Okowa Retains Mandate As Tribunal Dismisses Petitions Filed By Nwoko, Azekwoh
Delta State Elections Petitions Tribunal for National and state Assembly elections', sitting in Asaba, has dismissed two petitions filed against Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, representing Delta North Senatorial District at upper House of Nigeria's legislature. The petitions filed separately by Hon. Ned Nwoko of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and Mr. Jude Eluemunor Azekwoh (DPP) sought to challenge the victory of Dr. Okowa of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) in the April 9, 2011 general elections for the Delta North Senatorial seat.
Giving the ruling on August 2, 2011, the Tribunal headed by Justice Yakubu Dakwak declared that Prince Ned Nwoko was not the authentic candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) for the April 2011 Delta State Senatorial elections following the April 8, 2011 ruling by a Federal High Court which nullified his candidacy over invalid nomination by his Party, the DPP.
The Tribunal also held that there were several litigations pending in court concerning the elections which had not been vacated a as well as the inconsistencies shrouding Ned Nwoko's candidature for the elections informed the decision to dismiss the petition at the Tribunal stage.
Also, the Tribunal dismissed the petition brought by one Mr. Jude Eluemunor Azekwoh, challenging the victory of Dr. Okowa on the grounds that the petitioner had abandoned the case. Azekwoh had petitioned the Tribunal to contest the victory of Dr. Okowa with the prayer that he and not Prince Ned Nwoko was the validly nominated candidate of the DPP who should have contested against Dr. Okowa at the April 2011 elections and as such Okowa's victory should be invalidated. He was later said to have filed another application to abandon the case, which was seen by the court as an abuse of the process and thus had his case dismissed.
Recall that on April 1, 2011, a Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, had nullified the candidature of Ned Nwoko, citing invalid nomination by the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, as pleaded in a case brought before it by an aggrieved DPP member, Mr. Jude Eluemunor Azekwoh, who claimed he was the rightful candidate of the Party for the election.
Delivering judgment on the matter, Justice Adamu Bello, said the party DPP, by-passed the due process of the law by substituting the plaintiff, Jude Azekwoh, with Nwoko who it said did not even purchase the party's nomination form.
The Judge held that the plaintiff being the only DPP aspirant that purchased the party's nomination form for the said district ought to have his name submitted to the INEC as the qualified candidate of the party.
Justice Bello had noted then that whereas the plaintiff adduced sufficient proof of evidence showing that he picked his nomination form for the party's primaries held on January 14, but that the 3rd defendant, Nwoko, failed to convince the court on how his name got to INEC as the authentic candidate of the party for the said Senatorial District.
'The 3rd defendant (Nwoko), having not purchased the 1st defendant's nomination form for the April 2011 election and paid the prescribed nomination fees, was not eligible to contest, or be returned as the 1st defendant's candidate for the election.
The Court then barred the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from recognizing Nwoko as the candidate of the party in the earlier scheduled April 2, 2011, National Assembly election because according to it, his nomination was in violation of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010.
Consequently, the court directed the electoral body to erase his name from the list of candidates in Delta North Senatorial District, and replace it with that of Jude Azekwoh, who had approached the High Court for redress.
That particular election had however been postponed by INEC and re-scheduled to April 9, 2011. However, before the elections, the Delta State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Gabriel Ogbudu Ada, had quickly countered the Court ruling and affirmed that Prince Ned Nwoko remained the Democratic Peoples' Party (DPP) candidate for Delta North Senatorial District in the rescheduled National Assembly election.
Dr. Ada made the clarification on the grounds that the Commission had not disqualified Prince Nwoko and was not aware of any legal restriction on the DPP candidate to contest the National Assembly election.
Said he, 'INEC does not take decisions based on newspaper publications' and according him, 'under the 2010 Electoral Act, Prince Nwoko remains the validly and duly recognized candidate of DPP.'
The DPP also came out strongly and swiftly in support of Ned Nwoko through the national secretariat of DPP and its deputy national chairman, Sir Olisaemeka Akamukali, who had said that Nwoko was duly nominated and his name published by INEC. He dismissed Mr. Azekwoh's as an interloper and affirmed that the party DPP was solidly behind Prince Nwoko.
There were also very strong indications at that time that both the National and State secretariats of the DPP would approach the Supreme Court to appeal against the Federal High Court judgment that Prince Ned Nwoko was not validly nominated by the party as claimed by the plaintiff Mr. Jude Eluemunor Azekwoh.
According to them, under the 2010 Electoral Act only the political party can present a candidate to the INEC and no court has the powers to dictate to political parties on who should be a candidate in an election.
Also reacting to his purported exclusion from the race at that time, Prince Nwoko said it was a ploy by his opponent to stop the wind of change that was sweeping across the country and indeed Delta state and Anioma in particular.
Dr. Okowa however won the April 9, 2011 election, but even that re-scheduled election had been beset with a plethora of controversies chief amongst which were the alleged irregularities that attended the polls in Ika Federal constituency, where the returning officer Dr. Avioro had claimed that he had been kidnapped by certain interests and compelled to declare the result of Ika Federal constituency at gun point.
But matters were to take a dramatic turn as Delta watchers will recall that Okowa was not presented with his certificate of return by INEC, during the official presentation to victorious candidates held at Grand Hotel, Asaba, for the reason that an Abuja Federal High Court had issued an injunction to stop INEC from doing so.
Dr. Okowa was denied by the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States, Dr. Ishamael Igbani, who said that a Federal High Court injunction restrained them from doing that in response to a prayer by the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) Candidate, Prince Ned Nwoko who claimed that the elections had been flawed.
Okowa had told Huhuonline.com after the ceremony that although the decision not to present him with the certificate had come as a kind of shock, he will however instruct his legal team to look into the matter, which from the prayers contained in the injunction, was constitutionally a post-election issue meant for the election tribunal and not the civil Court.
Dr. Okowa then missed the induction retreat for newly elected NASS members, while waiting for the matter to be resolved but laughed last when he proudly took his place in the Senate on June 6th 2011 as the Senator representing Delta North Senatorial zone, in the 7th Session of the Senate.
The process of confirming him as Senator for the Delta North district after the April 2011 general elections was formalized, when Dr. Ishamael Igbani later presented Dr. Okowa with the Certificate of Return in Asaba, after the Court Injunction by an Abuja High Court, which had prevented INEC from issuing him the Certificate in the first instance was allegedly vacated and the INEC in Delta state duly complied.
This Tribunal ruling which has come exactly four months after an Abuja Federal High Court nullified Ned Nwoko's candidacy for the April 9, 2011 Delta North Senatorial zone elections, has once more cast a big shadowy cloud over the hopes of the former Aniocha/Oshimili House of Representatives member to represent Delta North in the Senate. However, Counsel to Ned Nwoko had already said that they would appeal the judgment at the Court of Appeal, Benin.