Under currents of Abia North, Anambra central senatorial rerun polls
• How Abia North Lost competition
On March 5, 2016; two crucial senatorial repeat polls were originally scheduled to hold in Abia North and Anambra Central zones of Southeast states of Abia and Anambra states. But while that of Anambra Central could not hold, the rerun in Abia North produced a similar result to the one nullified by the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division on December 11, 2015.
Both senatorial districts became subject of intense speculations owing not only for the candidates involved, but the underlying politics of the senatorial seats.
In Anambra Central, the sacking of senator Uche Ekwunife and her subsequent ban from participation in the rerun let loose a plethora of legal contestations and interpretations. The crisis in the senatorial district revolves around the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the many candidates laying claims to the party’s ticket.
While the apex court ruled that the Ejike Oguebego faction was the legitimate State Executive Committee, the candidate of the faction for the senate seat, Senator Annie Okonkwo, began fresh agitations that the apex court judgment indicated that the senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, on whose petition the Appeal Court based its decision to sack Ekwunife, actually sued the wrong candidate.
To make matters more complex, another candidate Mr. Obiora Sylvester Okonkwo, sustained his pre-election litigation, contending that he, rather than Ekwunife, was the rightful winner of the primary election conducted by the special election panel by the National Executive Committee of the PDP.
Last week, Ekwunife approached the Court of Appeal for a review of its ruling in the light of Supreme Court position that a non-member of a political party should not institute legal actions to question the primary election of his/her rival. But even as the Court of Appeal Enugu declined a review of its ruling citing functus officio, Ekwunife has directed her counsel to proceed to the Supreme Court, believing that she will get justice through a correct interpretation of the constitutional provisions governing the nomination, election or nullification of the election of a member of the National Assembly.
A new twist was added to the contentious Anambra Central Senatorial seat when on March 1, 2016, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), postponed the proposed March 5 rerun, saying that it was responding to a court injunction, which ordered it to allow the PDP to participate in the repeat poll.
Neither the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Chikere, nor INEC, explained whether the judgment and postponement of rerun is aimed at assuaging PDP for the disputed removal of its candidate from the Senate by the Court of Appeal. Even INEC brought a curious side to the wrangling by appealing against the Federal High Court judgment.
Many people in the state are currently wondering what INEC’s interest is with some alleging that the legal challenge is being funded by the state government to stave off the possibility of PDP fielding the former governor, Mr. Peter Obi, against the APGA candidate for the senate seat.
Such speculations gained traction recently when the Department of State Services (DSS), picked up the former national chairman of APGA, Umeh, and took him to Abuja for interrogations. With the speed of lightening, Umeh’s aides went to town with the allegation that DSS was acting on the petition against Umeh by his political detractors. Alarmed by the finger-pointing in his direction, the former governor through his media aide, Valentine Obienyem, appealed to Umeh to leave him (Obi) out of his troubles, stressing that he never wrote petitions against any person while in office as governor and would not do such a thing, especially when “I have no grouse with anybody.”
Obi used the opportunity to highlight instances of name-calling and abuses Umeh rains on his person as he campaigned for the rerun senatorial poll. Part of the statement read: “I read the news credited to Mr. Stan Okeke that Mr. Peter Obi was behind the arrest of Chief Victor Umeh. Let me state for the avoidance of doubt that Mr. Peter Obi has not, and is not contemplating writing any petition against anybody. He did not do so as a Governor, and could not have started doing so now.
“If you have been following political development in Anambra State in the last one month, you would have noticed Chief Victor Umeh’s obsession with Mr. Peter Obi for reasons only him and his associates/aides know. Within the one month, Chief Umeh has said all sorts of despicable things against Obi. While campaigning in Agulu(Obi’s home town), he referred to Peter Obi as a useless man and said that 1, 000 Peter Obi’s would not stop him.
“When PDP went to court for the sole reason that the party should be allowed to be part of the election, Chief Victor Umeh said it was Obi that actually went to court in a case that will not affect his candidature in any way.”
