11 January 2018

Nigeria: Anambra Central Tussle - Okonkwo, INEC, Others Know Fate Tomorrow

The Federal High Court in Abuja will on Friday rule on an application seeking to vary the judgment of the Federal High Court that recognised Obiora Okonkwo as the lawful candidate for the Anambra Central senatorial district.

Justice John Tsoho yesterday announced that he would deliver ruling on the matter after taking submissions of counsel for and against the motion brought by Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), counsel to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

When the matter came up yesterday, Awomolo informed the court of an application filed on December 21, 2017, requesting the court to vary its consent judgment delivered on December 13, 2017, wherein Okonkwo was declared the lawful candidate for the contested seat.

Justice Tsoho had in the judgment also directed INEC to immediately issue Okonkwo a certificate of Return.

But moving the motion yesterday, Awomolo who noted that counsel in the matter ought to have drawn the attention of the court to the three judgments of the Court of Appeal, said both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and INEC were part of the processes.

He argued that since the Appeal Court in all the three judgment ordered a fresh election to be conducted within 90 days from the date of judgment, the lower court ought to defer to the upper court's.

"So if it is brought to be notice of the court that there are judgments of the Appeal Court that said election should be conducted within 90 days, the court should defer to the judgment?" he asked.

Awomolo in his submission then urged the court to set aside its decision and not discountenance the decision of a superior court.

He submitted that where a consent judgment is entered in error, it is bound to be set aside, adding that the court of law cannot compel illegality or impossibility.

However, counsel to the judgment creditor and 1st respondent, Sebastine Hon (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit and being vague.

He claimed that the applicant's submission contradicts the key prayer of the application which he said is also vague.

Hon also added that the absence of the seal of the deponent on the affidavit in support of the motion, rendered it incompetent.

Responding to the issue of court hierachy raised by INEC, Hon argued that the lower court cannot defer to the upper court since the rule changes when it involves a pre-election matter.

He said the decision of the court was not unlawful in the face of the Appeal Court as the Federal High Court in a judgment delivered by Justice Ahmed Mohammed in the same dismissed the court of Appeal processes as unrelated to the pre-election matter.

Hon added that INEC was yet to appeal the decision.

He also drew the court attention to a notice of appeal filed at the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Court of Appeal by the PDP as well as an application for stay, adding that based on the appeal the judgment of the upper court cannot be binding.

Hon in urging the court to dismiss the motion for lacking in merit, however, the said if the court is inclined to grant the application to vary its judgment, it should however ordered INEC to issue his client with the certificate of return.

On his part, Austin Umaji, counsel to the PDP and its former National Chairman, Adamu Muazu, aligned himself with the submission of Hon, adding that the application was unknown to law, incompetent and should be dismissed.

Similar position was also taken by Ernest Nwoye counsel to the sacked senator representing Anambra central, senator Uche Ekwunife.

Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Garba Umar, has disclosed that no fewer than 4,300 policemen have been designated for the Anambra Central senatorial district rerun election which will hold next Saturday.

The commissioner stated this yesterday at a press conference in his office in Amawbia, near Awka, saying three policemen would man each of the 1,448 polling units in the seven local Government area involved in the poll.

The commissioner said movement would be restricted in the seven local government areas, while warning any group planning to foment trouble during the poll to have a rethink or be prepared to face the wrath of the law.

Part of the commissioner's speech read: "The Anambra State Police Command wishes to inform the public that the Anambra State Central senatorial election is scheduled to take place on January 13, 2018, at 109 wards of the seven local government areas of the state.

"Based on the above, the command wishes to inform the public that there will be restriction of movement within the affected local government areas."

The local government area involved are: Awka North, Awka South, Dunukofia, Njikoka, Idemil North, Idemili South and Anaocha.

The text further read that: "The police and other security agencies are ready to ensure that the political campaigns and voting on January 13, 2018, are conducted smoothly without public disturbance, and assure all political parties, candidates, supporters, including the public of their safety throughout the period of voting and collation.

"Anambra State is known for peaceful conduct of elections; I urge residents to be peaceful and orderly on the election day."

Speaking if a Federal High Court judgment ordering the immediate swear in of a candidate of the PDP, Umar said nobody has served him with any court order stopping the election.

"Besides, police don't conduct elections. INEC conducts elections and the commission has informed us that we should assist them to conduct the January 13 election and we shall do so."

Meanwhile, the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Anambra State chapter, has jettisoned its earlier call for the cancellation of next Saturday's Anambra Central senatorial rerun election.

The council had through some of its members allegedly collaborated with some candidates in the election to call on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to shelve the election.

But the IPAC leadership, while speaking yesterday through it Chairman, Bartho Igwedibia, to the Anambra State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, called on the commission to proceed with the Saturday's election.

Igwedibia said the body had never associated itself in such act which he described as unpatriotic and lawless, describing those who called for the cancellation as impostors

He said the association as an umbrella body of all registered political parties in Nigeria always upholds objectivity in its decisions and actions.

Igwedibia regretted that while other states and senatorial zones across the country are preparing for another round of quality representation, Anambra Central was still bedeviled with aftermath of 2015 election.

Commending the INEC on its professional disposition during the November governorship election in the state, the IPAC helmsman called on them to repeat such feat in the senatorial rerun, promising the association's full support.

Responding, the Anambra State REC, Orji, promised that the January 13 election would hold as scheduled, urging all political parties to caution their members against violence and unlawful acts capable of disrupting the existing peace in the state.

Orji, represented by the Head of Department, Election and Political Party Monitoring, Mr. Ibeh Uche Agu, promised that the commission would once again conduct a free, fair and credible election in the state.

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