By UCHEM OBI
The battle for Anambra North’s Senate seat has gone into the final lap of what promises to be a flourishing end. The Supreme Court had recently fixed May 31, 2013 to deliver judgment on the appeal brought by Senator Alphonsus Igbeke, challenging the declaration of Senator Margery Okadigbo as the rightful person to occupy the Anambra North senatorial seat. People of the zone are hoping that the judgment of the apex court would reflect the franchise they exercised on April 16, 2011.
Senator Igbeke is asking the court to declare him the winner of the election. If the court grants his prayers, it will be nunc dimitis for Senator Okadigbo.
The origin of this appeal is significant to the understanding of how very important justice is in this matter. The appeal emanated from Senator Igbeke’s dissatisfaction with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which declared Okadigbo the lawful nominee of the Peoples Democratic Party primaries held on January 8, 2011. This is in defiance of an existing court declaration, which had since 2011, decided who should be the candidate of the PDP in the said election. On March 17, 2011, a High Court declared Igbeke the authentic candidate of the PDP for Anambra North Senatorial District upon which he campaigned and stood for the general election and won. Thereafter, a sealed Certificate of Return was signed and issued to him by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation.
It must be noted that the only way anybody can participate in any general election is by being the candidate of a political party. At the date of the said election, neither Mrs. Okadigbo nor John Emeka participated in the election because of the subsisting judgment of the Federal High Court that forbade them to participate. Let it be noted too that the sealed Certificate of Return issued to Senator Igbeke has not been nullified or withdrawn by any Election Petition Tribunal or Appeal.
This is even as the supposed nomination of Mrs. Okadigbo has turned into a farce as her 183 pages of affidavits in support of her “Nomination” have been proved to be mere forgeries. The Commissioner for Oaths has since declared that his signature and stamp on the affidavits were forged because the affidavits were not assessed for payment and were consequently not paid for. It is known to be trite procedure, that without assessment and payment, the Commissioner for Oaths cannot and will not administer oaths.
Many are following this matter with keen interest because it is widely believed that justice will restore the franchise of many from the zone, who presently feel disenfranchised because as they put it, the person they voted for is yet to resume at the Senate.
The closing arguments of counsels for both parties are quite instructive and calls for analysis, at least for the enrichment of jurisprudence. On Thursday, March 7, 2013, the fateful day that the apex court fixed judgment for May 31, 2013, counsel for Senator Igbeke, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) urged the court to hold that his client was the valid candidate of the PDP in the said primary election.
Counsel to Senator Okadigbo, Yusuf Ali (SAN) in opposing the appeal, argued that the apex court lacked jurisdiction in the matter because, according to the learned counsel, it would amount to the apex court reversing itself if it gave verdict contrary to its earlier judgment of July 6, 2012, where in Prince John Emeka Vs Lady Margery Okadigbo & Ors, the apex court declared Okadigbo as the proper candidate and senator-elect for the Anambra North Senatorial election of April 16, 2011.
Learned counsel for Senator Okadigbo may be understood to be saying that Senator Igbeke’s appeal is res judicata – meaning that Igbeke’s appeal is a matter already judged and its claim should be precluded.
According to Olanipekun SAN, this argument cannot stand on broken legs, and in the face of existing circumstances, it is doubtful if it can suffice to preclude Igbeke’s appeal. It must be pointed out that the matter before the apex court for judgment on July, 6, 2012 was between John Emeka and Margery Okadigbo and interestingly, Igbeke was not a party in the matter. As a matter of fact, before the judgment of July 6, 2012, Igbeke had competently filed his own appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which declared Okadigbo winner of the PDP primaries of January 8, 2011. It becomes necessary to recall here that Igbeke’s appeal came up at the apex court on July 5, 2012, a day before the said judgment was delivered. However, the apex court was in grievous error in the said judgment when it said that Senator Igbeke did not file any appeal before it.
It will serve the cause of justice and also be on the side of law if Igbeke’s appeal is heard on its own merit because it is not and cannot be the same with Prince John Emeka’s appeal as to warrant the axe of res judicata. This is a mere ploy to waste the time of the court and delay justice.
Igbeke is asking the apex court to declare him winner of the election in the senatorial zone because he contested and won it as acknowledged by the Chairman of the Electoral Panel of the NWC in the person of Senator Waku on January 5, 2011 and thereof, the law allows him to challenge the candidacy of Mrs. Okadigbo.
And it is this law that the learned Justices of the Supreme Court are working tirelessly everyday to make sure that it does not die. The judiciary in Nigeria as led by the apex court has transformed immensely and no longer does it supervise unholy sacrifices on the broken altars of corruption. This case is indeed another legal mirror through which the beauty and radiance of our transformed judiciary will once more be appreciated.
•Obi Esq writes from Abuja