But it was gathered that Umeh was actually invited by DSS to clarify some statements he made while canvassing for votes in some communities, which the service thought to be inflammatory. A source within Anambra directorate of DSS pointed out that the service believed Umeh’s utterances were likely to incite the masses and lead to a possible breach of the peace.
Umeh, alongside Ekwunife and Obi, were prior to the 2015 general election playmakers in APGA. But no sooner had Umeh sensed that Obi, whose two terms in office was coming to its constitutional term; might run for the Anambra Central Senatorial seat, than he started announcing his ambition to represent the zone in the Red chamber.
Shortly after Obi left office, Umeh as national chairman of APGA, decided to court the new state chief executive, Chief Willie Obiano. With that closeness, it did not take long before Obi was alienated from the scheme of things as the party did all it could to reduce his appeal.
Consequently, when Ekwunife and Obi left APGA for Umeh and joined the PDP, many believed that simmering animosities would end. But it did not. Ekwunife contested for the senate on PDP platform and was supported by Obi, Umeh was beaten at the March 28, 2015 poll.
Yet supported by Governor Obiano, Umeh fought Ekwunife’s election until he was able to win the Court of Appeal judgment that sacked the PDP senator from her glorious perch at the senate. Having been dislodged, Ekwunife jumped to APC to re-contest the senatorial rerun.
However, insisting that the judgment was not well grounded on law and the constitution, PDP decided to challenge its ouster from the rerun. And on account of Ekwunife’s defection, pressures began to mount on Obi to consider a race to the senate. This did not seem to go down well with Umeh, who had begun carrying on as a senator-in-waiting and unopposed candidate for the senate rerun poll. Although both politicians hail from the same senatorial district, even Umeh seems to acknowledge the general impression among voters in the zone that should Obi appear on the ballot, his ambition to be at the senate would be dead on arrival.
Last Wednesday, an Abuja Federal High Court assumed jurisdiction in the case filed by Obiora Okonkwo against the nomination of Ekwunife as the PDP candidate. But the following Thursday (March 10, 2016) that the court was expected to deliver its ruling, the judge did not seat. Dejected by the turn of events, Okonkwo and his supporters are divided on whom to blame for prolonging the legal ordeal.
While some accuse the PDP faction in the state, others claim that the state government and APGA do not want PDP to be in contention for the strategic senatorial seat. It is therefore left to be seen whether INEC would await the outcome of its appeal against PDP’s victory or Okonkwo’s matter. For now, Anambra Central remains a puzzle!
Abia North Senatorial District
ABIA North Senatorial rerun was well primed as a three-horse race. Former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu needed the repeat so badly to prove that he remains the political godfather of the state. Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, whose victory was upturned by the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division wanted to demonstrate that his return as winner of the March 28, 2015 pollwas not a fluke. Then there was the new comer to Abia politics, Dr. David Onuoha-Bourdex, of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Bourdex and APGA believe that as far as popular momentum was concerned, they were the ones to beat in the rerun poll.
Apprehension heightened in the senatorial zone when the Court of Appeal nullified the election of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and ordered that INEC should prepare the grounds for Dr. Alex Otti, the APGA governorship candidate to be sworn into office. The Appeal Court ruling fed the popular sentiment in the state that APGA was the party of first choice in the 2015 election.
If the appellate court ruling set abuzz new concerns about political dynamics in Abia North, it energized the campaigns for the rerun poll ordered for Abia North Senatorial seat. The enthusiasm by the people to come out en masse to vote for the APGA candidate, Onuoha-Bourdex, was buoyed by the feeling that that would further convince all and sundry that “APGA was on grounds in Abia.”
And given the pendulum swing towards APGA, supporters of former governor Kalu were said to have distributed campaign posters bearing the APGA logo, while canvassing for votes for the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) candidate. The situation was so contentious that the APGA senatorial candidate, Onuoha-Bourdex, had to write his PPA counterpart urging him to rein in his supporters and avoid actions that could lead to breach of electoral process.
