Posted By Admin
By Anthony Iwuoma
It is now a matter of days or hours before the protracted battle for the senatorial seat of Imo North Senatorial District, also known as Okigwe Zone, is finally laid to rest.
The bitter dogfight has reached its terminal status, as the Appeal Court is expected to pronounce the final judgment anytime from now.
Therefore, Imo North should be looking beyond this to the next phase, which is what is it all this for the embattled zone.
Without adorning borrowed robes, there does not seem to be much to determine in this matter except to whether the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu, are right in their quest to snatch victory in the December 2020 senatorial by-election in Imo North through the back door.
The disputants contend that the All Progressives Congress, APC, did not have a candidate in that election. This is very untrue and thankfully, the Supreme Court in its wisdom has ruled that indeed the APC had a candidate in Sir Frank Ibezim.
It is on the basis of this ruling that Ibezim was in April recognised and inauguarated as the Distinguished Senator, representing Imo North in the hallowed Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
What fueled Okewulonu’s ambition was a misunderstanding of the internecine war over the senatorial ticket within the fold of the APC. The fierce battle was between Ibezim and Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.
Both candidates used the court to checkmate each other but Ibezim was hit by a vicious contrived and ruinous certificate scandal but he also survived it like many other such shenanigans against him.
It was the last minute backfiring‘disqualify me, I disqualify you’tactics that the PDP and Okewulonu tried to take advantage of but failed.
All contending issues have been resolved anyway by the apex court but because the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,had declared the APC winner of the by-election and demurred in outrightly declaring Ibezim winner at the onset, Okewulonu rushed to Election Petition Tribunal, asking to be declared the winner despite the Supreme Court ruling.
Well the rest is now history, as his ill conceived and undigested petition was thrown out for failing to fulfill provisions of the Electoral Act that required him to wait until an actual winner, not a party, was declared and issued necessary documentations, such as the Certificate of Return.
Dissatisfied, Okewulonu went on appeal. The judgment is being awaited any moment from now. Methinks, it is mere academic exercise because even if the Appeal Court ignores the infraction on the Electoral Act, it is not likely to to overrule the Supreme Court that had ruled that APC had a candidate.
The most absurd is Araraume’s claim to the seat, relying on a faulty controversial judgment by Justices Inyang Ekwo and Taiwo Taiwo that disqualified Ibezim and recognised him as APC candidate.
This is inspite of ruling of the most superior court of the land that affirmed that Distinguished Senator Frank Ibezim is the authentic candidate of the APC in the that by-election. Ibezim has also taken his seat in the hallowed chamber of the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
The declaration of the APC by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as winner of the election without naming a substantive candidate due to the party’s internal war was actually what gave the PDP and its candidate the futile hope of clinching the seat, as in their weird opinion, the APC had no candidate in the election.
However, considering the still raging war in the fold of the APC,it is instructive to recall that this protracted contest began with the desire to get replacement for Ben Uwajumogu, the then senator, zone who died in 2019, unfortunately. The choice of his replacement was long and bitter. However, Ibezim eventually emerged after trouncing over ten other contestants, including Araraume. His rejection by some of the contestants was loud but while others have now thrown their weight behind the former Imo State commissioner of agriculture and natural resources, Araraume, a former two-term senator, would have none of that.
Ibezim’s opponents always found a way of using the courts to frustrate him. Delivering judgment on the cerificate forgery gainst him, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that the West African School Certificate, WASC, Ibezim submitted to his party, which the APC also submitted to INEC, bore different and irreconcilable names and scores.
The judge ruled that Ibezim had not successfully proved that the different names belonged to one and the same person, also dismissing the affidavit and newspaper publication Ibezim tendered in support of his claim that the names were all his.
The learned judge held that Ibezim could not use affidavit to correct errors in his name, saying only the issuing authorities, which in this instance were Uboma Secondary School, Ikperejere Etiti, and West African Examination Council, WAEC, could duly do so. Curiously, he did not see the anomaly in the petitioners not subpoenaing the institutions to come and testify and deny or affirm the certificates as theirs.
