DTHA Oshimili South seat, DPP, a threat to PDP

The 2011 general elections have come and gone, the exercise was adjudged by many as the freest and fairest poll in the history of Nigeria's democracy. However, some candidates and political parties felt cheated and claimed that the elections were marred with a lot of irregularities and have gone before the election petition tribunals to challenge some of the results at the poll.

In conformity with the 2010 Electoral Act as amended, the Delta state election petition tribunal has commenced sitting with an avalanche of petitions before it. Of particular note is the case before the tribunal involving Nwanze Oduah of the DPP as petitioner, Peter Onwusanya and Hon Emeka Okonji both of the PDP as co-defendants. The interesting aspect is that Nwanze Oduah is not contesting the results declared by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) of the election of Delta State House of Assembly Oshimili South State constituency but he is asking the Election Tribunal to direct INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Peter Onwunsanya as he was not the qualified candidate of the PDP, the party which won the 26th April House of Assembly elections.

Nwanze's petition alleged that the declaration of Peter Onwusanya as winner in the 26th April 2011 elections was erroneous as Mr. Onwusanya was neither the nominated nor sponsored candidate of the PDP and did not pass through the electoral processes as stated in the 2010 electoral act. On the other hand, Nwanze claimed that Hon Emeka Okonji was duly sponsored by the PDP in the election and all processes pertaining the elections as stated by INEC were observed by Hon. Emeka Okonji until a Federal High Court judgment removed him and asked INEC to substitute Okonji's name for Onwusanya few days to the House of Assembly election. The judgement which was effected by INEC on the day of the elections is Nwanze's major premise for seeking redress at the election tribunal.

If public opinion and analysis are fair indicators, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party may be in turmoil over retaining its Oshimili South Constituency seat at DTHA because of issues raised by the petitioner and the many public documents presented to the election petition tribunal by all parties mentioned especially those relating to inconsistencies of the PDP. But beside the sentiments, the mishandling of the PDP party primaries by the leadership of the party, the contradictory documents from the PDP before the tribunal have also become an albatross hanging on its neck. While Peter Onwusanya is in possession of a Federal High Court judgement which declared him winner of a PDP primaries election conducted on the 6th January 2011, the PDP through its lawyers had under oath at the Federal High Court, Asaba denied the existence of a PDP primary election of 6th January 2011, disassociated itself with the results and denied granting any authority to the returning officer that endorsed the results sheet of the said election.

The twist in all these is that the PDP through its lawyers had also under oath at the Federal High Court, Asaba, confirmed that its primary election for the Delta State House of Assembly took place on the 8th January 2011and that Hon. Emeka Okonji emerged as its candidate having scored the highest number of votes.

PDP's affirmation that Emeka Okonji won its primaries with 148 votes and the existence of another public document before the election tribunal issued by the PDP Electoral Panel, the body charged to conduct the PDP Delta primary election which confirmed Emeka Okonji as the party candidate seems to have thrown spanner in the wheels and contradicted Peter Onwusanya's victory at the Federal High Court, Asaba which gave its Judgement based on the PDP primary election of 6th January, 2011which coincidentally, was the date of Delta State governorship rerun elections.

The denial by the PDP that its primary election was never held on the 6th of January against Peter Onwusanya's consistent claim of winning the 6th January PDP primary elections would be a knotty issue for the election tribunal viz-a-viz Nwanze's petition that PDP did not present a qualified candidate for the election. Howbeit, the fact remains that PDP won the elections but whether a political party can present a candidate from a nonexistent or controversial primary election remains a contentious issue for determination and interpretation by the electoral tribunal.

In the midst of this confusion within the PDP, Nwanze Oduah of the DPP as the first runner up in the April 26th elections has asked the election tribunal to declare him winner as Peter Onwusanya was not a qualified candidate of the PDP. On the other side, Emeka Okonji has cashed in on the opportunity extended to him as a defendant to ask the post election tribunal to uphold the PDP as the winner of the April 26th elections and declare him the rightful sponsored candidate of the PDP vide pieces of evidence before the honorable election petition tribunal.

In the interim, as the election tribunal decides who goes to the State Assembly for the people of Oshimili South Constituency, the leadership of the PDP should be apprehensive of what lies in wait for them because if Nwanze Oduah's petition is successful, the PDP may not wield much influence in the Delta House of Assembly and its slight control in the House may further dwindle. This may be compound the executive government of Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan's relationship with the legislature.

In the face of the uncertainty in PDP's choice of candidate in its seeming two different primary elections, it remains to be seen whether and how the PDP will seek a political solution for the two defendants in the petition, Onwusanya and Okonji to ensure that the Party emerges winner at the tribunal.

Given that all parties to the petition have piled up evidence to prove their cases, the decision on who becomes the representative for Oshimili South Constituency at the Delta State House of Assembly will remain a very technical issue before the honourable election tribunal. However, the tribunal does not need much time to dispose of such a case considering the fact that the electoral guidelines has required front-loading of evidence to be relied upon and no time would be spent on inspection of electoral materials as the results of the April 26th elections are not contentious. Even if the tribunal may be able to deliver its fair judgment without much delay, its decision may not be the last bus stop for the contentious parties in their journey for justice.

Adimabua Okwuriawe
Public analyst

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