By Ifeanyi Maduako
On January 13, this year, the Supreme Court of Nigeria disqualified the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Imo West Senatorial District (Orlu Zone), Rt. Hon (Sir) Jones Chukwudi Onyereri as a candidate among all the qualified candidates for the Senatorial race.
The apex court premised its judgment on the grounds that the primary election that produced Rt. Hon Jones Onyereri as the candidate was conducted outside the senatorial district in seeming contravention of Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act.
It’s instructive to point out at this juncture that both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal had earlier upheld the nomination of Onyereri as the candidate of the PDP. The appellants in the matter were Chief ThankGod Ezeani and Chief Jerry Alagbaoso who separately sued the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were they appeared as defendants in the Federal High Court and respondents at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
It’s pertinent for this writer to emphasize that I do not bear grudges or fault the judgment of the respected learned justices of the apex court. They interpreted that Section 87 (9) on point of law according to their own knowledge and interpretation of the law. They are human beings and are therefore fallible just like every other human being. They are bound to make mistakes which I presumably think that they have made in the extant case involving the candidacy of Rt. Hon Jones Onyereri. The appellants didn’t contest the clear victory of Rt. Hon Onyereri. They didn’t question the legality or validity of his victory at the primary election. The only ground of the nullification by the apex court was the issue of venue being conducted in Owerri, the state capital.
The Supreme Court learned Justices need to take a second look at that judgment with a view to correcting the apparent injustice meted to Rt. Hon Onyereri who’s the validly nominated candidate of the PDP. My investigation shows that all the aspirants had a consensus or mutual agreement to shift the venue of the primary to Owerri due to the prevalent insecurity challenges currently bedeviling the Orlu Zone. I also learnt that INEC, which is constitutionally mandated to monitor primary elections, also agreed with all the aspirants to shift the venue of the primary election to Owerri.
Both the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the 2022 Electoral Act (as amended) empower INEC to reschedule, shift the venue of any election or cancel it entirely as a result of insecurity in order to preserve life and property. Did the learned Justices of the Supreme Court mean that the election should have been held in Orlu whether lives would have been lost or not? Can any court in the land compel election to be held in any part of Nigeria where there’s a debilitating or acute insecurity including the Sambisa Forest which is part of an Electoral Ward in Borno State?
As I said earlier, the learned Justices of the apex court might have given the judgment based on the limited information available to them about the serious insecurity challenges in Orlu zone where recently, a local council chairman was beheaded. The learned Justices have a need to reverse the judgment of January 13, which disqualified Onyereri because it may have a concomitant or ripple effect on the validity of other PDP candidates from Orlu Zone.
The zone has one senatorial, four House of Representatives and 12 House of Assembly candidates. The majority of these candidates were also elected in Owerri due to the same insecurity reason. It bears pointing out that the issue of qualification is both a pre-election and post-election matter. This means that the fate of the other PDP candidates in the zone in Imo State and even the entire country will be in jeopardy after the election even if they win the general election. If the disqualification of Onyereri is allowed to stand, it will set a judicial precedent or authority which will be used by the candidates of other political parties across Nigeria once the general election is over.
It’s not only in the Orlu zone or in Imo State where primaries were conducted outside the senatorial, House of Representatives or House of Assembly jurisdictions due to insecurity. It happened all over the country.
This judgment about Section 87 (9) will trigger a rash of litigation by all political parties, especially those that lost the main election across the land of Nigeria against winners whose primary elections were conducted outside their territorial jurisdictions. The apex court needs to give an expeditious review of this judgment because the general election is about two weeks away and the wrongly disqualified candidate (Onyereri) needs to campaign within the limited short time left for electioneering. History is replete with instances where the Supreme Court reversed a few of its judgment and this case that involves Onyereri’s disqualification should be one of them.
• Maduako writes from Owerri, Imo State.