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From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal has ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to conduct a re-run election for the disputed Anambra Central Senatorial District within 90 days.
The judgment was the outcome of an appeal filed by
the All Progressives Grand Alliance and its candidate, Chief Victor Umeh, which challenged the February 29, 2017, judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, which ordered the inclusion of the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Senator Uche Ekwenife in re-run.
The judgment technically excluded the PDP from participating in the re-run election.
This was even as an appeal bordering on a pre-election matter filed by a candidate on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Obiora Okonkwo is pending for judgment before the same court.
In the suit, Dr. Okonkwo is seeking a declaration that he is rightful candidate of the PDP and ought to be sworn-in as senator representing the district.
Dr. Okonkwo averred that he rightfully and convincingly, won the PDP primary election.
In addition, it is his contention that, by virtue of a Court of Appeal decisive judgment that Ekwunife should not have been fielded as PDP candidate, which invalidated her purported election, he becomes the rightful candidate and should be declared as senator representing Anambra central.
In his appeal, which judgment in expected in December, Okonkwo argued that a re-run election, ordered by another panel of judges of the court, is unnecessary since his pre-election matter is yet to be determined.
Umeh and his political party, who were dissatisfied with the judgment of the lower court, which was delivered by Justice Anwuli Chikere, headed to the Court of Appeal, demanding the setting aside of the judgment.
The Anambra Central senatorial district seat has been vacant following Ekwenife’s election.
The Court of Appeal Division in Enugu had, in July 2015, voided Ekwenife’s election for not being “the product of a valid primary and was therefore not duly and legitimately nominated.”
Delivering judgement in the appeal, yesterday, the three-member panel of the Appeal Court, headed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson, had dismissed PDP’s preliminary objections on the issue of the appellants’ locus standi and the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
Justice Akomolafe held that the appellants’s suit was not academic as there were live issues in the appeal.
In determining the main crux of the appeal, the appellate court held: “The rationale therefore, is correct as submitted by the appellants that the principle of guiding who can participate in a court ordered re-run election following the nullification of general election has been established in Labour Party Vs. INEC, and it remains the law.
“Where a court nullifies an election and orders a fresh election, a political party which participated in the annulled election at whose instance the election was nullified cannot field a new candidate to contest in the fresh election. This because the fresh election does not entail an entirely new process; rather it takes the place of the annulled election, because the period of nomination of candidates has lasped.”
Furthermore, Justice Akomolafe held that it was not the case of the 1st respondent (PDP) at the trial court that it be allowed to substitute a candidate for Ekwenife who had defected from the PDP, but for the “erroneous notion that the court-ordered election scheduled by INEC for March 5, 2016, entailed an entirely new process whereby it is entitled to conduct fresh primaries and nominate a new candidate.”
The judge said it was unfortunate that the trial judge fell into a grave error by predicating her judgment on the ground that Ekwenife defected from the PDP.
“On the whole, having resolved the main issue in this appeal in favour of the appellant, this appeal is meritorious and it is allowed. The decision of the trial Federal High Court delivered on 29 February, 2016, is hereby set aside. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (2nd respondent, is ordered to conduct a fresh election in Anambra Senatorial District within 90 days from today with the participation of the appellants (Chief Victor Umeh and APGA).
“The 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th respondents shall pay the sum of N50, 000 each to the appellants,” the Appeal Court held.
It would be recalled that Ekwunife was removed from the Senate by the Court of Appeal in Enugu on the grounds that she was wrongly nominated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and as such, ought not to have been fielded in the 2015 election.
Following the judgment, the PDP recognized Dr. Okonkwo as its properly nominated candidate for the Anambra Central senatorial election.
Consequent upon that judgment, Dr. Okonkwo approached the Courts seeking an order upholding his nomination as rightful PDP candidate for the district.
He is also asking a declaration by the Court of Appeal that as rightful candidate of the party, he ought to be sworn-in as Senator representing Anambra Central on argument that PDP actually won the election.
By virtue of the pending suit, the court-ordered re-run election will therefore be an action nullifying the electoral will of people of the district who voted massively for Dr. Okonkwo as votes cast in the election are still valid and not invalidated by any court.
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