However, much to the relief of Ibezim, his party and supporters, the Supreme Court set aside the concurrent judgments of the Abuja Federal High Court and Court of Appeal that nullified his candidacy on the grounds of perjury and affirmed Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC in the December 5, 2020, Imo North Senatorial election.
The apex court held that the disqualification of Ibezim for allegedly giving false information to secure nomination was statute-barred and contravened Section 285 of the 1999, which stipulates that being a pre-election case,the suit ought to have been filed within mandatory 14 days.
In a unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court nullified the February 6, 2021 judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja, which affirmed the December 4, 2020 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, disqualifying Ibezim for submitting false information to INEC as regards credentials.
Justice Agim held that since Ibezim was disqualified by the trial court and the Court of Appeal based on a case that was filed out of time, such disqualification amounts to a nullity.
He faulted Justice Ekwo’s findings and ruled the plaintiff failed to discharge the burden of proof of the alleged false information.
It is baffling that despite the ruling of the Supreme Court, affirming Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the APC, Senator Ararume still seeks to prolong the imbroglio by demanding that INEC should issue him Form EC8E and Certificate of Return, insisting that the ruling of a Federal High Court ratified his candidacy.
Araraume also did the unthinkable when irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling, he had audaciously demanded that INEC should give preference to an order by a Federal High Court in his favour and invalidate the superior ruling of the Supreme Court.
He has taken his weird design to the Election Tribunal and now Appeal Court where he is respondent, not a petitioner, insisting he should be declared winner. On what basis, please?
As a matter of fact, he aligned with the APC and Ibezim in pleading that Okewulonu’s petition be thrown out, and this was granted. How he wants to be the beneficiary of that outcome without first petionining the tribunal beggars imagination.
The same goes for the Appeal Court. It was also Okewulonu, not Araraume that filed the appeal. So, for Araraume to be asking to be declared winner despite this fact, and in utter disregard to the judgment of the Supreme Court is the height of wretched desperation, esoteric and disingenuous.
Araraume just wants to be declared winner based on the controversial judgment of Justice Taiwo Taiwo even though he never went to the tribunal to ask for any relief; yet he expects the court to become Father Christmas and give him what he never asked for.
The case before the court is simple and straightforward anyway. Did the Supreme Court rule that APC actually had a candidate in the election, Frank Ibezim? Was the Election Tribunal right in throwing out the PDP petition because it failed to satisfy the requirements of the law? As for Araraume, on what ground is he asking to be declared the winner, since the Supreme Court had since torn Justice Taiwo Taiwo’s ruling in his favour and also failing to file any petition at the election tribunal? Or is he relying on subterranean forces? That will go up in smoke!
Without dwelling much on Ibezim’s tortuous journey to the senate, it is time the curtain was drawn on this contest, bearing in mind the pronouncement of the apex court in the land. It is preposterous to expect the Appeal Court or any other court for that matter to overrule the Supreme Court.
It is unfortunate that the judiciary is being debased by no other than the custodians of the law. That is why Justice Chioma Nwosu-Iheme of the Court of Appeal, Awka in Anambra State, deserves plaudits. The learned Lordship has called for sanction against judges and lawyers that abuse territorial jurisdiction to dabble into political matters. Surely, our courts as citadel of hope for the common man should be shorn of all political tendencies.
That is why Chairman of the NBA Section of Public Interest and Development Law, SPIDEL, Dr. Monday Ubani, has thrown his weight behind Justice Nwosu-Iheme’s call and deplored the tendencies of lawyers embarking on forum shopping and by so doing denigrating the integrity of the courts with their pliable accomplices on the bench. In fact, the courts share a great deal of the blame for the confusion in our polity through conflicting and controversial judgments, some even countermanding the Supreme Court.
It is sad that an eminent son of Okigwe like Distinguished Senator Ifeanyi Araraume has allowed hangers-on to lead him on in this sorry pass. But sir, it would not be good if you squander your his remaining goodwill on this journey to nowhere. Please, sir, go beyond petty politics and join up with your younger brother, Ibezim,for the good of the people; honour awaits you if you do.