige party has gained more weight in the state. For all of us, whether in PDP or APGA, no one can be sure again that APC will not regain Anambra Central. Even if he denies it, I think Umeh would not want to contend with the combined forces of Ngige and Ekwunife on the platform of APC.”
Nwulu added that the challenge is even more pronounced in PDP which Ekwunife dumped. He said, “Anambra Central’s fresh election is a major trial of PDP’s future in Anambra State here. Divided as the party is today and with the kind of aspirants the party currently boasts of everyone is interested in how the party will amend its broken fences and move forward. PDP here cannot deny that Ekwunife has left a big challenge for it.”
That was before the Supreme Court’s ruling, which has raised the stakes in the entire state. Today, the situation in Anambra South and North are equally confusing. Already, the senators and members of the House of Representatives from Anambra State whose nominations were cancelled by the Supreme Court, had written the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) maintaining that they were duly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP for the 2015 General Election. In a letter dated 29, January, 2016, they said that after their nominations by the PDP, they contested the election and were duly returned as elected.
APC and Anambra Central candidate
For Anambra Central Senatorial District, the issue of who would fly the All Progress Congress flag has remained an issue for sometime. Even after the primasies, the confusion persists. The matter became even more complicated this weekend as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), through the new Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Lawrence Azubike, has denied being aware of Senator Chris Ngige’s withdrawal from the Anambra Central Senatorial re-run on the ticket of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Azubike made the denial this weekend, while meeting with political parties and stakeholders in the state at the INEC headquarters in Awka. “We are not aware that anybody has withdrawn, we have not received any statement to that effect, this election is a re-run not a bye- election.”
“What the re-run election means is essentially, going back to March 28, 2015; INEC will use that same method in conducting the election and we are going to wait for further directive from the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.”
“The political parties and the candidates for the re-run election are not in doubt, only the candidates and parties who participated in that election will participate now, excluding the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) because of the court judgment” he said.
It would be recalled that since the Appeal Court ruling, there had been speculation that Ngige had withdrawn from the race, following his appointment as the Minister of Labour and Employment.
Azubuike’s comment at the weekend has no doubt complicated further the confusion over the candidate of APC in the forthcoming election in Anambra Central.
Aware of the confusion that will arise from the development, the state secretary of APC in Anambra, State, Mr. Chukwuma Agupugo, at the meeting reminded the commission of the letter to that effect by Ngige, which, according to him was submitted by the party to the commission as required by the Electoral Act.
Our correspondent reports however that Azubuike maintained he would go into the records of INEC to find out the truth of the matter as he just resumed in the state. Until he checks the records, the confusion persists.
When the Appeal Court gave its ruling on Anambra Central, there was confusion in the various camps of Anambra State PDP as the perplexed leadership of the party battled with the situation, troubled by several posers: Amongst the posers were: How much of the current leadership dilemma in the state chapter of PDP could be resolved in the days to the fresh elections? Before Ekwunife made public her defection to APC, PDP leaders wondered how they will deal with whether Ekwunife was disqualified or not from participating in the fresh election. Some even expressed concern over the possibility of INEC not allowing the party to conduct another primary. PDP critics had contended that contrary to paragraph 25, sub section 1 of the PDP constitution and section 138(1)(a) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, PDP did no conduct a legally acceptable primary as stated in the National Assembly election guidelines.
It would be recalled that during the 2015 National Assembly Elections in Anambra, PDP was bogged down with crisis arising from its inability to resolve the leadership challenge as it paraded a factionalised state executive, led by Ken Emekaiyi and Ejike Oguebego factions.
“The party operated without any order, there was no recognizable, acceptable or accepted state executive; we didn’t conduct ward congresses from where the three man delegates would have emerged to conduct the election of the National Assembly candidates. Then, several primaries were purportedly held and candidates elected. The question we cannot honestly answer is who elected them?” We asked this question at the top leadership meetings but our colleagues refused to listen. Now, the consequence was the rash of court cases by senatorial aspirants, who, while arming themselves with forged documents and claiming to have won the primary, sought the intervention of the courts in declaring them winners,” said a top PDP stalwart from Anambra Central long before the Supreme Court’s ruling.
With the current development, the confusion has clearly widened, as the rival factions in the party are now locked in the battle over whether the Supreme Court’s judgment that installed the Oguebego faction is the real elixir that will heal the wounds of PDP in Anambra?