Former National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and senatorial candidate in the court ordered Anambra Central rerun election Chief Victor Umeh in this interview with Daily Sun bares his mind on happenings in the country. He warns on the legal implications of both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) allowing the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) to conduct fresh primaries and present new candidates to contest the new senatorial election. He also shares his thoughts on the recent Appeal Court judgment on Abia governorship election and the war on corruption.
The annulment of Anambra Central Senatorial election by the Court of Appeal has given you and others who contested the poll another chance to prove your political worths. How are you prepared for the fresh poll?
It is no longer news that the Court of Appeal annulled the Anambra Central senatorial election and ordered for a fresh contest within 90 days from December 7, 2015. I am ready for the election again. But the important thing to consider at this time is the need to do everything ac- cording to the law. The previous election was nullified because somebody who was not supposed to take part in it took part after not being properly nominated by her party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So, as we prepare to go for the ordered fresh election, it is important that all preparations must comply with the relevant laws .
I say this because if we go into the election, where improper candidates take part, it will expose the exercise to further nullification. I have seen the PDP and All Progressives Congress (APC) pretending not to know what the law says about situations like this. They are now going around to say that they are conducting primaries to present fresh candidates for the election. This is against the established law that only validly nominated candidates that took part in the nullified election will contest the fresh election ordered by the court. So, what this means is that at the stage where we are now, all political parties have been foreclosed from putting forward new candidates to represent them in the election.
The argument, which I have seen them make is that the court ordered fresh election and because the word “fresh election was used in the order of the Court of Appeal, it connotes that everything is to be started afresh, including nomination processes. I beg to say that such argument is a gross exhibition of ignorance of the law. A situation like this has risen in the past in Adamawa State, where the tribunal and the Court of Appeal nullified the governorship election in the state and ordered a fresh election. Labour Party tried to present a new candidate and INEC said it will not accept a new candidate. The party sued INEC, contending that it ought to be allowed to put in a candidate of its choice. That matter went from the Federal High Court in Katsina, which referred it to the Court of Appeal Kaduna division for constitutional interpretation.
The Court of Appeal, Kaduna division, in a unanimous decision, held that only the candidate who took part in the nullified election are those who will take part in the fresh election. The court reasoned that at that time, the nomination and screening of candidates have elapsed. So, this means that no party can change its candidates or introduce fresh candidates through new primaries. The lead judgement was delivered by Justice Ayo Salami, who later became the President of Court of Appeal. This judgement was delivered in 2008. The Labour Party was not happy with this judgement and it proceeded to the Supreme Court, and in a unanimous decision again through a lead judgement delivered by Justice Ogbuagu, the apex court held that a fresh election, re-run election or howsoever called, is an election that is pursuant to the nullification of a general election and that being the case, the only candidates that will go for the fresh election as correctly determined by the Court of Appeal, were candidates who took part in the nullified election.
The Supreme Court also said that no matter the intention of any other party, the period of nomination and screening of candidate have elapsed. So, there is no room for nomination of fresh candidates. Infact, the word it used is that the dramatis personae in the nullified election will go back for the fresh election. So, there is no chance for anybody to put in fresh candidates. So, in the present situation, only the candidates who were validly nominated by their parties and took part in the March 28, 2015 Anambra Central Senatorial District election, are the ones that will go for the fresh election.
Does this mean that the PDP and APC are out of the race as you claimed that Mrs. Uche Ekwunife was not validly nominated while Senator Chris Ngige of APC has withdrawan as a result of his new office?
Fifteen political parties contested that election. But regarding the two parties that you referred to, Mrs. Ekwunife, who is purported to be the candidate of the PDP in that election was disqualified by the Court of Appeal in clear terms in its judgement. The court said that she was not the product of any valid primary and therefore was not legitimately and val- idly sponsored by the PDP and that she wasn’t a candidate in the election. So, with that pronouncement of the court, it follows that the PDP, which committed the foul, cannot go back, based on the Supreme Court judgement that I cited, to conduct another primary to put in a new candidate. Apart from the fact that PDP would not be allowed to benefit from its own wrong doing, the Supreme Court has also placed a bar on that situation because the period of primaries and nominations is gone.
When you talk about nomination, it includes substitution. These are processes of nomination before you go into the election proper. So, having crossed that stage, the PDP cannot hold a primary to cure the defects in its nomination of a candidate in an election that had been nullified. So, the party is clearly out of the way. The APC is qualified to con- test the election because it had Dr. Chris Ngige as candidate. So long as Dr. Ngige wants to contest, APC is entitled to take part in the poll. But having accepted a ministerial appointment, he must resign according to the provisions of the constitution to be able to contest. For the other parties, their candidates are in the election like myself.
Are you now saying that Mrs. Ekwunife, who has defected to the APC to contest on its platform is playing to the gallery?
