Emeka Osondu –Anambra: The Battle Next Time
Anambra State is expected to hold another governorship poll next year, but with a combination of hurdles in the way of the poll, it seems those preparing for the 2010 elections will just have to hope for the best. However, the gladiators have continued to warm up for the next battle on who controls this crucial South-eastern state.
Anambra State has come to be a peculiar state in Nigeria with a different governorship election timetable. This is as a result of a landmark judgment in 2007 by the Supreme Court at the instance of the then illegally impeached governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi.
While other states have their governorship elections slated for 2011, that of Anambra is expected to hold next year and the winner inaugurated on March 17, 2010, when the tenure of the incumbent governor will come to an end.
But the question is, will this date with history hold in Anambra State following a contention by one of the gladiators in the 2007 governorship race, Dr. Andy Uba of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Uba, who was declared winner of the governorship election in 2007 and issued a Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), assumed the position of governor of the state on May 29, 2007, following his swearing in by the state Chief Judge, Justice Nri-Ezedi Umegbolu.
However, a judgment by the Supreme Court on a tenure interpretation suit filed by Obi nullified Uba’s election about two weeks after his inauguration.
The Supreme Court justices, in the judgment, said there was no vacancy in the governorship seat of Anambra State to warrant an election as the incumbent was still within his tenure.
In the suit against INEC, first filed at the Federal High Court, Enugu, Obi had sought a declaration that by the provisions of Section 180 (2) (a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, his four-year tenure of office commenced from the date he was sworn in as the Governor of Anambra State – March 17, 2006 – and that election into that office, which INEC had scheduled for April 14, 2007, was unjustifiable for the simple reason that the office of Anambra State Governor would not be vacant on April 14, 2007.
On March 30, 2007, the Federal High Court, Enugu Division, dismissed Obi’s case after declining jurisdiction to adjudicate in the matter, saying it was an election issue, which the election tribunals had exclusive powers of adjudication.
Obi appealed the judgement, and on May 22, 2007, the Court of Appeal (Enugu Division) struck out his appeal. He proceeded to the Supreme Court.
By the time the case got to the Supreme Court, other parties had applied and were joined as defendants, so that INEC, All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu, PDP, Uba, Peoples Mandate Party (PMP), and Arthur Obiefuna Nwandu were now first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh defendants/respondents, respectively.
On June 14, 2007, in a unanimous judgement read by Aloysius Iyorgyer Katsina-Alu, the Supreme Court decided, “As at 14th April 2007 when the 1st respondent (INEC) was conducting gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the seat of the Governor of that State was not vacant. That election was a wasteful and unnecessary exercise. The 1st respondent was aware at that time that the appellant was in court pursuing his legal rights.
“A body that has respect for rule of law, which INEC ought to be, would have waited for the outcome of the court proceedings; particularly when it was aware of it.”
Katsina-Alu, then, declared, “I set aside the judgments of the two courts below. In their place, I make the following declarations and orders which the justice of this case demands; they are:-
“That the office of Governor of Anambra State was not vacant as at 29th May, 2007.
“That the tenure of office of the appellant (Peter Obi) as Governor of Anambra State, which is for four years, certain will not expire until 17th March, 2010 for the reason of the fact that he, being a person first elected as Governor under the 1999 Constitution, took Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office on the 17th March 2006.
“It is hereby ordered that the 5th Respondent (Dr. Andy Uba) should vacate the office of the Governor of Anambra State with immediate effect to enable the plaintiff/appellant (Mr. Peter Obi) to exhaust his term of office.”
Soon after that ruling, Uba returned to argue: that the Supreme Court’s orders made against him were without jurisdiction and ought to be set aside; that the panel of seven-man Justices, which adjudicated his case at the Supreme Court, was “improperly constituted,” principally, because it included Justice Pius Olayiwola Aderemi, whom, Uba claims, was biased against him because the judge was previously an appeals court judge who had sat on the Enugu State Election Tribunal in the previous Obi versus Chris Ngige election court case, which had upheld Obi’s election. Uba alleged that Aderemi, therefore, “had foreknowledge of the facts of the appellant, Obi’s case, which did not guarantee a fair hearing and thereby occasioned a miscarriage of justice.”
He argued also that the procedure and rule of interpretation adopted by the Supreme Court in the construction of the appellant’s appeal was such that deprived the court’s judgment of the character of a legitimate adjudication.
Uba asked the apex court to reverse itself. But the court promptly dismissed his case.
Recently, however, Uba has returned to the Supreme Court, praying it to declare him legitimately elected governor of the state following a judgment of the Court of Appeal which declared that there was an election on April 14, 2007 whereby he emerged victorious.
