Former National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh, who secured a major victory at the Supreme Court, recently, talks on the import of the pronouncement on the conduct of Anambra Central District rerun election, where he is the candidate of his party. He also speaks on the antics of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to frustrate the election as ordered by the Appeal Court and why the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should not give in to the agenda.
How would you react to the Supreme Court judgement on the conduct of Anambra Central senatorial rerun election?
You are aware that Anambra Central Senatorial District remains the only one out of 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria that has no senator representing it in the National Assembly. It is very unfortunate because the people of this senatorial district have been denied representation in the National Assembly in all the businesses of the National Assembly that impact on the lives of citizens of this country, including the opportunity to obtain for that senatorial district, deserved attention in all senatorial matters.
The National Assembly, which the senate is part of, makes laws and appropriation for all aspects of development.
Our case ought not to have lingered up till this point but for the clear attempts by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to do everything to manipulate the process and frustrate the rerun election ordered by the Court of Appeal on December 7, 2015 from taking place for the simple reason that their party is out of the race in that senatorial district.
The Court of Appeal, which is the final Court vested with the authority and jurisdiction to decide on all matters relating to National Assembly matters had nullified the election and ordered a fresh election. The PDP, instead of accepting their fate that they would no longer participate in the election, as their candidate had been disqualified by the decision of the Court of Appeal, decided to use frivolous actions to frustrate that rerun election from taking place according to law.
But on February 10, 2017, the Supreme Court in a unanimous judgement affirmed that decision of the Court of Appeal was final in all aspects over the dispute relating to that Anambra Central Senatorial rerun election.
The candidate of the PDP in that election had to take an adventure to the Supreme Court to get the judgement of the Court of Appeal set aside when the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to stop the thing. But on that date, the Supreme Court affirmed the final decision of the Appeal Court on the matter.
That being the case, the order made by the Court of Appeal on December 7, 2015 and the decisions arrived at by the Court of Appeal in the matter, remained final. No Court below the Court of Appeal can do anything to frustrate that order made by the Court of Appeal.
In other words, in the words of one of the Justices of the Supreme Court “the order made by the Court of Appeal on the matter remains final, forever; it cannot be revisited by anybody”.
PDP, having lost out completely in this matter has resorted to filing frivolous actions at the High Court to frustrate the order made by the Court of Appeal which was affirmed by the Supreme Court. What they are now posturing in the press is that they have several litigations pending in the High Court which must be respected by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), before conducting the rerun election.
That is against the process of law because a High Court cannot come to any decision that will be contrary to the decision handed down by a superior court. There are two superior courts in this instance; the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Anything PDP is doing at any High Court, be it Magistrate, Customary Court, High Court of a State and Federal High Court in any Division that will affect the decision of the court of appeal and the Supreme Court, will be an affront. So, INEC, which was a party in all the proceedings both at the Tribunal, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, is very much aware that the matter has come to a final rest.
INEC now has every authority under law to conduct that rerun election without the candidate of the PDP. The Supreme Court had since 2009 delivered a judgement in a case cited as Labour Party vs INEC on the fate of any fresh or rerun election that will be ordered by either the Tribunal or the Court of Appeal or even the Supreme Court in the case of presidential election. Where an election is nullified, a rerun or fresh election that will be ordered by the court that nullified the election will now be between the parties and candidates that participated in the general election that was nullified by the court. It does not admit any new candidate by way of withdrawal and substitution or by any means.
The argument by PDP chieftains is that the 90 days originally granted by the Court of Appeal for a rerun election had elapsed and what they are asking for now is fresh election. What is your take on that?
PDP clearly is standing the law on the head. They know the truth but they are just trying all they can to continually delay the election. There is nothing like that. The general election took place on March 28, 2015. This outstanding election is an offshoot of that election which was nullified by the Court of Appeal. It is not a general election. The word ‘fresh’ has been clearly defined by the Supreme Court in its judgement of February 13, 2009 that whatever you call it, whether you call it fresh, rerun, restart election, they are all the same. It is a question of semantics. They are elections that will be conducted pursuant to the nullification of a general election. So, it is not a bye-election. It is not a general election. Fresh election, rerun election or restart election remains the same. It is an election ordered by the court pursuant to the nullification of a general election that had taken place. PDP knows this very well.
INEC is not going to conduct a general election, but a rerun election pursuant to the order of the judgement of the Court of Appeal which has nullified the general election which was conducted on March, 28, 2015.
