IGBEKE: HOW SENATE SUCCUMBED TO PRESSURE
At last, the Senate in what seemed a volte face bowed to pressure and voice of reason by obeying order of the Election Appeal Tribunal declaring Alphosus Igbeke of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) as the duly elected Senator of the Anambra North Senatorial district in the 2007 election. The court had ruled that the sacked Senator, Joy Emordi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who hitherto occupied the seat should vacate immediately.
Simple as the ruling was, it was surprising to see that the Senate made a mess of its avowed rule of law principle and admitted Emordi into the chamber while the actual winner of the election was shut out. Despite the public outcry that trailed its recalcitrance, the Upper Chamber would not budge until last Tuesday when it decided to tread the path of honour, albeit reluctantly.
It would be recalled that the Election Petition Appeal tribunal in Enugu had affirmed an earlier decision of the lower Tribunal which nullified the election of Emordi and declared Igbeke elected for the Anambra North senatorial zone. Rather than swear in Igbeke as ordered by court, the Senate, a law making institution decided to usurp the power of the judiciary and gave its own interpretation by refusing to swear in Igbeke.
The action was on grounds that the Appeal tribunal judgment nullifying Emordi's election was conflicting with a verdict earlier given by the same court in another case but on the same election where in the application of another contestant in the election, Belonwun was dismissed for lack of merit.
Instructively, the case of Igbeke was not whether or not election held, what he prayed for was that he should be declared the winner because he scored the highest lawful votes, a claim the courts upheld and on the basis of which he was ordered to be sworn in. The issues in the Emordi, Senate and Igbeke case are basically lack of respect for rule of law, greed and nepotism. Sunday Sun recall that when the Appeal tribunal delivered the judgment on Thursday, March 25 sacking her from the senate, Emordi truly accepted the ruling in good faith. To demonstrate her belief in the rule of law, she actually issued a statement to the effect that she has accepted the ruling.
Some 30 minutes after the statement got to newsmen, she recalled it. The next thing was to hear that she is filing a notice of appeal to seek interpretation of the judgment in a Court of Appeal despite the fact that the Appellate court remains the final arbiter in election matters from ward level to governorship. its only presidential election that starts from Appeal and end at Supreme court. Again, its' only disputes on pre-election matters can get to Supreme Court. Many would wondered what happened within the 30 minutes, between when she accepted the verdict and when she had a change of mind.
Sunday Sun was reliably informed that it was from among the senators, those who are lawyers that convinced her that a window exited for her not to challenge the verdict, though not because she could win, but to bug down the process, thereby buy time and if possible be among the recipient of an imminent quarterly due. It indeed work, as this group met with the senate President and other principal officers where it was agreed that she should file for interpretation of the verdict, the court process of which the Senate could hold on to bar Igbeke and maintain the status quo.
On Tuesday, March 29, the next legislative day, to the consternation of all, the senate which is should be the pivot of rule of law, being law making institution capitulated and hatched the plan and overruled the court. Interestingly, Igbeke who had stormed the premises of National Assembly flaunting his certificate of return just issued him by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was told by the Senate that he could not be sworn in because there two judgements and that it has been served a court process challenging the ruling through interpretation of the verdict.
Ayogu Eze, Senate Committee Chairman on Information battled effortlessly to justify the Senate decision. He said the Senate was abiding the court processes served on it By Senator Joy Emordi seeking the interpretation of the latest verdicts. He tried to extricate the Senate leadership from the web of confusion saying, the Senate is a law abiding institution of democracy and would certainly obey the court once the processes served on it by Senator Emordi is discharged.It beats the imagination of concerned Nigerians how a court process filed by Senator Emordi has been taken to be an injunction restraining the Senate from admitting Igbeke.
The real agenda of the senate leadership was exposed last Tuesday, May 18, when the Appeal Court again came out with its verdict on the Emordi interpretation case declaring that its decision was no ambiguous and that Igbeke should be sworn in as its ruling has no conflict with any other ruling on the matter.
Again, the Upper Chamber failed to swear Igbeke in. This time Igbeke came to the National Assembly to be sworn-in, on account of the ruling; but he was kept in the Clerk's office for the greater part of the period the session lasted. And when he could not bear the situation, he stormed the Senate Chamber to consult with Senator Buka Abba Ibrahim in hushed tones, but he was ignored by the leadership.
Ayogu Eze, in defence of the Senate again, addressed newsmen after the sitting, saying that the upper chamber would maintain the status quo ante, until the determination of a motion on notice filed by Emordi at the Supreme Court, which has already been served on it. Citing its Standing order 53 (5), Eze said: 'Our order, 53 (5) says that when a judicial decision is pending on any matter, the Senate cannot discuss or take action on that matter in any manner that will prejudice the ultimate outcome of the judicial decision that is pending.
Now that matter is a matter in court and I think this is the much I can say for now, so that I won't commit contempt of the court.' When asked why the Senate refused to swear in Igbeke despite the fact that he was at the chamber, the Senate spokesman said: 'I did not know that he was around. But in any case, just for the avoidance of doubt, we have been given a notice that a case has been filed at the Supreme Court challenging that decision of yesterday and before I leave here, I am going to bring evidence of that notice.
In another breadth, unable to bear the heat again, Special Adviser to the Senate President, Kola Ologbondiyan came out to defend his principal saying Igbeke came late to the chamber that was why he could not be sworn in. a claim that was quite contradictory to that of Senator Ayogu Eze.
Only last Wednesday, the Senate retraced its step and during plenary suddenly called on Igbeke to be sworn in but Igbeke was away forcing the Senators to shift the swearing in till next Tuesday. However, that the Senate is going to swear in Igbeke was not because it was pleased to obey the court order, Sources revealed that it was actually pressures from well meaning citizens and particularly President Goodluck Jonathan who it was gathered appealed to the Senators not to desecrate the rule of law principles and should do the right thing at the right time, otherwise, 'this present government would be starting on a wrong footing.'
With the intervention of President Jonathan, the Senate was boxed into corner and had no further choice. This much was admitted by Ayogu Eze who told newsmen that the Senate indeed was advised by the Attorney General of the Federation to tow the path of honour and accept. 'He (Minister of Justice) advised us that based on the situation of the matter on ground, that unless there is a stay of execution, the notice was not enough to restrain the senate from swearing in Mr. Igbeke.' Senator Eze said.
Many were amused at the development wondering where on earth the Senate has thrown its independence that it has to take the intervention of the another arm of government, the executive before it could live up to its responsibility. The feeling of the Senate leadership on the personality of Igbeke notwithstanding, in spite of its leadership annoyance with the court ruling, its all about rule of law and it has to be observed always in the process of deepening of the nascent democracy, the cause of which the Senate leadership has always mouthed to be committed to.