BEVERLY HILLS, April 05, (THEWILL) – For the angry youth who besieged the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC on Monday, February 22, the non- representation of Imo North Senatorial constituency at the National Assembly was unacceptable.
It was causing them some political mileage in the scheme of things in the country.
They had watched helplessly as the days grew into weeks and weeks into months since the by-election was conducted on November 5, 2020 and a representative was yet to emerge even after INEC declared a party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, winner of the poll, now marred in controversy.
Seemingly endless litigations between the winning party’s supposed candidates who were disqualified few hours before the conduct of the election, Chief Frank Ibezim and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, has polarized political and corporate interests within and without the state.
Prof Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu, who received the angry youth at his office promised to take their grievances to the Commission’s headquarters in Abuja.
That same Commission had on Friday, parried a Federal High Court ruling by Justice Taiwo Taiwo the previous day directing INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Senator Ifeanyi Ararume within 72 hours on the grounds that his rival, Frank Ibezim, had forged his academic certificates.
According to the Commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye: “Based on the multiplicity of judgements and Orders in the Imo North matter the Commission will carefully study them and do the needful”.
“The Legal Services and Clearance Committee will in turn deliberate on the matter and present a memo to the Commission.
“The Commission will deliberate on the matter, take a decision and inform the public. Hence, these judgements must of necessity pass through our processes and procedures. We are not a Court of law. We do not have adjudicatory powers.
“We give effect to judgements and orders of courts based on their tenor, context and our understanding of the judgement or orders we have been directed to give effect to.”
Justice Taiwo’s 72 hours ultimatum came and passed and something else happened. Ibezim had approached the Supreme Court to upturn the judgment of Inyang Ekwo, a Federal High Court Judge, and that of the Court of Appeal, which both nullified his candidature on the grounds that he made false declaration in the documents he submitted to INEC.
Rather than judgement, he got politics, even allegations of partisanship.
Justice Mohammed Dattijo, during the proceedings to hear the appeal by the Ibezim, announced the suspension of proceedings pending the resolution of alleged damaging petition written by the ruling party’s acting National Chairman and Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni.
He said: “Let me confirm to all counsel in this matter that the Interim National Chairman of APC had written a petition against me and two other Justices of this court, namely Helen Ogunwumiju and Abdu Aboki, accusing us of having a meeting with members of PDP to subvert justice in the case.
“They alleged that my humble self had led my two brothers to attend a meeting with members of the PDP to strategise on how to subvert the outcome of this case.
“I must say that this is most unfortunate and my heart bleeds for this country.”
The apex court has, however, suspended the case indefinitely. Governor Buni has since denied that he ever made that petition.
In a statement by his Director-General, Press and Media Affairs, Mamman Mohmammed, the governor and acting APC Chairman said: “I want to make my position abundantly clear and in an unambiguous terns that, I Hon, Mai Mala Buni, the Executive Governor of Yobe State and Chairman, APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, had at no time personally said, written nor directed anyone to write on my behalf or the party to allege or claim that their lordships met with members of the PDP or any political party on any matter. I must say I am conscious of the positions their Lordships occupy, and would not be a party or associated with such reckless statements against their Lordships.”
He pledged that the party would investigate the matter.
The summation of this endless controversy is this: “The fight over Imo North Senatorial District result and representation is beyond Imo politics,” as a government source told THEWILL. “It is the politics of 2023,”
Recall how the current governor who was not a qualified candidate for the 2019 governorship election was crowned the state’s helmsman, courtesy of a controversial Supreme Court ruling that disqualified the incumbent governor, Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The motivation for the ruling appeared political as it enabled APC to retain that outpost, held by Owelle Rochas Okorocha in the Southeast for the eight years.
But rather than sustain the party’s hold in the state and enable it to penetrate the South east, the legal victory opened a new chapter in renewed supremacy battle between Okorocha and current governor, Hope Uzodinma, which has limited its reach in that geo-political zone.
The recent ruling by Justice Taiwo Taiwo in favour of Ararume has merely pour petrol into the raging fire in the state.
According to investigation, Governor Uzodinma, who had openly opposed the candidacy of Ararume, who is an Okorocha ally, had gone further to try and reduce his growing influence in the state and nationally, too. Along with APC chieftains in the state, Ararume had benefited from Abuja’s patronage with a nomination of a slot at the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC. So too was for an appointment at a directorate of the party National Secretariat. Both are currently vacant as the battle for sole control of the party in the state rages.
Penultimate week, the Senator Okorocha’s faction of the party in the state, THEWILL learnt, met with the national leadership of the party in Abuja and was told to await the Supreme Court ruling and the 61-member contact/ strategy committee inaugurated on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, ahead of the 2023 general elections.
According to the National Secretary of the party, Sen. John Akpanudoehede, in a statement, “this is part of ongoing efforts by the CECPC to rebuild and reposition our great party.” That the party had failed or left the Imo turf fight to snowball, impacting jobs, security and social life in the state, culminating in the false indictment of the Supreme Court Justices through the impersonation of Buni, shows the politicization of the matter. With the appointment of Uzodinma into the party’s recently inaugurated contact and strategic committee, the governor appears to have taken the upper hand in the fight against his opponents back home. The faces of that committee look like the new movers and shakers around whom the new APC would emerge ahead of 2023.
“Yet the government source is still adamant things are not right with the party. “APC itself is in factions. Okorocha and the governor belongs to different factions in the party,” said the government source. “Imo issue is juts one party of the scheming for 2023. The flip of the coin is that if you allow one side to be dominant, it would be a problem for the other side in the southeast.”
Caretaker Chairman of APC in Imo state, Marcellinus Mlemigbo, did not answer to calls to his phone.
National Secretary of the APC, Senator John Udoedeghe confirmed the influence of the politics of 2023 in the crisis and the care being taken by the party to settle the warring parties.
Speaking to THEWILL on the development, he said; “ If you have two important personalities disagreeing on the issue, you will have to take time to bring in some respected members to bring the two together. People may not support the governor in his second term bid so you have to source people to resolve the problem. The party has the ability for conflict resolution. We will resolve it.”
Meanwhile, INEC has denied taking sides in the matter. Asked if it did not spark off the controversy surrounding the litigated polls by crowning a party winner of the election when the Constitution in section 222 and 224 says it should be a candidate nominated by the party, spokesperson for the Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, told THEWILL, the electoral umpire was impartial and law abiding and followed the Electoral Act
According to Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary of INEC Chairman: “Any aspiring candidate who wants to contest an election MUST be nominated by a political party through a properly conducted party primaries.
“Although, INEC does not interfere in the manner by which parties conduct primaries and nominate candidates, they are nevertheless expected to follow their own laws and the provisions of the Electoral Act.
When an election takes place, the votes that emanate from it belong to the political party that nominated a candidate for the said election.
Now, where two or more candidates are in contention over who should be the candidate duly nominated by the political party for the election, and in the event of the said party winning the election, the Independent National Commission would only recognize the political party as the winner of that election.
However, if a court declares any of the candidates as duly nominated, and orders INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to that individual, the Commission will comply.”
When will that be, he was asked? He drew blank.
“We give effect to judgements and orders of courts based on their tenor, context and our understanding of the judgement or orders we have been directed to give effect to” Said, National Commissioner, Okoye.
With the indefinite suspension of the case by the Supreme Court and the continued supremacy battle among Governor Uzodinma, Senators Okorocha and Ararume, the politics in Imo can only get messier and dirty as 2013 approaches and the cry for a presidential candidate from the South geo-political zone raises the stakes in both bigger parties, the ruling APC and the opposition PDP.