Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja The Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council has thrown its weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to consult widely before Nigeria signs the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. President Buhari had, in March, cancelled a trip to Kigali, Rwanda, where an extra-ordinary summit of African Union was scheduled to sign the agreement….
Senator Uche Ekwunife is a former member of the House of Representatives. She contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015, to represent Anambra Central Senatorial District. Although she won and was sworn-in, her election was nullified in December of 2015, barely six months on the saddle.
In this interview with FRED ITUA, the former lawmaker complained and claimed that her rival, Chief Victor Umeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), connived with some judges to frustrate her. She spoke extensively on her misgivings about the nullification of her election.
The issue of the Anambra Central Senatorial election is still very much in the news. Some people are calling on the INEC to conduct election to fill the vacant senatorial seat because all cases that have to do with the election have been dispensed with while majority are saying that the remaining seven pending cases must be disposed of before INEC can legally conduct an election for the zone in order to ensure justice and fairness for all. What is the true position?
The true position is that we still have about six pending cases in Court. We have cases in High Court, we have cases in Appeal Court, we still have cases in Supreme Court. And we also have cases in Anambra High Court pertaining to Anambra Central Senatorial election. So, whoever is claiming that all cases connected with the election have been concluded is not giving the correct position. It is false information that should be disregarded totally.
There is also a legal issue to that election that must not be ignored. Some lawyers are saying that the 1999 constitutional alteration says that in case there is vacancy at the National Assembly, that office shall be filled within 90 days. But the 2010 alteration went further to amend that section of the Constitution limiting it from 90 days to 30 days. They argued that legally, the Anambra Central Senatorial election is time barred to even do the election because the Constitution says it shall be filled within 30 days. Remember that the same constitutional alteration says that all litigations pertaining to National Assembly elections must end within 180 days. So, even when you still have so many witnesses to present in court, once it is 180 days, the court will cut off hearing in the matter and give its verdict one way or the other which may include that the matter is time barred. So, this election is time barred based on constitutional provisions. But some judges may either be unaware or not up to date with the alteration as they are still giving 90 days for elections to be conducted when the Constitution says 30 days.
Does that mean that the nullification of your election is still on the front burner?
The reason for the nullification of my election is laughable. There are two things I regret after the judgement was delivered – one is not allowing my people to protest very heavily – preventing them from expressing how hurt they felt with the nullification of the election, second is not putting up a petition against those judges. I don’t know why I listened to my lawyers because my case was a clear case of corruption and compromise in the judiciary; where a hard- earned victory was nullified with the flimsy excuse that I was not legitimately nominated by my party when in the past we have had judicial precedence where the Supreme Court decided in a plethora of cases that a member of another party cannot challenge the nomination of a candidate of another political party, that that person is just an interloper. We attached a lot of authorities to that effect. The Tribunal said it lacked jurisdiction to entertain it, they struck it out. The Appeal Court assumed jurisdiction in an area where it totally lacked jurisdiction and nullified a hard- earned victory. We had 720, 000 registered voters; I scored 97,000, Victor Umeh scored 83,000 and Chris Ngige scored 20,000. The three results altogether is less than 24 per cent of the total registered voters. Every Tom, Dick and Harry know that this election was credible, transparent, free and fair. If I was to rig, I would have gotten up to 600,000 or more. The day I was collecting the result, I was almost on wheelchair, because I worked very hard, I worked real hard for that election. You can imagine somebody they denied ticket for House of Representatives in APGA, she left the party and contested Senatorial seat against them. You can imagine the venom from the governor, the wife, the deputy governor with all the apparatus of state government fighting collectively to stop me because I was running an election against their National Chairman. I won the election clearly and squarely only for insensitive judges to nullify the election without blinking an eye, with the excuse that I was not legitimately nominated. They couldn’t see any other place to do their hatchet job, they delved into area they ought not to have done. Even a member of your party, who did not participate in your primaries lack jurisdiction to challenge such primary not to talk of somebody from another political party challenging the nomination. This is ridiculous.