But while APGA was enjoying its reign in the hearts of the people, PDP chieftain, including Senator Theodore Orji and the incumbent pooled resources and strategies to confront the challenge on the party’s control of the state. It was evident that the PDP stalwarts, who were Kalu’s protégés in the past did not want the PPA senatorial candidate to get his political life back or bounce back into reckoning in the state.
However, knowing the implications of power of incumbency, Kalu did not leave anything to chance. He was said to have reached out to his friends in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), whose senatorial candidate in the zone was a stark political outsider. Displaying enormous body language suggesting that he could play according to APC’s whims, Kalu campaigned with zest and vigour, more than he did in the original election. His foot soldiers boasted that the former governor was on the way to regaining his political leadership of Abia State and taking Ndigbo into the national mainstream.
As things turned out, the Supreme Court delivered it’s ruling on the governorship suit, restoring Ikpeazu as the duly elected governor of the state. The judgment deflated APGA supporters but motivated the PDP. Consequently, on March 5, the rerun, voters stayed away and the election lost its competitive air. All three gladiators, including the eventual winner have repudiated the process.
Speaking to journalists on the outcome of the repeat poll, Senator Ohuabunwa, cried out that ad hoc staff of INEC now constitute the greatest challenge to credible elections. Alleging tendency towards corruption, the senator urged the electoral body to do away with the practice of employing university lecturers as ad hoc collation and returning officers during elections. “Some of the lecturers now see the job as opportunity to enrich themselves by working for the highest bidder,” Ohuabunwa declared, even as he urged the electoral umpire to investigate the activities of the local government collation officers and the returning officers in the Abia North re-run election.
In his own reaction, the APGA candidate, Chief (Dr.) David Onuoha-Bourdex, rebuked INEC for breaching its guidelines in the March 5, 2016 repeat election, stressing that, “unless and until the issue of electoral malfeasance, including ballot box snatching, violence, intimidation and outright brigandage in conducting elections, are thoroughly dealt with, the fight against corruption would not be far-reaching.”
Onuoha-Bourdex, who rejected the outcome of the election, however commended APGA faithful for their “gallantry, doggedness and civilized support even in the face of wanton gangsterism, violence, electoral manipulation and provocation by the Peoples Democratic Party-led state government.”
In a statement signed on his behalf by Chief Nwaka Inem, the APGA senatorial candidate noted that given the violence and widespread malpractices, including ballot box-snatching, collation manipulation and doctoring of results that attended the re-run poll, the election was largely flawed. The APGA candidate stated that PDP and PPA candidates engaged in competition of rigging and ballot box snatching, wondering how more than 20, 000 votes could come from a single council in an election that witnessed less than 15 percent voter-turnout.
He therefore, invited INEC to withhold the certificate of return for the election pending the verification of figures captured by the card reader and reconciliation of same with the figures recorded in the polling unit result sheets by the INEC authorized personnel.
Even the PPA picked holes on the return of Senator Mao Ohuabunwa as winner of the Abia North senatorial district re-run. National Chairman of the party, Comrade Peter Ameh, told journalists that the process of declaring Ohuabunwa winner did not meet with the guidelines, adding “it was a clear case of day light robbery.”
Ameh contended that because INEC officials had to reverse itself after declaring the re-run inconclusive, the credibility of the process had been compromised; pointing out that the party was contemplating dragging INEC to court. He recalled a similar situation where the party’s candidate in Kogi Central Senatorial rerun, Alhaji Nurudeen Abatemi “lost in controversial circumstances a few hours after the election was initially declared inconclusive by INEC.”
Despite the quarrel over process and outcome, the fact that Kalu, who is believed to enjoy the backing and confidence of ruling APC could not make it to the finish line triumphantly, gives a remote indication that APC remains a hard sell in Southeast.