Art and Culture

Will Umahi’s Victory Be Ephemeral?

todayAugust 7, 2022

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Alex Enumah writes that the victory of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State in the third senatorial primary organised by the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress may be in contravention of the Electoral Act, 2022, which bars politicians from obtaining more than one nomination form

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, stirred the hornet’s nest last Sunday when news broke that he won the rerun of the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary for Ebonyi South Senatorial District, after defeating his younger brother, Austin Umahi and three other contestants.

 The leader of APC’s national committee for the primary, Emmanuel Adebayo, declared the governor winner at the end of the exercise held at the Afikpo North Local Government Council headquarters. He announced that the governor won the contest with 250 votes while his younger brother, Austin polled 10 votes.

“Mrs Elizabeth Chukwu polled five votes; Mrs. Magaret Ibiam got three votes, while Mrs. Ann Agom-Eze scored zero votes. A total number of votes cast were 275; total valid votes were 268, while invalid votes were seven,’’ he announced.

Umahi, in his acceptance speech, commended the committee for conducting a peaceful and credible primary election, noting that transparency and credibility are APC’s watchwords.

 “APC is rooted in Ebonyi and will surely sweep the electoral stakes at the 2023 general election,’’ the governor reportedly explained.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) monitored the rerun primary after it refused to recognise the governor as the winner in the previous primary.

 At the May 28, 2022 primary conducted in the state and monitored by the electoral commission, the governor’s younger brother, Austin was declared the winner. When the first primary was held, the governor was still seeking to be the APC’s presidential candidate. After losing the APC presidential ticket, the state chapter of the APC cancelled the earlier primary and rescheduled another one held at the Afikpo North Local Government Council, where the governor reportedly won unopposed.

This prompted Agom-Eze to fault Austin’s withdrawal from the race. She also argued that if Austin decided to withdraw from the race, the APC ticket for Ebonyi South Senatorial District should have been given to her who came second in the primary.

In the face of the controversy that followed similar cases involving the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, who are embroiled in a tussle for the tickets in their respective states, and whom INEC has refused to publish their names as part of the senatorial candidates in their states, Governor Umahi filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abakaliki against the electoral body, seeking to be declared the candidate of the party for the senatorial zone. Agom-Eze filed a joint application to join the suit.

But Governor Umahi’s counsel, Roy Umahi, asked the court to compel the commission to recognise the governor as the authentic candidate for Ebonyi South Senatorial District. He argued that the governor should be recognised as the senatorial candidate by INEC after the initial winner had withdrawn and another primary conducted.

In his reaction, the counsel to Agom-Eze, Nwonu Nnaemeka, said upon the withdrawal of Austin from the primary election, her client should have claimed all her rights as regards the exercise, being the second runner-up.

 In his judgment, Justice Fatun Riman struck out the suit. He held that the APC erred in conducting another primary without including the name of the runner-up in the first primary after the winner of the first primary withdrew from the race. Even though Justice Riman ruled that INEC was right in rejecting the governor’s name as candidate of the party, he held that APC cannot conduct a valid second primary without including the name of Agom-Eze who came second in the first primary. He further urged the party to conduct another primary election within 14 days.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, Agom-Eze proceeded to the Court of Appeal where her appeal was pending. She also filed an application praying the court to stay the execution of part of the judgment of the lower court relating to the conduct of a fresh senatorial primary election pending the hearing and determination of the appeal.

According to court processes filed by her lawyers, Agom-Eze raised four grounds of appeal against the lower court’s ruling even as she asked the court for 12 reliefs. The senatorial aspirant in her submission disagreed with the lower court wherein it ordered that fresh contestants/aspirants are allowed to participate or take part in the fresh primary election ordered by the court to take place within 14 days.

 Last Sunday when a fresh primary was held, Agom-Eze, in a statement, said she stayed away because there was an appeal and stay of execution on the matter. This was as she said she could not be part of a premeditated exercise, which she noted, would be marred with irregularities.

  “Waking up this morning, I was going through my messages and I stumbled on where someone was talking about primaries at Afikpo. I am not going to be part of it because the authentic Ebonyi South Senatorial primaries happened on May 28, 2022, and it is still subsisting.

 “This is because the judgment delivered at the Federal High court Abakaliki on July 22, 2022, was not totally in our favour and we had to appeal the part of the judgment that allowed for fresh primaries to accommodate strangers to the process since July 26, 2022. We also filed a motion for stay of execution and injunction pending appeal.

 “All the relevant bodies were served: INEC, our party, APC and the first plaintiff since July 27 and 28, 2022. Until the determination of the appeal, I believe there should be no other primary as the matter is subjudice and the rule is that all the parties must stay actions on the matter. We also wrote letters to INEC and our great party urging them to observe the rules pending the determination of the appeal.

 “I’m looking forward to the judgment of the Court of Appeal as a law-abiding citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I am confident that the court will do justice,” she argued.

While Umahi has not seen anything wrong with his victory since it was a competent court that ordered the APC to conduct another primary election within 14 days, the judgment delivered by Justice Riman has however come under scrutiny with some analysts questioning why the judge failed to recognise and declare Agom-Eze as the candidate of APC since her second-highest number of valid votes cast in the first primary was still subsisting following the withdrawal of Austin Umahi from the race.

They further faulted the judge for wrongly applying Section 33 of the Electoral Act 2022 by ordering a fresh primary election for Ebonyi South Senatorial District within 14 days knowing full well that when the winner in a primary election dies, withdraws or resigns, it is the person with the second highest votes that takes over.

 “The trial court found in favour of the appellant that she is the only standing aspirant of the second respondent for Ebonyi South Senatorial District but proceeded to order for fresh primary election for the position which shall admit other persons who were not aspirants/contestants as at the date of the judgment and same occasioned a miscarriage of justice,” one of the analysts who wishes to remain anonymous said.

 The analysts did not disagree with the judge for ordering that fresh contestants/aspirants be allowed to participate or take part in the fresh primary. They also argued that the lower court was wrong to order the APC to admit Governor Umahi and other fresh contestants/aspirants who did not participate in the first primaries held on May 28, 2022, especially when the time allowed for the nomination of candidates under the Electoral Act, 2022 had elapsed.

 “The period for primaries/nomination of fresh candidates has since elapsed under the Electoral Act, 2022 while the second respondent already has a standing candidate for the Ebonyi South Senatorial District in the person of the appellant.

“The second and third respondents (APC and INEC) need not conduct or monitor any fresh primaries which shall admit other aspirant/contestants but ought to affirm, ratify or recognise the appellant as the candidate of the second respondent for Ebonyi South Senatorial District in the 2023 general election,” one of the analysts said.

 While observers are hoping that it is only superior courts like the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court that can lay this issue to rest permanently, they are also wondering if Umahi’s victory and his desperation are not already in contravention of Section 115 of the Electoral Act, 2022 which bars politicians from obtaining more than one nomination form in a single election.

After all, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, had earlier said that politicians who procured multiple forms had contravened Section 115 (D) and subsection 3 of the Act, stressing that upon conviction, such politicians are liable to two years of imprisonment.

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