RUMBLES IN ANAMBRA NORTH: TWO JUDGMENTS, TWO SENATORS
Obi Igbeke and Emordi
Elections in Anambra State, especially since 2003 have been subject of litigations that in some cases lasts over three years. Reason is that the political parties, especially Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) do not adhere to the outcome of its primaries and there are manipulations in the submission of candidates' list to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Worse still, is that INEC conducted elections that have been alleged to be manipulated, and in many cases against the wishes of the masses.
These fraudulent practices have however opened avenues to those who have the financial muscle or connections either with the powers-that-be in the parties, or in the judiciary to edge out those that are the peoples choice, and worse still some events, and methods that are alien in election rigging.
One of the issues above must have been responsible for the latest problem in the Anambra North Senatorial District, where the Court of Appeal in its latest judgment nullified the election of Senator Joy Emordi of the PDP and in her stead declared the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) candidate in the election held on April 28, 2007, Chief Alphonsus Obi Igbeke as the winner.
This however came after the same court has in another petition by another candidate on the same election ruled that Emordi was duly elected and returned. While the Court of Appeal's first judgement was expected to have affirmed the judgement of the lower tribunal, its second judgment has created a lot of confusion, surprise and sadness in the hearts of people of the senatorial zone who have since then been calling for a review or interpretation of the two judgements.
The lower Tribunal
In petition no. EPT/AN/NAE/SE/11/2007 filed after the election and the return of Senator Emodi as the winner by INEC, Igbeke challenged the return of Emodi and prayed the tribunal sitting in Awka under the chairmanship of Justice James S. Abiriyi to determine among other things that there was no election in all the polling units/booths in the Onitsha South and Ayamelum local governments and consequently that all the votes credited to all the candidates in the two council areas be set aside and nullified.
He also prayed the tribunal to determine that Emordi who was the first respondent did not score the majority of lawful votes cast in the election and consequently that herreturn by INEC as the person elected be set aside and nullified, just as he prayed that he (Igbeke) scored the majority of lawful votes cast at the election and ought to be declared as the person returned as elected, urging the tribunal to return him as elected.
However, while the case was going on at the tribunal, Igbeke found it difficult to present his results as claimed, and at a particular sitting when he was given the last chance after several failures, his lawyer presented some results but not all, which was described at the tribunal as 'baked fresh from the oven'. The results were rejected as they were tagged fake.
In their final judgment, the lower tribunal said, 'Consequently, we hereby validate the total valid scores credited to the petitioner and the 1st respondent by the 2nd to 4th respondents in the official results tendered in evidence as exhibits by the 1st respondent hold that the petitioner and the 1st respondent obtained the following valid total scores in the five (5) local government areas: (1). The petitioner of ANPP = 7400 votes and (2). The 1st respondent of PDP= 249, 621 votes.
'Now, adding up the results for Onitsha South and Ayamelum local government areas for each of these parties to the results for the five local government areas for each of the parties, the petitioner and the 1st respondent have the following valid votes cast in the senatorial election of April 28, 2007 in the seven local government area of the Anambra North Senatorial District: (1). The petitioner of ANPP=12, 466 votes and (2). The 1st respondent of PDP = 326, 700 votes.
'Consequently, the only issue for determination is herby resolved in favour of the 1st respondent, and we find as a fact that in the senatorial election in the Anambra North senatorial district held on the 1st respondent scored a majority of the total valid votes scores of 326,700 as against the petitioner's total valid votes of 12, 466 and the 1st respondent was thus validly returned as duly elected and so declared by the 2nd to 4th respondents.
'We hold firmly therefore that the 1st respondent was validly elected and returned as the winner of the senatorial election of 28/4/07 in the Anambra North senatorial district by the 2nd - 4th respondents. In the result, we hold that the petitioner had failed to prove his claims to all or any of the reliefs in this petition against any or all of the 1st to 4th respondents and this petition EPT/AN/NAE/SE/11/2007 be and is hereby dismissed for lacking in merit'.
Emordi at the lower tribunal also won other petitions against her from Labour Party (LP) Hon. Jessie Balonwu and Action Congress (AC) Hon Ughanze.
However, after the loss at the lower tribunal, Igbeke joined others in going to the Court of Appeal and consequently appealed against the judgment of the lower tribunal, Hon Balonwu also appealed and on February 10, 2009, the Appellant Court gave judgment in her appeal.
In the judgment of the court on appeal no. CA/E/EPI/73/2008, Hon Jessie Balonwu vs. Senator Joy Emordi, the court noted that, 'at the pre trial conferences, the following two issues were set down for hearing and determination namely: (1). Whether the election of 28th April, 2007 in the Anambra State senatorial district was conducted in substantial compliance with the electoral act, 2006 and (2) Whether the 1st respondent was duly returned as the winner of the said election.
