ELECTION TRIBUNALS: South-East Senators With Nervous Mandates
THE situation of election petitions has reached the crunchy session at various Election Petition Tribunals in the country.
Despite the chorused improved rating of the election in terms of credibility, there are indications that some shakeups may yet attend the publicized outcome of the 2015 election. Apart from the governorship, prime attention seems to be focused more on legislators, especially those at the Federal.
Who goes in, who gets pulled out? Those are the questions trailing the progress of litigations over the outcomes of the national Assembly election in most states. To a large extent, the situation in Southeast is of acute interest owing no doubt, to the level of outrage against vote heist that attended the stiff 2015 election.
Right from the inception of Nigeria’s fourth republic in 1999 two prominent Senators from the South East failed to continue their membership of the Senate not long after their
inauguration. The Senators suffered abridged terms due to the proceedings at the election petition tribunals and courts. First to suffer that political demurrage was Reverend Hyde Onuaguluchi from Enugu West in 2001. In 2008 it was the turn of Senator Joy Emordi from Anambra State; what would have been her second term in the Red Chamber was cut short by the legal gymnastics commenced by Senator Alphonsus Igbeke. The Emordi versus Igbeke matter was so celebrated that at a point it was joked that the electoral palaver could advance to the ECOWAS court based on the interminable nature of the litigation. In the end the dutiful former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education had to yield the seat of Anambra North Senatorial district in the Senate to the cantankerous Igbeke.
The intricate nature of the nation’s electoral system makes it quite implausible that electoral contests would end at the point of return. The Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has, since the inception of the fourth republic, always been made party to electoral disputes based on the credibility question that usually surround its verdicts. Greater percent of the blame for flawed elections are always placed at the doorstep of INEC. Nevertheless, desperation of politicians to win by hook, crook and at all cost; contributes to the pressure on INEC to breach its rules and joggle processes. Yet in most cases lack of internal democracy and organizational distortions in political parties compound the electoral system further. Sometimes voters do not seem to know, which candidate they are voting for and in most cases their votes do not serve as the ultimate arbiter!
For instance, in the case of Reverend Hyde Onuaguluchi and Senator BenCollins Ndu, Onuaguluchi was returned as winner of the Enugu West senatorial election in 1999. What played out at the election petition tribunal was a case of interparty disputation. In the Anambra instance of 2008, it was intra-party. Igbeke contended that he was the validly nominated candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) for Anambra North Senatorial ticket of the party. Though Senator Emordi scaled the hurdles at the tribunal, she was not lucky in the subsequent trial at the appellant level. For Senator Ndu, the candidate of the PDP in the 1999 Enugu West Senatorial seat election, victory smiled on him after a puzzling legal argumentation over who scored the highest number of lawful votes cast. Rev. Onuaguluchi, candidate of the All Peoples Party, (APP) had to, by virtue tribunal judgment; vacate the seat he had already taken immediately he was declared winner by the INEC.
Perhaps, it was based on those instances of extraneous changes in the ultimate outcomes of elections through the windy routes of election petitions that a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA) Chief (Dr.) David Ogba Onuoha-Bourdex, suggested that legislators with disputed mandates should be made to forego half of their salaries and allowances pending the determination of their cases in the courts of law. Interestingly, Onuoha-Bourdex contested the Abia North Senatorial election in the March 28, 2015. He must have reacted out of experience. However there is every possibility that not all those gracing the chambers of the two chambers of the National Assembly would last through the full term. Election Petition tribunals and indeed the whole gamut of access routes for redress through the law courts remain the last doors on the election. They may open to admit new candidates or to usher out some of those that witnessed the inauguration of the Eighth plenary. As election petitions in Southeast states enter the crucial stages, the following are the prominent senatorial seat occupants and those trying to pull them out of the Red Chamber:
Senator Uche Ekwunife Vs Sir Victor Umeh (Anambra Central Senatorial Seat) Prior to the March 28, 2015 election, many people believed that the contest for the Anambra Central Senatorial seat was going to be between two candidates: The then incumbent, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige and the former member representing Anaocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Iyom Uche Ekwunife.