That was why I asked in my radio programme recently why should the Chief Justice of Nigeria waste time in reviewing such glaring injustice? They should review the case. I am happy he said they’re reviewing and reforming the judiciary and that henceforth, they will be assessing judgements coming from the different courts on quarterly basis.
They have to look at that case and question these Judges because it goes beyond hitting your gavel and nullifying an election. How about the people that voted in that election? They murdered the sleep and happiness of thousands of people that voted in that election, denying them of quality representation of their choice.
I think that the Supreme Court should question the Judges that sat on my case about what happened in that case. How could they have nullified the election and on what excuse? On claims that I was not legitimately nominated as claimed by my opponent from another party, what concerned him about the internal affairs of another party? Someone who doubled as the Chairman of his party at the time of the election, he was the National Chairman of APGA and the candidate of APGA. Even a section of the Constitution of APGA says he must resign 30 days before he can contest any election, but he flouted that provision of their party Constitution as he contested the election without resigning his position.
We have all the certified true copies from INEC. Not only that he didn’t resign, he also signed the nomination forms of all candidates of his party including his own. The case challenging that anomaly is also in court. The ADC candidate is asking the court to disqualify Victor Umeh because he didn’t meet up with the provisions of the Electoral Act by not resigning to run election and by also signing the nomination forms of other candidates and his own. He gave himself the Senate ticket. The nullification of my election is still a big surprise to many concerned Nigerians as to how the judges had the mind to met out that kind of injustice to me. How are they sleeping? See what God is doing now – two years after, the election has not been held because God knows this is pure injustice. They meted a lot of injustice to me. They know what they did. Look at what the lawyers are saying that this is one judgement that no lawyer would cite as judicial precedence from the courts. Go and check all the publications of law reports, you will not find this ratio decidendi, it is a very bad decision. Nobody can quote it in the courts to support any case.
Even Nigeria legal system provides that all the lower courts are bound to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court, except where you have a distinguishing factor. In this case, what distinguishes this case from other judicial precedence? What distinguishes this case from several decisions of Supreme Court that you cannot challenge the party primary election of a political party you don’t belong to? That is a pre- election matter. All processes of nomination of candidates before the election are pre-election matter which go through High court and terminate at Supreme Court. In order to give Umeh his bidding, they masqueraded pre- election matter as post- election matter. Anything pertaining to party primaries and processes of nomination of party candidates are pre- election matters; such matters cannot be entertained in a post election Tribunal. The panel did it thinking they have done it and gotten away with it. God will judge them at the right time. I’m a woman and everyday I pray. I say to God, you will never allow this injustice to go unpunished. These judges would one day know you’re God. They have their own children too and they will present their cases before people. But I’m presenting this judgement before God. Even Victor Umeh knows that he lost. He can’t just talk, he has no authority to talk. He should be ashamed of himself that he can’t even talk because he knows he lost. Even if by any means he finds himself in the Senate, it is not his seat. God will not allow him to be in that Senate and be happy because it’s not his seat; he lost. He took my ticket for the House of Representatives, I left and ran Senate against him and won in a free, fair and credible election. He will not enter there. He will not smell that place because he knows he lost the election. He knows what transpired between him and those judges. He cannot come and swear that nothing happened between him and those judges. It’s very unfortunate that judges could see a very clear case and decide to mess with it; this is a clear case of election fraud. They defrauded me, the judges defrauded me of my mandate. It is judicial fraud that they committed. Judicial fraud, the judges committed judicial fraud by that judgement. How can I fight to get something and somebody takes it from me for just a plate of porridge? Victor Umeh cannot deny this, he has been a professional litigant all his life. He is an incurable litigant. He is always in court. But they have murdered their sleep, because this judgement, if it doesn’t expose them today, it will expose them tomorrow. This case would definitely put them in trouble one after the other; quote me, they deprived me of the mandate given me by my people and they cannot pretend this is a true judgement. It cannot be. If this judgement is a true reflection of their wisdom, years of exposure in their judicial calling and practice, then they should resign because it is not in conformity with reality and the law; i.e. it is not what it ought to be. In fact they should resign!
How did the election become time barred?