'On the issue for determination 1 above, the appellant formulated the issues as follows: (1) whether the Tribunal was right to hold that the presiding officers were necessary parties who ought to have been joined as parties in the petition of the appellant. (2) Whether the Tribunal was not wrong in disbelieving the appellant and the witnesses that there was no distribution of election materials.
'In reply to issues 1, yes, the court below was right to disbelieve the appellant and the witnesses when they depose that election materials were not distributed. The testimonies of the appellant and the witnesses fail to offset the legal presumption of regularity made in an election properly conducted. See section 150 Evidence Act. See also section 44(3) of the Electoral Act in the duty of the polling agents. The election was properly conducted. Yes, the court below was right to uphold the election of the 1st respondent'.
The three man panel, Justices Victor Omage, M. Ladan Tsamiya and Olu Ariwoola, therefore held that the court below was right to uphold the return of Emordi by INEC as duly elected in the said election and therefore held that Balonwu's appeal failed. With victory, Emordi and indeed the people of the zone felt that the battle was over as that was the strongest opposition, hence, they kind of underrated the ability of Igbeke who allegedly came fourth in the election to upturn the table. But he did.
And so, three weeks ago, the same court and judges ruled on Igbeke's appeal, nullifying the same election which they upheld in another appeal, and declared Igbeke winner, a judgement that has raised a lot of questions and surprises.
Though Igbeke said he has received INEC certificate of return as directed in the judgment he was yet to be sworn-in in the Senate. He complained that Emodi was using her connection in the Senate to deny him entrance to the Upper Chambers of the National Assembly, alleging that she was trying to get an order to stop him from being sworn-in.
Hon. Igbeke saw no reason in Emordi's move to get interpretation in court of the two judgments the court of appeal had given in the same matter. He told newsmen that there was nothing there to interpret as his case was different from Balonwu, insisting that he won the election.
Senator Emordi in his reaction told Daily Sun that she as a law abiding citizen would want an interpretation of the judgments. She said, 'With the situation on the ground, I intend to go for interpretation because the same Court of Appeal in the judgment of 10th February 2009, between Jessie Balonwu and myself, the same Court of Appeal look at the two issues for determination.
If you look at the page four of the judgement, you will see where the same court of appeal set out two issues for determination as looked at by the tribunal. The first issue was whether the election on 28, April 2007 in Anambra State was conducted in substantial compliance with the Electoral Act 2006. Number two, whether the first respondent, meaning myself was duly returned as the winner of the said election.
'If you look at page 10, they have answers to those issues. Number three, see where they wrote that the election was properly conducted and again look at what they wrote in the same judgment, yes, the court below was right to uphold the election of the first respondent, meaning myself. This is the declaration of court and the cases were consolidated.
'You and your colleagues were in court and knew that at the tribunal all these matters were consolidated and we tendered all our results whereby the result tendered by the petitioner, Chief Igbeke were referred to as oven baked. Even the Tribunal Judges, who had the opportunity of seeing the documents first hand, said those documents were forged. He couldn't even present the result for all the polling booths we were all there.
'So, for the man now to claim that he won the election, I don't know. But all I know is that they gave judgment upholding my election on the 10th of February 2009 and then gave another judgement on the 25th of March, I think. So we have two judgments now. So, I'm going for an interpretation. So, any law abiding citizen should not panic about going for interpretation. If you are law abiding, of course you have to just keep calm and allow the law to take its course.'
Emordi further said that she remains the duly elected representative of the zone, because the second judgement was silent about the first. 'I am a law abiding citizen, I believe in rule of law. So since the judgement ruled in my favour has not been set aside, I stand by that judgment that returned me, because even in the second one they gave, it didn't set aside my own, they didn't set it aside, even though it is a court of coordinate jurisdiction, but even at that, they didn't even make that attempt to give reason and compare my own with his own and set it aside. They could have. They didn't even attempt to set it aside.
'So, I stand by the judgment returning me as duly elected as you have seen in the judgment on page 10, by the same Court of Appeal, Enugu returning me as duly elected, returning judgment that election held and in giving that second one, they did not even make any attempt to set aside my own. So, I remain the duly elected Senator representing Anambra North. 'It is necessary for me to also add that it will be uncharitable for any individual to use the judiciary, to manipulate the judiciary to continue perpetrating acts of fraud'.
Our stand, by Anambra North people
The second judgment of the Court of Appeal which declared Igbeke winner was one of a shock to the people of Anambra North senatorial zone, as a cross section that spoke to Daily Sun wants a review of the judgment or interpretation of the two judgments of the same Court of Appeal.
A stakeholder in the zone, and former National Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Chief Ralph Igwah who hails from Aguleri in Anambra East local government said 'My reaction to the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of the Anambra North Central district was one of shock in the sense that we have gone through elections in the zone for many, many years and the cases have always gone to the Tribunals, so we are at least conversant with Tribunal judgments and Appeal Court judgments. Besides, I'm a journalist; I can say that I'm quiet familiar with some of these things.