To occupy the seat in 2011, Ngige defeated the former Information Minister, the late Prof. Dora Akunyili, who was supported by the then State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi. Obi had snatched a second term mandate by beating Ngige in the governorship election the year before.
Perhaps determined to demolish Senator Ngige’s popular political stature and prove his political skill or to further advance his support for the then President Goodluck Jonathan, Obi crossed over to the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) from his former party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA). During the 2013 governorship election, which she contested, Ekwunife did not get the tacit support of Obi, who advocated power shift from Anambra Central to Anambra North Senatorial district.
Expectations were therefore heightened when shortly after he instigated Ekwunife, Chris Azubuogu and others to defect from APGA to PDP, Obi joined PDP and started supporting Ekwunife to duel Ngige for the Senate seat for Anambra Central. Meanwhile the former National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, who out of fear that Obi may angle for the senate seat, announced his intention to stand election on APGA platform for Anambra Central Senatorial election. If was generally held that part of ex-governor Obi’s decision to cross over to PDP was informed by the desire to requite Umeh for waging political blackmail against him.
As the election date drew near and suffered a shift, it was not easy put a finger on what would ultimately play out in the senatorial race. But given the weight of Presidential support for PDP and influence of a former term governor, the wind of possible victory tilted towards the PDP candidate, Ekwunife. What was not fully factored into the analysis was how much momentum the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano, Obi’s protégé; could inject into the contest in support of his candidate, Umeh! But in addition to ensuring that his preferred candidate succeeded him as governor, Obi also accepted the candidacy of his former commissioner, Dr. Nkem Okeke, from Enugu-Ukwu community in Anambra Central Senatorial zone, as deputy governor. Again as member and chairperson of House of Representatives Committee on Environment, Ekwunife, it must be noted, extended some measure of democracy dividends to her constituency.
Did the voters forget the woman’s little dispensation of goodies during her election to graduate to the Senate? How far did election weariness affect Ngige’s support in the zone? Did Umeh, who experimented with various tricks, both political and legal; to hang on as APGA National Chairman, use his office to impact on Anambra Central Senatorial zone and receive the reciprocal votes at the ballot in his search for the senate seat? Whatever may be the answer to the posers, when the Independent National Election Commission, (INEC) announced the result of the March 28, 2015, Uche Ekwunife, was returned as having scored the highest number of votes cast. Either dazed by the surprising outcome of the election or out of exhilaration that his party’s presidential candidate won, Senator Ngige did not bother challenging the result as he did in 2011.
But expressing disgust and bitterness, Umeh approached the Anambra National Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Awka, to narrate how the election “was massively rigged’’. Umeh’s petition was taken out by his counsel, Chief Patrick Ikwueto, (SAN). When Umeh mounted the witness box recently, he told the tribunal presided by Mr. Justice A. Aganaba that there was large scale rigging in Obosi, Idemili North local council and in Nimo, Njikoka local government council of the state.
Umeh, who came to the tribunal with mounds of documents he tendered before the tribunal, disclosed that the PDP evolved different tactics to rig the election. For instance, he declared that in polling units 018, 003, Awada Primary School polling unit 024, all in Obosi; the number of votes exceeded the number of accredited voters.
The APGA candidate further alleged that there were instances of polling units where serial numbers on the polling booth result, Forms EC8A1, were erased and ordinary ink used to inscribe another serial number on them. Continuing his deposition, Umeh pointed out that in all the 26 polling units in Obosi, the number of ballot papers used far exceeded the number of registered voters in the units. The witness was later to tell journalists that his efforts in the tribunal was expose false numbers from the authentic results “so that the tribunal can on its own without anybody’s testimony, remove them from final scores to determine who won”.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa Vs Chief (Dr.) David Ogba Onuoha-Bourdex: (Abia North Senatorial Seat) The build up to the contest for the Abia North Senatorial seat in 2015 was agitated. Part of the anxiety was caused by concerns over the candidacy of the incumbent, Senator on the platform of PDP. Comrade Uche Chukwumerije. After enjoying three consecutive terms in the Senate, there were apprehensions in the senatorial district over the likely implication of another term by the outspoken Senator from Umunneochi on the politics of the zone. Most commentators started calling for the representation of the zone to rotate to another local council in the zone.