The case is time- barred. The time given by the Constitution for the election to be conducted has elapsed. First of all, the judges were in a hurry – they didn’t do proper research of the Constitution. When the Constitution changes, the judges should be able to upgrade their knowledge. They didn’t take cognizance of the provisional amendments of that Constitution in 2010 that gave only 30 days, that is why they are still giving 90 days in different courts. Meanwhile, it has been changed to 30 days. So, even the judgement was wrong ab initio.
It is the Constitution that made it time- barred not human beings. The Constitution is our grund norm and it is supreme. That is why the Constitution is one law that is binding on all of us. And any Act that is inconsistent with it is to the extent of that inconsistency null and void. Therefore, that pronouncement of the court is inferior to the Constitution and by the prescription of that same Constitution, it is null and void.
You have this quantum of information and evidence, what happened at the Supreme Court?
I went to Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that there is hierarchy of courts, that judgements that have to do with National Assembly elections whether erroneously delivered or compromised as in my own case ends at the Appeal Court.
Are you considering petitioning the Chief Justice for a review of the case?
I will like to. I have told my lawyers that I will write him to look at my case. The panel of judges must be questioned. You can’t just do this and get away. If they say this is a true reflection of the case according to their years of experience in their professional calling and practice, may God give them the same justice they gave me.
What is the implication of this case on Anambra Central Senatorial District?
The implication is that we’re in court and they know who they have voted for. The people are saying instead of Victor Umeh, they don’t even want a representative. Victor Umeh’s ambition cannot be bigger than the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It cannot be. He lost, he can’t talk. How can he talk now? He knows I defeated him. He can’t talk, I defeated him. There was a State Assembly election after that and my candidate won. I share the same State Constituency with Victor Umeh and I floored him. My candidate was there and I came out fully for that election. PDP won three State Assembly constituencies and out of those three, two were mine. So, why didn’t he win that one? He lost the election, he knows he lost. He’s claiming what does not belong to him.
The meaning is that the anger over the nullification is still palpable in you?
It is so because they robbed me! This is a clear case of judicial robbery! Let it be on record that Senator Ekwunife said the judiciary robbed her of her mandate. This is a clear case of robbery. They robbed me. This is judicial fraud they committed. They robbed me! How can you? You (the reporter) are conversant with the happenings in politics. You know that another candidate from another party cannot challenge nomination of another person, but they upheld that, how? You’re not even talking of Taraba and other states. Before our case, there were thousands of laid down precedents, judgements of the courts, authorities cited, how come they didn’t look at them? They have murdered their happiness and their sleep and those will elude them. How can I be happy? Do you know the economic loss, the psychological and physical stress, the trauma…everything. You know even those that invested in the election? It was a very tough election. I spent everything in the election. For someone to just come and rob me of my victory and go – God will not support that. And Victor knows he lost. He can’t claim he won. But unfortunately for him, he can’t be a Senator. He would not enter there. And they now said that I would not participate to pave way for him. Can you imagine that kind of thing? Go to the Constitution and see provision for the disqualification of a candidate; it’s either by fraud or by certificate forgery. How can you disqualify and say a candidate will not run election because the party did not do a good primary? Have you heard that kind of judgement before in your life? How?
This was a judgement that was delivered within one minute and judges ran out of the court because they knew what they did and the reasons were reserved to a later date. In the body of the judgement, they said the primaries were not properly done, that I wasn’t legitimately nominated. But in the Enrolled Order which actually states the main orders as handed down by the court, nobody was barred from contesting the election. The contents of that Enrolled Order are – the election is nullified, fresh election should be conducted within 90 days. The appellant should pay N50,000 cost. There was no mention of disqualification or barring of anybody in the order. Is stopping somebody from running election too small not to be contained in an Order of this nature? It is fundamental, so where is this issue of disqualification coming from? They are indeed mischief makers.
Truth is always constant. Even my enemies in Anambra would tell you that I defeated Victor Umeh, even his supporters would tell you that I won. Why should he even have the moral ground to say he wants to be a Senator? He lost. In a free and fair contest, he lost big time. And unfortunately for him, he can’t be a Senator. God does not sleep.