Obiano’s Tribunal Victory: When the Lines Fall in Pleasant Places
In moments, the scene exploded with colours - yellow, green, black and all. The flags flayed in the evening wind. A light drizzle opened up from the pregnant clouds above, washing the dust off the swaying flags, their clothes and their feet. Their voices rose in an animated chant. It was a chant of victory. Their man, Chief Willie Obiano's victory at the polls has once more been affirmed by the Tribunal.
Their joy was understandable. Anambra State is finally on the rebound. After months of intense legal swordplay, the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Awka has ruled in their favour and made victory a certainty. Now, there would be no break in the steady progression from Agulu to Aguleri and its transformative effects on Ndi Anambra.
Now, there is a sense in which onye Anambra, proud and unbending as always, can say to his or herself; 'we are finally back on the track.' Neither would it be entirely out of place if he or she chose to echo the Psalm that influenced the title of this piece - the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, yeah, I have a goodly heritage.
Indeed, for Ndi Anambra, it is increasingly beginning to look like a goodly heritage. Anyone who has followed the sweeping changes brought by the administration of Chief Willie Obiano in the last two months will be hard-pressed to draw a different conclusion. It is fascinating how the trajectory of greatness begun by debonair and unassuming governor Peter Obi has been sustained and expanded by the stylish and charismatic Willie Obiano. The judgement delivered Wednesday in Awka by the Justice Ishaq Bello-led Election Petitions Tribunal has assured that there is no break in Anambra's sturdy march to greatness.
Prior to the judgement, prominent opposition figures in the state had sought to halt Anambra's resurgence with a rash of litigations. Some had sounded so preposterous that you would almost be excused if you thought that some people's desperation had driven them to a point of thoughtlessness. The charge of multiple registrations is a good case in point. Even if Chief Obiano had no other pastime, he would have found the presumed frequent trips to registration centers a little burdensome. Yet, the opposition had made a swan song of this frivolous charge, alleging that Obiano had registered more than two times, some claimed that he had four voter's cards, actually. Ridiculous!
But in what has been largely hailed as a brilliant interpretation of the electoral laws of the country, Justice Ishaq Bello and his team had exposed the bagful of lies that the opposition hoped to ride on to victory. In four separate judgements delivered to tumultuous approval in Awka, Justice Bello threw out all the petitions seeking to torpedo Obiano and upheld him as the validly elected governor of Anambra State.
Dismissing the petition from Chike Obidigbo, Justice Bello opined that he had no locus standi to challenge Obiano's election under section 137 of the Electoral Act 2010. Driving the final nail in Obidigbo's legal coffin, Justice Bello observed that 'it is highly illogical, inconceivable and injurious for APGA which won an election to petition itself at the tribunal,' in a veiled reference to the fact that Obidigbo was making a plea as an APGA candidate and not a candidate aspiring to unseat Obiano from another party platform. Rubbing the mud deeper into Obidigbo's skin, Justice Bello further observed that his failure to produce Forms CF001 and CF002, cast a huge doubt on his claim of nomination as a candidate in the election. Indeed, Obidigbo's petition had seemed preposterous from the outset. People had expressed horror at the first hearing of the suit but the entire drama had been rescued by the theatrical skills of his attorney whose performance had drawn some complements from the Tribunal Chairman.
In much the same way, the Tribunal Chairman crumpled the charges of multiple registrations against Obiano like a disused tissue paper and cast them aside. 'In our view, the case of multiple registrations is baseless; the submission that Obiano's voter's card is a forged document is misconceived,' the judge declared, pointing out that the petitioner's failure to call INEC to testify to its claim that Obiano possessed multiple voter's cards had completely invalidated the petition and consequently tossed the curious petition to an inglorious corner.
On the charge of disenfranchisement by Senator Ngige's legal team, Justice Bello held that the witnesses brought by the petitioner failed woefully to produce the voters' register to demonstrate how they were disenfranchised in the election and that the petitioner also failed to prove that the failure of all INEC staff to swear an oath of neutrality substantially affected the validity of the poll. Ngige's attorneys had alleged disenfranchisement of voters, invalid voters register, multiple registration by Obiano and corrupt practices as some of the electoral malpractices that substantially marred the poll.
A similar fate befell Tony Nwoye's petition seeking the nullification of the election on grounds of disenfranchisement and irregularities. The PDP candidate had alleged that his name was removed from the voter's register, thereby casting doubts on the entire process. But the Tribunal Chairman observed that Nwoye's evidence fell below electoral standards as his contention that there were alleged corrupt practices in four polling units out of 4,608 polling units was not sufficient ground to nullify the election. He also held that the PDP could not prove its allegation of multiple registrations, missing names in the voter's register and voting by dead people beyond reasonable doubt.
When the Tribunal rose after dismissing the four petitions, there was a collective sigh of relief across Anambra. The people felt vindicated once again over their electoral choice which seemed to have been validated by the impressive performance of Governor Obiano in the past two months. They recall former governor Obi's assurances that his successor would push the envelope of Anambra's quest for a rightful position among Nigeria's most influential states. This position would seem to have been re-affirmed by the Supreme Court which Thursday also ruled in favour Obiano, upturning the decision of the Court of Appeal in Enugu which on April 15, 2014 set aside the earlier position by the Election Petitions Tribunal that the question of whether Obiano was qualified for election or not was a pre-election matter. Leaning on the unanimous judgement of the Anambra Election Petitions Tribunal, the Supreme Court threw out all cross petitions and upheld the earlier position taken by the tribunal.
As more and more petitions against Chief Obiano melt under intense legal scrutiny, there is an all pervading feeling in Anambra State that the blue clouds are back up in the sky. There is a certainly buoyant feeling that signals the birth of hope. It is the kind of cloying feeling that warms the heart on the sight of a rainbow after a torrential flooding. Already, there is a growing belief that even if Obiano did nothing else beyond retrieving Anambra from the grip of criminals, his administration would have fertilized the dreams of the state's numerous entrepreneurs whose singular wish is for safe and secure environment to set up and nurture their businesses.
By Onukwube Ikokwuadirom ([email protected])
Ikeokwuadirom, a Public Affairs commentator writes from Ifite, Awka, the Anambra State capital