Abia North Senatorial district is made up of five local government councils including Arochukwu, Bende, Isiukwuato, Ohafia and Umunneochi. But despite the groundswell of opposition against another term for the incumbent, most people disagreed with the campaigners saying it was a ploy by the governor to impose a candidate on the zone. It was only when a governorship aspirant in the person of Uche Ogah, came up from the zone that the issue of zoning became potent. While the protagonists for rotation of the Senatorial seat among the various councils increased, attempt was also made in like manner to squelch Ogah’s governorship ambition on the strength of zoning.
However when it became clear that the PDP primary election would produce predetermined results, a rash of defections happened. Consequently virtually all those who repudiated the lack of internal democracy in PDP crossed over to the All Progressives Grand Alliance, (APGA). It was based on this new political machination that the number of political parties in serious contention for the governorship and senatorial positions in the state became two.
However given the open space in Abia North Senatorial district, following the absence of the incumbent senator on the ballot, the former governor, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, made a belated dash for the Senate on his Progressive Peoples Alliance, (PPA). Technically, on March 28, 2015; PDP, APGA and PPA went into the Senatorial election.
After some days of sphinxlike delays, INEC announced the outcome of the election. Mr. Mao Ohuabunwa, of the PDP was returned as having the controversy-ridden election. Dissatisfied at the method used in computing the result, both Kalu and Onuoha-Bourdex went to the tribunal to seek redress. Though Kalu cried out that massive rigging, intimidation and manipulation attended the election, it was obvious that the APGA candidate had more reason to complain.
At the National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, the two petitions have been consolidated to streamline adjudication. Nevertheless, all eyes seem to be on the petition by the APGA senatorial candidate in the election, Dr. Onuoha-Bourdex. On Tuesday July 28, 2015; when he mounted the witness box, Onuoha-Bourdex caused a stir in the jam-packed Courtroom. He disclosed that the PDP was so desperate and magical in its rigging spree such that they even woke dead persons to vote for its candidate, Ohuabunwa; stressing that it was based on that supernatural powers that PDP had to accredit and record 358 votes for itself in a polling unit that had 358 persons in the voters register! Onuoha-Bourdex, disclosed that he won the election by scoring majority of the lawful votes stressing that out of error, INEC returned Mr. Mao Ohuabunwa as the winner based on fictitious results.
He noted that out of desperation and exasperation the PDP and its candidate decided to hurriedly inflate results of some polling units at the ward collating centres to upturn the result Maintaining that the irregularities in the computation led to the wrongful declaration of the PDP candidate as winner of the election, Onuoha-Bourdex contended that it was due to the connivance of some officials of INEC in the manipulation of the results resulting in the refusal of the RO (Returning Officer) to sign the results that led the Resident Electoral Commissioner, (REC) for Abia State set up a panel to investigate the matter. ‘’After the committee finished the review of Arochukwu and Ohafia’’, he went on, ‘’it became obvious from their report that the results from the two LGAs were heavily falsified in favor of PDP and also at that point the PDP candidate and his associate resisted the continuation of the examination of the remaining local governments of Bende, Isuikwuato and Umunneochi, the exercise was stalled at that point. At that point I wonder why the first respondent was declared winner’’.
The APGA candidate held that if the votes were properly computed, “I scored 37,115 lawful votes while the respondent who was declared winner got 28,800 votes”, explaining that results in the possession of his polling agents from the five local government councils bore that evidence.
