Anambra Central: Appeal Court disqualifies Ekwunife from re-run

Mrs Uche Ekwunife
Mrs Uche Ekwunife

The Court of Appeal has disqualified the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife from participating in the Anambra Central Senatorial election rerun scheduled for early next year.

A certified true copy of the judgment in the case between Chief Victor Umeh, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), PDP, Ekwunife and others over the senatorial election held in April this year in which Ekwunife was declared winner, obtained by The Guardian in Enugu, indicated that she (Ekwunife) was not a product of valid primary and as such disqualified from contesting the election.

The Court of Appeal Justices including A.D Yahaya, T.O Awotoye and B.G. Sanga in their judgment document said: “ So, whether it was the National body of PDP in Anambra State, the five man National Assembly electoral committee, or the care-taker committee that conducted the primary which produced the 11th respondent (Ekwunife) as the nominated candidate of the PDP to contest the election, it is immaterial; since by paragraph 25 (1) of exhibit R1, it is the state special congress that should conduct the primary for the purpose of nominating a candidate to contest election into the National Assembly. The 11th respondent was therefore not the product of a valid primary and was therefore not duly and legitimately nominated. That has disqualified her from contesting the election into the Anambra Central Senatorial district”

Apparently referring to the acrimony in the state chapter of the PDP that factionalized the party which led to the nomination of the candidate without due regard to laid down constitution of the party, the Judges said it was the duty of the court to do what is right, irrespective of the problem.
“The Courts would not hesitate, in pursuance of their constitutional roles, to strike down actions of parties that do not conform with the laws or their constitution and guidelines. This obviously results in serious financial losses to the parties, the party members and the country as a whole, when circumspection would have avoided it,” they warned.

The Judges disagreed with the lower tribunal, which had earlier dismissed the petition of Umeh over the validity of Ekwunife’s nomination, saying: “Nomination is part and parcel of qualification to stand for an election and since an election can be challenged on the grounds of lack of qualification, it follows that the appropriate forum to challenge it after the election is held, is the Election Tribunal, especially where the challenger is from a different political party and may not be aware of the defect in qualification and have sufficient interest, until the person being challenged contests and is declared the winner thereof. The Tribunal was therefore patently wrong in its decision.

It had completely misapprehended the case presented in that vein and that had coloured its vision, denying it the composure and dispassionate consideration of the case. It was this cloudy vision that made the court gloss over the issue as to whether the right body had conducted the primary that nominated the 11th respondent as the candidate in the election. Once it held the opinion that the issue of nomination is an internal affair and not justiceable, denying it the jurisdiction to entertain the issue, it lost focus and that clearly is prejudicial to the interest of the appellants (See Odiba Vs Azege 1998 NWLR PT566 .370). The decision arrived at was perverse and the right course of action, is to set aside the decision. Consequently, the perverse decision which held that the 11th respondent had been properly and legitimately sponsored by the 12th respondent (PDP), must and is hereby set aside”.

Umeh had on November 6th, 2015 filed an appeal challenging the decision of the lower tribunal sitting in Awka, which had earlier dismissed his petition against the election of Ekwunife in the Anambra Central senatorial seat.

He had among others asked the court to determine whether the trial court correctly or rightly held that Ekwunife was qualified to contest the election within the context of section 65 (2) (b) of the constitution.
The Court had on December 7th ruled on the matter, nullifying the election of Ekwunife and ordering the INEC to conduct fresh election in the senatorial zone within ninety days.

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