Anambra Poll and Judicial ‘Handouts’

It is not for nothing that I call Dr Okey Ikechukwu ‘Ijele’. The former University of Lagos philosophy lecturer has a way with words. Asked on ARISE Channels early in June for his impression of the acrimony resulting from the gubernatorial primaries of leading political parties in Anambra, Ikechukwu dismissed the situation as the usual “epidemic of court cases” that define election seasons in the state. Nothing could be more apt.

This judicial ‘epidemic’ that first began in Awka has, within two months, spread to at least seven states across four geo-political zones in the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). For an election holding in Anambra, it is beyond scandalous that cases have been filed and heard at the Jigawa State High Court in Dutse, Delta State High Court, Okperke Division, Bauchi State High Court, Katagum Division, Abia State High Court, Ukwa Division, Imo State High Court, Owerri, FCT High Court, (Bwari and Maitama Divisions), Federal High Court, (Abuja and Awka Divisions), Court of Appeal, Kano Division, Anambra State High Court, Awka etc. As things stand, some of the cases will not cease until they reach the Supreme Court.

Mr Festus Okoye, the INEC national commissioner in charge of public enlightenment, recently lamented that these indiscriminately dispensed orders and judgements from diverse courts have “far-reaching implications on the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election”. This is because party chairman, the target of most of the cases, plays some vital roles in the election process. The commission, according to Okoye, usually issues access codes to the national chairman of political parties with which they upload the personal details and list of their candidates electronically. Thus, the inability of INEC to ascertain who is the chairman of a participating party may create a huge problem. “Unfortunately, some of the judgements and orders given especially on the primary elections in Anambra state have bypassed our portal and sought to restore the manual submission of the list and personal particulars of candidates,” said Okoye. He added that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the commission to obey these court orders and judgements “as some of the political parties and the candidates have perfected the art of shopping for the first in time or the latest in time”.

The danger of this state of affairs, as I have highlighted in the past, is that it encourages judges to issue orders on matters not within their jurisdictional competence, putting the judicial system in jeopardy. That forum shopping has become a weapon of political mischief and corruption in Nigeria should worry critical stakeholders in the justice sector. Many countries have taken a tough stance on it. In a landmark case on 5th March 2003, the Supreme Court in the Philippines described forum shopping as “the institution of two or more suits in different courts, either simultaneously or successively, in order to ask the courts to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs,” before reaching this conclusion: “It is an act of malpractice that is prohibited and condemned because it trifles with the courts and abuses their processes. It degrades the administration of justice.”

Whatever reliefs are being sought by Anambra politicians, the overall objective in this game is to scuttle the ambition of someone or ensure they get their name (or that of their principal) on the ballot. This is regardless of the outcome of party primaries. Not surprisingly, the majority of these cases originate from members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the party in power in Anambra State. They are targeted at the candidature of the assumed front-runner in the upcoming gubernatorial election, the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo. But there are also cases within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a few other fringe parties. Caught in the middle is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has had to change the names of candidates as dictated by the courts. This singular fact has presented its own problem. On 19th July, there were two conflicting orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the PDP gubernatorial ticket being contested by Senator Ugochukwu Uba and Mr Valentine Ozigbo who has been endorsed by the party’s national secretariat.

Before I conclude, let me highlight a few of the cases that have come up within the last two months. On 23rd June, Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliyu filed a case against Chief Jude Okeke at Dutse High Court, seeking an order to validate the APGA Owerri national convention of 31st May 2019 and declare him (Aliyu) the validly elected Deputy National Chairman (North). On the same day, Alhaji Kabiru Yusuf filed a case against INEC at the Bwari division of the FCT High Court seeking an Order to compel the commission to monitor the APGA primaries then scheduled to hold on 1st July 2021 under the leadership of Chief Jude Okeke. Again, on the same day at FHC, Akwa, Chief Eze Boston sought an Order to declare the APGA Owerri convention of 31st May 2019 null and void. A day later, on 24th June, Hon. Pete Ibida was at the High Court in Akwa seeking a declaration that those elected as members of National Working Committee (NWC) of APGA on 31st May 2019 were entitled to conduct the gubernatorial primaries as well as an Order restraining INEC from accepting, receiving, or recognizing as APGA gubernatorial candidate from any other primaries except the one conducted by Victor Oye and his NWC.

Chief Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka instituted, on 25th June 2021, the most dramatic case in FHC Akwa where he sought a declaration that any aspirant who purchased APGA’s nomination form could validly contest the gubernatorial primaries irrespective of the faction from which the nomination form was purchased. On the same 25th June, Mr Sylvester Ezeokenwa sought an Order from the Anambra High Court, to declare the APGA national convention of 31st May 2019 as the authentic one that produced the NWC members and thus the only body to conduct APGA gubernatorial primaries and submit name of candidate to INEC. On 28th June, Ogbueshi Anthony Eboka was at the High Court of Delta State (Okerkpe Division) seeking an Order to declare that all members of APGA were bound by the party’s constitution as well as an injunction restraining INEC from accepting or recognising names of certain people as candidate. On 13th July, Okoye Nonyelum Nwabuogo sought an Order nullifying, invalidating, and setting aside the APGA special ward congresses held on 15th June 2021 for being in default of notice of 21 days to INEC as well as an Order nullifying, invalidating, and setting aside result of the primaries held on 23rd June 2021. Same day, 13th July, Alhaji Abubakar Adamu at the High Court of Bauchi State (Katagum Division) sought an Order to declare him as the APGA acting chairman with the power to conduct primaries and nominate candidate for the Anambra State gubernatorial election.

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