The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently expressed serious concern that pre-election litigations and conflicting court orders after the primaries for the November 6 Anambra State governorship election may make or mar the poll; hence it has called on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other stakeholders to intervene.
The Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Festus Okoye, expressed the concerns at the recent implementation meeting of the Voter Education and Publicity Department for the Anambra poll held in Awka.
Okoye said the plethora of litigation trailing party primaries in Anambra State were confusing to the commission:
“The commission has variously and consistently complained about the frequency and consistency with which courts of coordinate jurisdiction from different jurisdictions all over Nigeria assumed jurisdiction, delivered judgments and issued orders with far-reaching implications on the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election.”
According to Okoye, there has been a spate of ex-parte orders secured by political gladiators ahead of the election, stressing that some of the orders tend to erode he powers of the commission and compromise its independence, powers and timelines for the conduct of the forthcoming election.
He claimed that new and conflicting court orders from all parts of the country kept flooding its headquarters daily. To the commission, the developers is not only frustrating but also causing it to keep recognising one candidate over the other, and changing the same again in the major political parties.
“This (litigation) is frustrating. What the commission does in terms of obedience to court orders is that if a judgment comes today, the commission obeys the order, because it is the latest.
“So, what the political parties have been doing, and what they are doing is that they anticipate the commission, and the moment you’re proceeding, they get court orders. This is impeding our performance and making things difficult.
“Elections require sanctity and adherence to guidelines; the leadership of the NBA and the NJC should look at this. This is urgent and imperative because if it persists, this can jeopardize the conduct of the 2023 general elections. We are having court orders daily from courts in all parts of the country and this is not right,” he added.
Okoye argued that the courts and lawyers were gradually taking over the duties of the commission, adding that the frequency of frivolous court orders would make it difficult for INEC to obey court orders, going forward.
The Commission, he said, has maintained that political parties must obey and conform to their constitutions and guidelines for the conduct of party primaries as well as the provisions of section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) in all their activities.
The bane of this barrage of litigations stems from the fact that some of the political parties lack internal democracy right from the wards, as well as within even fractionalized national executives.
The questions that arise berder on the orders that INEC would obey as more court orders are being churned out on the same matter. This is the fallout of a lot of disputes before, during, and after the Anambra State primaries were held, especially in the three major parties – People’s Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA), All Progressives’ Congress (APC).
The primary election that produced Andy Ubah as APC winner has since become a subject of litigation. Also, the election that delivered Chukwuma Soludo as Anambra State APGA candidate is being contested in court.
Another knotty issue is that of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of APGA. While the Chief Victor Oye-led APGA party had on June 23 elected Soludo as its candidate, another faction led by Edozie Njoku as National Chairman also nominated Soludo to double as the gubernatorial candidate. A third faction led by Jude Okeke sprang up, sacked Oye and his leadership, and suspended Soludo for being involved in the primary held by the Oye faction. The factions have been moving from one court to another to validate their primary results.
The Okeke faction was the first to secure a high court order in faraway Jigawa State, compelling INEC to recognise Umeoji as the party’s candidate. Last week, the Oye-led faction got a favourable judgment from a high court in Awka presided over by Justice Charles Okaa. The court then ordered INEC to withdraw Umeoji’s name and replace it with Soludo as the rightful APGA candidate.
The PDP had 16 aspirants in its June 26 Anambra State primary. While its electoral committee was harmonising delegates’ lists, it was reported that the Chukwudi Umeaba-led faction (as state chairman, loyal to a self-styled godfather of politics in the state, Chief Chris Uba) had organised a primary. The former presented Valentine Ozigbo (ex-President and CEO of Transcorp Plc) as its candidate. The latter had Sen. Ugochukwu Uba (a former senator representing Anambra South and elder brother of Chris Uba) as flagbearer.
While the primary that produced Ozigbo used ‘super delegates’ list to conduct the election, to avoid a court order mandating it not to use delegates earlier produced, the other faction used delegates’ list from all the wards in the state.
Recently, the Awka Division of the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Nganjiwa was reported to have ordered the INEC to accept Ozigbo as the authentic candidate. Meanwhile, notices on social media had already informed Anambra people to watch as a high court in Awka would give judgment in favour of Uba on the same day.
The Ozigbo group on the same day jubilated about a favourable court judgment, while another court, a state high court presided over by Justice Obiora Nwabunike, delivered a judgment as notified by the Uba group, asking the INEC to list Uba as the authentic PDP candidate.
In a suit by Uba against Ozigbo, the Anambra PDP chapter, and INEC, the judge stated that Uba’s faction held its primary in line with the party’s guidelines and should be listed as the governorship candidate. The court also awarded N10 million against Ozigbo and PDP, to be paid to Uba as cost of litigation.
In a statement by the PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party alleged that Justice Nwabunike derailed the course of justice by making away with the case file on Uba Vs PDP & Ors in a desperate bid to frustrate an appeal against his judgment.
“In the case of Valentine Ozigbo, INEC simply acted on an existing court order, stopping them from publishing the name of Valentine Ozigbo. However, the same INEC confirmed that Valentine Ozigbo is the candidate produced by their party’s primary election which the commission monitored.”
The intra and inter-party conflicts in the Nigerian party administration, and the lack of capacity to discipline and enforce rules and regulations on members have become destructive features of the Nigerian society and threats to democracy.
22 years after the return to democratic governance, INEC is in a quandary regarding which candidates it should recognise amid conflicting court cases and even more contradictory court orders in Anambra State.