Now That Soludo Can Run…
MOST political observers say the candidacy of former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof Chukwuma Charles Soludo, was bound to be controversial even before arrival. And the manner of his choice, more than the choice itself, alluded to that and gave verve to the onslaught that raged within the party against his emergence, until Thursday’s final clearance by the Supreme Court.
Prior to the primaries, the different camps bandied around several list of ‘authentic’ delegates, and the names in the lists kept changing as the Dee-day drew near.
At a point, it became obvious that choosing a candidate would not be possible, as there were disagreements amongst the camps, especially between the Chief Chris Uba camp and the national leadership, which was bent on seeing the emergence of Soludo as preferred candidate.
Almost immediately after his selection in Abuja by the party’s National Working Committee (NWC), following its inability to conduct a free and fair primaries in Awka to choose its candidate, the legal fireworks began.
There were numerous legal entanglements, court orders and counter-orders, from Ekwulobia in Anambra State to Abuja, for or against PDP and Soludo.
And because whatever happens in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), considering its antecedents and ‘might,’ has a way of affecting what goes on or comes out in the larger spectrum, the PDP problem of choice dragged the Anambra, and indeed the 2011 general election, down for awhile and caused a lull in political activities preparatory to the elections.
This made most Nigerians ask whether the poll must become secondary, just because of one out of several candidates?
All the while, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan had stressed that INEC could not stop PDP, and by extension, Soludo, from taking part in the election.
“My conviction is that PDP will contest Anambra election. My conviction is that, of course, INEC cannot stop PDP from contesting the election; PDP’s name is there and we have to contest that election. So, nobody should be worried; nobody should be discouraged, because of whatever is happening, because if you look at some of kind of judgment that has been given by the Supreme Court over the period, you will know that the party is supreme and the position belonged to the party, and I believe that there is no way PDP will not contest the election,” he said optimistically.
In the same vein, the party’s National Chairman, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, had insisted that PDP was not going to dump its candidate, while thanking “all genuine lovers of the party in Anambra State for rallying round the National Working Committee (NWC) to ensure that the party legally produced a candidate for that election, in the person of Soludo.”
Before the apex court ruling, the Court of Appeal on Wednesday maintained its lid on Soludo’s candidacy, barring him from parading himself as PDP’s flag bearer in the election.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Wednesday renewed its earlier order barring Chukwuma Soludo from contesting as the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party in the election.
Justice Lokolo Sodipe, on behalf of Justice Mary Odili, who actually prepared the judgment but was absent at the sitting, read the ruling ordering the PDP not to field Soludo as its candidate and restraining the former CBN boss from parading himself as a candidate in the election.
She noted that the court was aware of the time challenge of the case, but added that the order had to be maintained to “avoid confusion over issues that can be averted now.”
The case was at the instance of Valentine Ozigbo, Mrs. Victoria Nwankwo, Mrs. Nkoli Imo and Mr. Ferdinand Okoye, all members of the party, who argued that Soludo’s choice by PDP was done in error and did not follow proper party procedures and processes, since it was made without consultation of other aspirants, who had purchased the party’s nomination forms for N5 million and were then denied participation in the primaries.
The appellate court dismissed all the ground the PDP had canvassed for a lifting of the earlier order, especially that the court lacked the jurisdiction and had no business with the party’s internal affairs, saying they lacked merits.
The court said the order subsisted, pending the determination of the appeal brought before it, for which it did not fix any date for hearing.
PDP’s National Legal Adviser, Olusola Oke, immediately announced the party’s decision to proceed to the apex court to seek an overturn of a ruling he said was not surprising but expected and was setting a new dangerous dimension that might spell doom for the country’s democracy.
“Our concern is that the court cannot tie the hands of a political party, while others are campaigning,” he added.
Incidentally, Oke was on April 27 last year sacked by the judgment of the Supreme Court last year, which ruled that the court has no business in the internal affairs of the political parties. This followed the appellate court’s affirmation of an earlier substitution of Senator Hosea Ehinlawo (Ondo South) with Oke by the PDP in the 2007 senatorial election in Ondo State.
The apex court had earlier suspended its first sitting on the case on Monday to allow for the appellate court ruling.
Following the Court of Appeal renewal of its earlier order on Wednesday, the battle shifted to the Supreme Court, which on Thursday set aside that order restraining Soludo and PDP from participating in the election. Both Soludo and his supporters and PDP roundly applauded this.
The five-man panel, led by Justice George Oguntade, said the order restraining the INEC from recognising Soludo as the candidate of PDP in the election was untenable and unwarranted.
Justice Oguntade said the Court of Appeal ought not to have ventured into making the injunctive order in a matter where the trial court (Abuja High Court) simply declined jurisdiction.
Consequently, the apex court held that the lower court order restraining Soludo from parading himself as the candidate of the PDP in the election was “unnecessary and uncalled for.”
Rather, it ordered INEC to accord Soludo all the privileges and rights it accords other candidates running for the Anambra State governorship election.
The court ordered that the status quo before the action commenced at the trail court be maintained, because the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) before Justice Danlami Senchi, has done the correct thing.
All the other four Justices in the panel concurred the ruling, with some like Justice Tanko Mohammed saying the restraining order of the Court of Appeal was “like jumping the gun,” in that the merit of the main suit before the trial court was not touched, as the court merely declined jurisdiction.
Soludo, who was at the court to witness the judgment, described the ruling as a divine judgment, saying, however, that he never entertained any fears that he would not win the case.
He saw the court matter as a ploy by his opponents to ensure that he does not participate in the governorship race. “They know they cannot match me on the election ground,” he enthused.
Ogbulafor thanked the judiciary for the decision and urged opponents of Soludo’s candidacy, especially those who had joined other political parties, to return and join PDP in working for Soludo’s victory as the next governor of the state.
He saw the verdict as a “dream come true,” adding: “We are going to Anambra State in full force now,” now that the lid on Soludo and the PDP had been lifted.
On INEC’s initial stance not to recognise Soludo’s candidacy until the court cleared him, Ogbulafor said: “I want to appreciate the stand of INEC, because they have proved that they stand for justice, because they have been waiting for the court decision before they can clear Soludo.
“Now that the courts have done it, I do not think there is any other hindrance for the PDP. Therefore, Soludo has become the candidate of PDP and I am grateful for that,” he told journalists at the Wadata House national secretariat of the party in Abuja.