You accused PDP of doing all it can to prevent the senatorial election from holding. Why do you think so?
It amazes me too but I believe they are engaged in these antics so that Anambra Central will not have a senator until 2019. That is their plan. But with God on our side, that will never be. Their plans will never work. Our people are very anxious about this development and we are happy with the judgement of the Supreme Court which has given INEC the nod to proceed with the election without delay. This has cleared the way for eligible candidates to go into the rerun election.
I must commend INEC for standing its ground that PDP cannot participate in the rerun election. The Commission has been vindicated by the judgement of the Supreme Court. I want to appeal to INEC not to succumb to the latest antics being employed by the PDP even after the judgement.
Our people are very worried about these efforts by PDP to prevent rerun election taking place because they (PDP) are no longer going to be part of it.
If you recall, INEC had prepared for this rerun election for March 5, 2016. They had recruited ad-hoc staff, trained them, prepared all the materials, including ballot papers for that election to take place only for the Federal High Court to make an order four days to the rescheduled rerun election that PDP should be included.
Under such circumstance, INEC could not have printed new ballot papers. Even INEC officials were embarrassed that a Judge could prevent APC from fielding candidates in Kogi East and Kogi Central senatorial zones, and turn around to order INEC to include PDP with a fresh candidate in rerun election in Anambra Central senatorial zone.
Today in the National Assembly, PDP occupies Kogi Central and Kogi East seats in the Senate as a result of the judgement that disqualified APC as that of Anambra Central.
In the same vein, the seats of Okene/Ogori/Magongo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Ankpa 1 and Ofu State Constituencies in Kogi Assembly, all now belong to the PDP due to the same judgement of the Court of Appeal that stopped APC from taking part in the reruns.
This does not only apply to Kogi state because a PDP member now represents Akko Federal Constituency of Gombe State in the House of Representatives because the APC candidate that initially won the seat had his election annulled and was equally barred from participating in the rerun poll.
These are indications that PDP is indeed the greatest beneficiary of such judgements of the Appeal Court where elections were cancelled and the original winners barred from participating in the reruns ordered.
So it beats me why the same PDP will insist it must be part of the rerun in Anambra Central against the Appeal Court verdict, using all sorts of tricks to frustrate the conduct of the exercise. Why do they want the case of Anambra Central to be treated differently? These are the challenges we face in Nigeria but we believe that in the end, the right thing will be done.
Our prayer is that time should not be allowed to fritter away before this election will be conducted. INEC should exercise its rights, based on the verdict of the Supreme Court and proceed with the election without further delay. The Supreme Court judgement has cleared the way in taking a decisive action to prevent the unnecessary delay that has denied the entire people of Anambra Central the right to have representation in the Senate.
I believe that whatever God has said will happen, no matter how anybody tries to delay it. God has decided through His own action that Anambra Central senatorial district must have a senator who will be their choice, and I do not need to start telling you who their choice is. Just by looking at people behind me, it is saying, I am the choice.
While the case was ongoing, were you sure you would emerge victorious?
Many people have always referred to me as a man of the courts because this is the third time I went to the Supreme Court and won. I have never resorted to violence throughout my political life. I was in this Supreme Court on March 25, 2011 when I defeated Chekwas Okorie. On January 15, last year, I was there. I won. I defeated Maxi Okwu. I have triumphed again. I don’t know how many people who have travelled to the Supreme Court three times and won all.
I always make sure I adhere to the law, the provisions of the constitution and judicial precedents in pursuing my defence. From day one, it was clear that this appeal was brought in total disobedience to the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. And the constitution you know is the grand norm. That is the supreme document. If there is a clear provision in the constitution, there is no way you can circumvent it in pursuit of your personal interest or ambition. I once said the only way the appeal will succeed is if the constitution is amended. And if it is amended today, it will not take a retroactive effect. So, it is obvious to us that what they are trying to do is nothing other than what the Supreme Court described to be flagrant disobedience to the Constitution of Nigeria.
So what is your message to the people of Anambra Central?
I understand the pains and frustration of the people of Anambra Central. They are the only senatorial district in the whole country without an elected representative. But as painful as it is, let our people be patient. Now that the clog in the wheel of our progress has been removed, I believe that very soon, the election will be conducted.
I am also calling on well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on INEC to do the right by conducting the election. We have just two more years to the end of the current dispensation and the term cannot be extended beyond 2019.