Less than 24 hours to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) deadline for the closure of substitution of candidates in the Anambra State governorship scheduled for February 6, next year, former Central Bank of Nigeria governor Professor Chukwuma Soludo and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were still uncertain about their fate in the upcoming election.
Section 34 and 36(2) of the Electoral Act 2006 provides for a maximum of 60 days before the election date for the substitution of candidates after nomination for any election. That deadline expires today.
On Friday, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja ordered Professor Soludo to stop parading himself as the standard-bearer of the PDP in the governorship election. Justice Mary Odili, who led three other justices of the court, also ordered the parties to maintain the status quo ante bellum and at the same time ordered INEC not to recognise Soludo as PDP’s flag bearer in the election.
No sooner had the court issued the order than Soludo filed an appeal at the Supreme Court. It was far from certain that he will succeed in getting the apex court to quash the Appeal Court’s restraining order in time to beat today’s deadline for his participation in the polls.
In the event that the order is not set aside and the PDP fails to substitute Professor Soludo, the party will as well go to the polls without a candidate like it did in Imo State in 2007.
INEC has already said it will not recognise Soludo because of the court injunction. The Anambra State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Chief Rowland Uwa said at the weekend that the commission will respect the court’s order.
“I want to confirm that there is a court order against Soludo and we will comply strictly with it. You know the name of our chairman is Iwu (Law) and we must obey the law,” Uwa said in Awka.
Also reacting, a senior management official at INEC headquarters in Abuja, who sought anonymity said that the commission is aware of the importance of the Anambra election and would not do anything that would undermine its efforts at consolidating democracy and the coming general election in 2011.
“You (referring to our reporter) know that the commission has not been disobeying court orders that have been duly served to the commission. We are law abiding and there is no reason why we should disobey this one (order against Soludo),” the official said.
When contacted on the seeming dilemma of the PDP in view of the deadline, its National Publicity Secretary Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali said the party was shocked by the decision of the Appeal Court in the circumstances and will give an official response soon.
“Given the facts and circumstances available, the PDP is shocked that the learned trial judge gave an injunction to that effect and we will issue a statement at the appropriate time,” Alkali told Daily Trust on telephone yesterday.
However, campaign manager of the Soludo Campaign Organisation Chief Agunwa Anakwe, who spoke to our correspondent in Awka yesterday, said the PDP will not halt its campaign because the court order in question did not stop the party from campaigning.
“The court order did not say PDP should not campaign for the election. It only mentioned Soludo, therefore the PDP will continue its campaign for the election not minding who its candidate is,” Anakwe, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said.
The appellants who included Valentine Ozoigbo, Nkoli Imo and Ferdinand Okoye, had earlier alleged before an Abuja High Court that PDP had violated the rules of the party and the electoral law in choosing Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as candidate, but they lost.
However, they went to the court of appeal, praying it to set aside the ruling of the lower court. In her ruling on whether or not to grant the appellants an interim injunction, Justice Odili said, “We are not unaware of the essence of time in this appeal.” The court therefore fixed December 14 for the People’s Democratic Party to respond to the pending motion so that the matter would progress.
Counsel to the PDP, Chief Olusola Oke, who is also the party’s National Legal Adviser, had earlier told the court to discountenance the oral application of the appellants since he was not served, saying “I am yet to see even the page one of the motion.”
Oke had prayed the court to adjourn the matter to enable them to have the motion and respond accordingly. Besides, he prayed the court to refuse the oral application of the appellants also on the grounds that they failed to place any material evidence before the court to support their prayers.