She is not only playing to the gallery but unnecessarily heating up the polity. Having been disqualified through her previous party, crossing over to the APC would mean that she would be contesting one election on two different platforms if she is allowed to contest the election. This is very absurd. I think she is wasting her time and therefore has to go and get proper legal advice. Whoever advised her that she can jump from PDP to APC and become its candidate and return to the election, has not given her proper advice. Assuming that she has that right to exercise, the Supreme Court judgement that I explained has foreclosed that option. There is nothing that can make the APC present her for the election.
Are you aware of the agitation by Senator Annie Okonkwo that he is the authentic candidate of the PDP, and what do you make of it?
Senator Okonkwo is predicating his claim on an expected judgement to be delivered by the Supreme Court on January 29 in the appeal filed by his own faction of the PDP against the other group over the nomination of candidates in Anambra State in the last general elections. If on that date, he succeeds, of course he becomes a candidate and it will mean that it would be consistent with the position that Ekwunife wasn’t the validly nominated candidate.
Will that be a threat to your ambition?
I am not afraid of anybody. What has blurred the vision of most people about Anambra State is that most times people assume undeserved attention by the larger Nigerian public because they emerged through rigging. They have not been winning elections; all they have been doing is stealing of the peoples’ mandate. So, there is no candidate in this election that is better placed than me. Without being immodest, I will say that APGA’s governments have been doing well for our people for the past nine years and I have been at the centre of bringing these administrations into power, starting from 2006 when Obi first came.
I have been at the centre of APGA struggles and progressive movement in Anambra State. And under Governor Willie Obiano, the state is making giant strides. We have been able to eliminate kidnapping and armed robbery.
What is your take on the judgement of the Court of Appeal and criticisms from some senior lawyers like Mike Ozekhome against the ruling?
I think that Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu has only one option left in law and that is proceeding to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement of the Court of Appeal. I don’t have any problem with him going to the apex court to challenge the judgement because it is his constitutional right. But to begin to sponsor mayhem in Abia State because there was a judgement against him is what I consider barbaric. The judgement of the Court of Appeal would not have come to any man of justice with any surprise because the Abia governorship election was won by Dr. Alex Otti convincingly with the requisite spread across the state.
He was the most popular candidate in that election . Abia people yearned for change from what they have been experiencing in the previous administration. So, Otti became the new face of hope for the people and that was why the major city in Abia State – Aba became a no go area for candidates of other parties. All the rural areas, local governments were also for him. I was there during the election . Otti won everywhere except the three local governments where they decided to do the impossible – the home local government of Ikpeazu (Obingwa), where the PDP got 82, 000 votes out of 86, 000 registered voters and APGA getting only 1,000 votes. In Osisioma, PDP got 42, 000 votes and they allocated 900 to APGA. You can now see how Ikpeazu got over 120, 000 votes from just two local governments in an election that re- corded about 25 per cent voters’ turnout across the local governments in the state. Such things cannot be tolerated in sane society.
You will recall that the returning officer in that election cancelled the results from the three local governments based on reports from his officials on the field. Against this scenario, Ikpeazu is still claiming that he won the election. He lost the election and what the Court of Appeal did was to serve justice to the person who deserves it.
On the issue of some lawyers being hired to come on television to argue that the Court of Appeal was wrong, I am so surprise when I see such things. I never believed that it is possible for lawyers to start passing judgement on a matter that is subjudice. I saw Barr. Mike Ozekhome on television talking in a manner that in a civilized society, his certificate would be withdrawn from him. Even if he is an expert in Constitutional Law, he remains a lawyer. He cannot become a judge when he is an advocate. He is fully aware that this matter has gone to the Supreme Court but he is busy delivering judgement on behalf of the apex court.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should sanction him because his conduct is unethical. What he should have done is to seek to consult for Ikpeazu or to represent him in court and not to come on television and start disparaging the judgement delivered by the Court of Appeal that has competent jurisdiction on the matter. He cannot pretend not to know that he is usurping the powers of the Supreme Court by making such unguarded statements and inciting the public.
Some political parties have been indicted on the arms deal scandal. How much of the money was given to your party for it to have supported former President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid?
There is no doubt about it that we supported Jonathan in the 2015 elections, but we said during the campaigns that we predicated our support on only one issue – his promise to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.
Do you mean that there was no financial inducement?
We are surprised to hear that some political parties received money. But I am very happy that these things are happening so that Nigerians will understand the character of APGA under my leadership. I never did anything as the national chairman of the party to take money from somebody, to enrich myself or enrich members of the party. All our actions under my leadership was based on conviction. During the last elections, I never met Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd); I never met the national chairman of the PDP; even Jonathan never gave us one kobo. We didn’t demand for such, and he never offered. We stated it clearly during the campaigns why we were supporting Jonathan.
It was not that I don’t like Buhari as a person because I am aware of his non tolerance on corruption but that was not more important to me than implementing the recommendations of the National Conference. I was a delegate to the confab and I know that its recommendations remained the only basis for Nigeria’s sustainable development. So, when Jonathan made the implementation of the report of the conference, a campaign issue, my party was taken in. Most of the things that the people of the South-East are agitating for in Nigeria of today, were resolved at that conference. (Daily Sun)