'I was shocked because earlier on, the Court of Appeal has given judgement in respect of the same election between Senator Joy Emordi and Hon. Jessie Balonwu. Balonwu was challenging the declaration of Emordi at the Lower Tribunal, just as in this instant case, Ubanese was challenging the declaration of Joy Emordi and the same Court of Appeal held that the election was duly held and that Senator Emordi was duly elected. As I said, it was the same election.
'Having said that, we thought that was the end of it because they were all talking about the same election and I was at the tribunal and we were told that all the matters were consolidated, which means that all the facts and evidence would be treated as one. So, in a nutshell, it was one of shock.
'Besides that, when we look at the personalities involved, there is no doubt that Senator Emordi on all count is a better candidate and has given the zone good representation. So, between the two, she is by far better candidate than Chief Ubanese who incidentally is my brother. I will say because he is from Nsugbe. But that not withstanding. I think we have reached a stage in this country where we will speak the truth. So, after all said and done, it is one of shock. We never believed it and it was even a surprise to many to be talking about Ubanese because even during the election, not many people knew he was contesting election, it was only when the matter went to the tribunal that many people started hearing about Ubanese being a candidate.
'So, I think it is very unfair to the zone. With all due respect to the Judges, I think this is one judgment that was not delivered with great deal of circumspection. It must be said here that election matters are issues that touch the ordinary persons it should be shun of legalism and technicalities who actually won the election, that's what the people what to know. So, the constituent, we are very shocked and beyond the constituent, we are talking of representing Anambra State and these are some of the isssues that bother us'.
On what the zone wants done, Chief Igwah said, 'Well, the Senator has said that she is going for interpretation, and I think that any law abiding citizen and person that believes in due process would support that'.
Also speaking to Daily Sun, another stakeholder and a legal practitioner, Barr. Hippo Onwuegbuka described the second judgment of the Court of Appeal as a contradiction to the first one.
He said, 'It is a contradiction to the first one because the first judgment was unanimous: Justice Victor Omage ruled that Senator Joy Emordi won convincingly in the election and as a matter of fact, that the election was held in the seven local government areas that constitute the senatorial district. That judgment was welcomed by the electorate because Emordi was on ground and she was the only candidate that campaigned from ward to ward, local government to local government.
'At the tribunal, the other four contenders were saying that there was no election but she was able to prove that elections were held in all the local government areas with voters' cards, and the Court of Appeal upheld that, so this is why I said it is a contradiction of the first judgment.
'In the second one, the Court of Appeal now said that election was held in only five out of seven and amazingly, very surprising, one of the Justices that sat on that appeal was Justice Ariwoola Olukayode who delivered the lead judgment in this very one, concurred that election was held in all the seven local governments in the first petition. So, actually, it is a contradiction, I can say that without any fear of contradiction.
Igbeke's alleged history of election manipulation
The people of the zone and indeed Anambrarians have begun to get worried over the alleged way in which Chief Igbeke manipulates his way to positions through courts after elections.
According to Onwuegbuka, 'He did this during the 1998 electioneering campaign, when he attempted to surreptitiously impose himself, when the late Chuba Okadigbo was contesting the senatorial seat. This is the same man that was pretending to be sponsoring Okadigbo. All of a sudden, he tried to make a volta-vis but the PDP leadership stopped that.
'Again in 2003, he contested on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), printed his posters and when the result was announced in favour of PDP candidate, Hon. Ralph Okeke, he condemned it, saying it was unacceptable, only to appear in election tribunal to say that he is the person that was the candidate for PDP. In fact, he manufactured the papers and before you knew it, people were taking him for granted, he manipulated his way and edged the honourable out of focus.
'Then, I will tell you convincingly that on the day the primaries were held on this particular 2007 election, he contested the primaries with Hon. Okeke, the incumbent then and one Chief Chris Carto Emeka in the Anambra East and West Federal Constituency. He lost out and went home boasting that the court is there, little did we know that he had gone to manufacture papers. In fact he perfected the act.
'This is a very dangerous trend that if it continues unchecked, there's no point conducting elections. Somebody will just stay in his house, buy the INEC forms or manufacture the INEC forms, print the results, get whoever that he wants to certify them and smuggle them in, of course the court acts with evidence before them. So, it is a very dangerous trend he is setting.
He therefore subscribed to interpretation of the judgment as the will of the people, stressing, 'With the conflicting judgment, the appropriate thing will be done. I will advise that let there be an interpretation because when two equities are equal, the first in time prevails. We want our incumbent Senator, Emordi to continue until this cloud of confusion caused by the Enugu division of the Court Appeal is cleared. Because I tell you we don't move motions in the House in vernacular'.