1 May 2012

Nigeria: Oguta - Still Missing in Action One Year After

Exactly a year after election was conducted into the Imo State House of Assembly, the state legislature had carried on without a representation from Oguta state constituency. Now there is pressure on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conclude the election of the remaining wards left in line with the Federal High Court's ruling on the matter.

That full participation of the people through representative democracy is an essential ingredient is not in doubt. This is why democracy is better understood as government of the people by the people and for the people. But this cannot be said of the people of Oguta state constituency in Imo State because in the last one year since the inauguration of the state House of Assembly, that part of the state has no representative in the assembly.

This is no fault of theirs. Election into the State House of Assembly took place in the state constituency like any other local government in the remaining twenty six local government areas of the state on April 26, 2011 alongside the governorship election. While the governorship election was thereafter declared inconclusive by INEC, the State House of Assembly election did not suffer the same fate. Rather, elections took place in seven wards out of eleven making up the constituency. The results of the seven wards were collated, counted and declared by INEC. But because there was no election at all in the remaining four wards due to violence and other electoral irregularities in those particular four wards as affirmed by the Federal High Court, Owerri, the election was later declared inconclusive by the Returning Officer for the local government.

In effect, results of seven wards of Awa, Izombe, Oguta A and B, Osemottor/Enigbo, Egwe/Egbuoma and Oru were released by INEC while election did not take place at all in the remaining four wards of Uwaorie, Mgbala/Uba, Obudi/Aro and Ndi-Ulukwu/Umuowere. In the already released results of the seven wards by INEC's returning officer for the local government, the candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Eugene Dibiagwu, scored the highest legitimate votes of 11,536 as against his closest rival, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Walter Uzonwanne who scored 3,366 votes.

Satisfied that he had won the election in the constituency, Dibiagwu, who had waited for INEC to declare him winner and subsequently issue him with certificate of returns without getting it, approached the Federal High Court sitting in Owerri demanding to be sworn in as winner of the election based on the already declared result in which he scored the highest. He also prayed the court to stop INEC from conducting fresh election in Oguta state constituency; especially on the seven wards results that had already been declared by the Commission and affirmed by the court on December 12, 2011 by Justice F.A, Olubanjo, Justice of the Federal High Court, Owerri.

The plaintiff (Dibiagwu) claimed among other things: a declaration that the Defendant (INEC) lacked the powers to conduct fresh election for the Imo State House of Assembly in the Oguta state constituency in seven wards of Oguta ward A, ward B, Egwe/Egbuoma ward, Oru ward, Ossemotor/Enigbo ward, Awa ward and Izombe ward after elections of April 26, 2011, which results had been accepted by INEC. He also sought declaration that the defendant lacked the powers to disregard the results of the Imo State House of Assembly elections compiled and announced in the seven wards in Oguta local government and in Oguta local government collation centre as results of the Imo State House of Assembly elections for Oguta state constituency held on April 26, 2011.

Among other reliefs sought by the Plaintiff included a declaration that the INEC lacked the capacity and competence to question the Imo State House of Assembly election in Oguta state constituency after the issuance and announcement of the results of the said election held on April 26, 2011; a declaration that it was no longer necessary for the defendant to conduct supplementary elections in Uwaorie ward, Mgbala/Uba ward, Obudi/Aro ward and Ndi-Uloukwu/Umuowere ward in Oguta local government for the Imo State House of Assembly, as well as an order of court directing the defendant to declare the Plaintiff as winner of the Imo State House of Assembly election in Oguta local government state constituency held on April 26, 2011 and to also issue him with a certificate of return.

While the case was on, other interested parties: APGA, Chief Walter Uzonwanne, Ugboma Frank Onyebuchi of All Nigeria Congress of Nigeria (ACN) applied to join in the case. The court presided over by Justice Olubanjo refused their motion and thereafter dismissed it. According to her "This suit can be effectively determined and disposed of in the absence of the parties seeking to be joined. The decision of this court will not affect the parties seeking to be joined more than any of the other persons who participated in the election into the House of Assembly in Oguta local government area on April 26, 2011.

In the light of the Amended Originating Summons and also the Supreme Court decision in Green V. Green (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.61) P. 480, the parties seeking to be joined have not established before this court that they are either desirable or necessary parties to this suit." In the determination of the suit, the judge said by the provisions of section 27 (2) (c) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), only the Returning Officer has the authority to announce the result and declare the winner of an election into the State House of Assembly.

Not satisfied with the ruling, the APGA candidate, Uzonwanne approached the Federal High Court which sat in Abuja and asked for order of Mandamus in suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/811/201 where he joined INEC and Imo Resident Electoral Commissioner as respondents demanding the court to compel INEC to conduct a fresh election in the entire eleven wards of Oguta local government. In this case, the PDP candidate (Dibiagwu) joined in the matter and the court granted him leave to join in the case where he made a counter claims, urging the court to declare him winner or in the alternative, issue a consequential order to INEC to conduct election in the four wards where election did not take place.

It is also instructive to note that INEC as the electoral body that conducted the election in Oguta local government on April 26, 2011 had deposed to an affidavit where the Commission agreed that election actually took place in seven wards out of the eleven wards in Oguta local government for the State House of Assembly and results collated and announced. In order words, INEC had agreed that the election was only declared inconclusive because there was no election in four wards of the local government.

The news of INEC fixing a new date of May 5, 2012 for a fresh election in Oguta local government for the State House of Assembly is no doubt generating heat, fear and apprehension considering the volatile nature of the area. However, INEC's Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Imo State, Professor Selina Oko told THISDAY on telephone that although May 5, 2012 date was arrived at after a stakeholder's meeting held in the local government headquarters, Oguta on April 17, this year, the final directive had not been received from the INEC headquarters in Abuja.

However, the PDP and ANPP candidates and their parties boycotted the stakeholders meeting vide an 'open letter to INEC' entitled: "Attempt to arm-twist the court in the matter of the House of Assembly re-run election in the entire wards in Oguta local government of Imo State". The letter signed by the State Legal Adviser of PDP, Chief C.O.O. Akaolisa urged INEC to respect the ruling of the Federal High Court, Owerri, which affirmed the results in seven wards in Oguta local government in the House of Assembly election of April 26, 2011.

"We had stakeholders' meeting on April 17, 2012 at the Oguta local government headquarters. They recommended May 5, 2012 for a fresh election. I have written to the office in Abuja and I have not received their response. Anyway, I am waiting for directives from my INEC headquarters in Abuja and whatever directive they give me is what I will follow," he said.

Already, some prominent citizens of Oguta local government are agitated over the posture and perceived double-standard being advanced by INEC in the sense that since the Federal High Court had ruled and in corroboration with the argument of INEC Returning Officer for Oguta State Constituency election on April 26, 2011, that results of the seven wards were duly collated, counted and announced while election did not hold in the four wards, hence the election was declared inconclusive.

They are, therefore, asking INEC to explain why it is attempting to disown its own action? They wanted to know the justification in conducting fresh election in all the eleven wards instead of the remaining four wards where election did not take place on April 26, 2011.

There is increased anxiety as everyone is awaiting INEC's decision, whether it would be based on rule of law or whether the commission would counteract his chairman's position on constitutionality and rule of law. Another pertinent question agitating the minds of the people is whether INEC has the powers to conduct fresh election in the areas where elections had been conducted and results collated and announced by the commission? All these will be answered whenever INEC issues its directive on the May 5 election.

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