Senator Gilbert Emeka Nnaji Vs Senator (Dr.) Chimaroke Ogbonnia Nnamani (Enugu East Senatorial Seat).
Enugu East Senatorial seat has been the hotbed for stiff electoral contests. In 1999, former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, applied extraordinary political intrigues to win the senate seat by proxy. Not sure whether the newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo, would consider him for ministerial appointment, Jim planted a dummy on the Alliance for Democracy, (AD) in the person of Geoffrey Nnaji.
When it became obvious to Jim that Obasanjo had no plans to get him into his cabinet, he caused Nnaji to resign from the Senate seat he had already won thereby throwing up a vacuum necessitating a bye-election.
In 2003 Senator Nwobodo and incumbent Governor Chimaroke Nnamani were involved in proxy battle for the senate seat. Jim had suffered political dislocation in PDP and decided to contest the presidency on the platform of United Nigeria Peoples Party, (UNPP). His attempt to support Chief Evarest Nnaji of Bristow Helicopters against Dr. Kenneth Nnamani, who was being propped up by Governor Nnamani, floundered. Ken Nnamani not only won the Senate seat but went ahead to become the President of Senate.
In 2007 Governor Nnamani took his turn to become the Senator representing Enugu East in the Red Chamber. However, in 2011 the attempt by former Governor to have a second term in the Senate could not fructify on the PDP platform.
As happened to Nwobodo in 2003, Nnamani founded the People for Democratic Change, (PDC). On the novel platform, the incumbent Senator attempted to prove his popularity by not only winning a second term to the Senate but also deliver his preferred candidate as governor of Enugu State having experienced ruptured political relationship with his former political godson, Governor Sullivan Chime. But for the postponement of the April 2, 2011 election midway into the voting process, Nnamani was on the way to posting a shocking defeat to PDP and its Senatorial candidate, Gilbert Nnaji, who was scaled up from the House of Representatives.
In 2015 after a half-hearted attempt by the Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, to bring him back to the PDP fold, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, went ahead to re-contest the Enugu East Senatorial election on the platform of his famed PDC. Exploiting his rich fund of political goodwill, Nnamani campaigned with relish, stumping through streets and markets in the US fashion.
However, when the result of the March 28, 2015 election was announced by INEC, the less fancied Senator Nnaji was returned as winner. For close to two weeks after the outrageous outcome was made public, Nnamani’s supporters staged street protests condemning the manipulation and intimidation and falsification of result that attended the election.
From August 17, 2015 the National Assembly Election Petition sitting in Enugu headed by Justice Chris Edem, would begin hearing into the petition filed by Senator Chimaroke Nnamani against the return of Senator Gilbert Nnaji, as the winner of the Enugu East Senatorial election. Pre-conference trial of the matter was delayed following the creation of new tribunals to handle the election petitions against the outcome of the March 28, 2015 National Assembly election in Enugu State. in his depositions contained in his petition, which he intends to adopt as his statement on the witness box, Nnamani avers that there were a lot of irregularities and fraud in the election. He claimed that at the point of collation of results, party agents were chased away by some soldiers to make way for PDP agents to cart away all sensitive materials to continue their collation.
Adducing more evidence of intimidation and manipulation, Nnamani disclosed that the Chief Security Officer to former Governor Chime came to his Nkanu West local government council to offer cover to the falsification going on in the area adding that it was within the same period that the House of Representatives candidate for PDP, Mr. Chukwuemeka Ujam, was physically caught with cartons of PVCs, totaling more than 4000. They were moving from one place to the other. Nnamani also disclosed that at Umuenwene, Senator Gilbert Nnaji’s ward, Nike Town Hall, after voting had been concluded and counting begun, Nnaji came and carried the boxes and moved to his house with his wife and children, started thumb printing and writing results.
As the various Election Petition Tribunals listen to the claims and counter-claims, how far they are able to separate the grains from the chaff, would determine who goes in or stays as the representatives of the above prominent Senatorial districts in the Eighth Senate!