Uba is not only confident that he won an election and should be rightly sworn-in at the end of Obi’s tenure without resort to a governorship election in the state, he has also tried to popularise the idea that he is a governor-in-waiting among PDP members and his supporters in the state. Currently, a common slogan in the state is, “Dr. Andy Uba is a Governor-in-waiting.”
However, section 178(2) of the Constitution States that “an election to the office of Governor of a State shall be held on a date not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of that office.”
The implication of this constitutional provision is that it as ruled by the Supreme Court, Obi’s tenure will expire on March 17, 2010, then the election to fill the vacancy that will occur as a result of the expiration of that tenure cannot hold before January 17, 2010 or later than February 17, 2010. The election held in 2007, almost three years before the expiration of Obi’s tenure in which Uba emerged may not satisfy the constitutional requirement stated above.
How true this assertion is a matter for determination by the Supreme Court where judgement on Uba’s suit is being awaited.
Much as those interviewed over the matter gave varying opinions, the implications of Uba’s suit is not lost on the people, especially, the political class, who now apply caution and appear to drag-foot in their preparations for the anticipated governorship election in 2010.
Former Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Onitsha branch, and civil rights activist, Mr. Chuka Obele-Chuka, dismisses Uba as a spent force in his quest for the Supreme Court validation of his ascent to power after Obi’s tenure, insisting that he (Uba) has no case and would fail in the pursuit.
“He has expired. We all know that there was no election in the state in 2007. Can you give one reason why there should not be an election in the state in 2010? In fact, somebody ought to be going to jail for doing that election.
“The Supreme Court will throw out the suit. The implication of the Supreme Court judgment on Obi’s tenure interpretation is obvious, so why is somebody going back to the same Supreme Court to insult the same Supreme Court. “We never voted in 2007. It was the greatest insult on our sensibilities,” Obele-Chuka stresses.
But Mr. Uchem Obi, also a lawyer, and civil rights activist, differs from Obele-Chuka and maintains that Uba has a case. According to Uchem, what will happen in Anambra State in 2010 is beyond the ordinary constitutional powers of INEC, as the constitution would be subjected to interpretation. He says the matter calls for caution, as there may not be election in the state next year.
In the words of Uchem, “The fate of Anambra State in 2010 would not be decided either by INEC or the hordes of politicians waiting to flag off their guber campaigns. The fate of the state would be decided by court declaration, and that declaration, I suspect, would be in Uba’s favour.
“The reason for this is simple and straight forward and cannot be over-ridden by mere political activities. Dr. Andy Uba is in possession of an authentic certificate of return duly issued to him by INEC in 2007. And the implication of the certificate of return must not be lost to anybody.
“It simply means that in the guber national election held in the state in April 2007, that Dr. Andy Uba won that election and was duly declared as the winner of that election.
“INEC did not withdraw the Certificate of Return and did not have any reason to do so. It conducted a guber election in its capacity as a commission empowered by law to conduct such election. And also, invoking the powers conferred on it by law, it announced the result of the election and declared that Uba is the winner of that election and consequently issued him the certificate of return, which was and still is a valid claim to the governor’s seat in Anambra State.”
Uchem continues, “INEC’s authorities and powers to conduct and announce election results, as it did in 2007 in Anambra State, is so exclusive that it ousted the intervention and meddlesomeness of any other arm or agency of government, except a competent court exercising competent jurisdiction.
“The cause of the confusion in Anambra State can be traced to the judgment of the Supreme Court that asked Andy Uba to vacate office so that Peter Obi would return and complete his tenure that was usurped by Chris Ngige’s illegal government.
“This judgment did not purport to vitiate Andy Uba’s due election as the governor of Anambra State and did not in any way vitiate that the certificate of return issued to Uba by INEC. It only asked Uba to hold on until Peter Obi finished his tenure.
“When the Supreme Court declared that at the time INEC conducted the guber election in the state, there was no vacancy, it was answering questions as to the validity of the election held in the state which power the constitution does not repose in it. Such question can only be answered by the governorship / legislative house election petition tribunals and the Court of Appeal sitting with appellate jurisdiction.
“Appeals cannot lie from this court to the Supreme Court regarding the validity of guber election. Therefore, when the Supreme Court made that declaration, it had no competence to do so, and it did not possess any competent jurisdiction and that’s why its declaration did not mean that INEC will conduct a fresh election or that it would issue a fresh certificate of return before the expiration of the one issued Dr. Andy Uba.
“This is outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and as far as the rule of law is concerned, as against the rule of man, which is arbitrariness, Andy Uba just vacated office for Peter Obi to finish his tenure. And at the expiration of Obi’s tenure, Uba would justifiably and equitably return to his office and complete his unfinished tenure.”
Nevertheless, anxiety and confusion seem to have enveloped the political atmosphere in the state over the Uba case, even though some gladiators appear to ignore the seeming logjam, preferring to insist that Uba will fail in the suit, and that the proposed governorship election will hold next year.
Observers have noted that it is ominous that few months to the proposed election, nothing has been put in place to signify that an election will hold as scheduled. They have also observed that there is a lull in political activities by the major stakeholders, who, ordinarily, by now ought to have ignited the system with their mobilisation and sensitisation campaigns.
Analysts equally note the seeming silence of INEC. The electoral body, which is the only umpire constitutionally empowered to conduct the election, has not stated categorically its position on the matter or its preparedness for the exercise, a situation many say smacks of potential intrigue.
INEC chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, had while on an official visit to Awka, the Anambra State capital, said, “We are preparing for the conduct of the 2011 elections.” Iwu who also fielded questions from journalists at the occasion emphasised, “We are 36 states of the federation and we prepare general election as collective thing. Anything that happens in-between, we take care of it. We don’t have to prepare specifically for 2010. We have been having returns, haven’t you been seeing that?”
A senior INEC official, who preferred anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, told THISDAY that the commission does not have an official position on the Anambra State governorship election for now. But he confirmed that the election would hold and that INEC was planning the election timetable to coincide with the date of the 2007 Supreme Court judgement on the Anambra State governorship tenure. The official also said INEC would begin active preparation for the poll towards the end of the year.
Nonetheless, some governorship aspirants and politicians appear prepared to defy the seeming odds posed by the Uba case. Last Wednesday, Mr. Emeka Etiaba intensified his campaign to fly the flag of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the 2010 governorship election when he formally commissioned his campaign headquarters in Awka.
The well-attended ceremony attracted party men, loyalists, and notable personalities across the state, including National Leader of the party, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who used the occasion to bless the ambition of the young Etiaba, affirming that any member of the party has the right to aspire to any elective position, including that of the governor.
In the words of Ojukwu, “My coming is for all of us to join hands in choosing our next leader for Anambra State. In APGA, anybody can come out and it’s free for all to aspire.
“In this house, we will gather to choose who will rule Anambra. From here, here we will lead the one who will rule Anambra to Government House. I am saying this because I know I will be here when it will happen, and we will lead Emeka to the State House, you will be there.
“I am here also because some people said I will not come to this function and I laughed at them because the one to rule Anambra will answer Emeka. I want to say that I am standing solidly behind you. Because the next ruler of Anambra must be one who can rule Ojukwu.”
Making his declaration, Emeka Etiaba promised to make education, health, and agriculture his priority. He said he would build a state capital in Awka that Anambra people will be proud of, while not neglecting other cities in the state. Other areas the son of Deputy Governor Virgy Etiaba promised to pay quality attention to include provision of strategic roads and good transportation network, security of lives and property, and provision of jobs.
On the same day that Emeka Etiaba launched his campaign, leaders of eight political parties, members of the organised labour, as well as community leaders, under the aegis of Ngige Mandate Group, launched a drive to urge the former governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, to contest the 2010 governorship election in the state.
At the Awka venue of the rally, the group issued a communiqué declaring, “We the people of Anambra State gathered here today, 15th day of April 2009, under the umbrella of Ngige Mandate Movement, a non-partisan group for the enthronement of good governance in the state, call on Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige, OON, KSJ, (Onwa) to once more come to the rescue of the state from the suffocating grip of bad governance.
“We make this solemn declaration with the firm belief that the unforgettable performances you exhibited within the 34 months you were in office as the governor of the state remain unparalleled in the history of our people.”
Beyond the confusion and suspense, a new voice of reason has called on the political class to exercise caution in their activities in order not to overheat the polity to the detriment of the people and civil society. A leader of thought in the state and member of “The New Hope for Change,” a political support group, Evangelist Kenneth Chukwuemeka, in an interview with THISDAY in Awka, expressed dismay that money-politics and self-interest among the political class were militating against effective and equitable development of the state’s abundant human and material resources.
Chukwuemeka noted that lack of foresight among those in leadership positions as well as over-bearing self-interest had been the bane of development in the state.
He said since governance is a collective responsibility, which requires the ability to identify resources and harness such for effective growth, there is need to set standards for those aspiring to leadership positions in the state in order to uplift the basic standards of the people and mobilise the grassroots for effective democracy.
“The recurring problems in Anambra politics are very unfortunate. The problem is that the people that are supposed to be leaders do not follow standards, and most times lack the requisite knowledge on what leadership is all about. Leadership is not where you go to learn. You must be prepared and be in a hurry to deliver the mandated services to the people,” Chukwuemeka said.
He lamented, “It is unfortunate that today, one of the basic yardsticks required to be elected into public offices is the amount of money one has. This is very dangerous and has led to a kind of politics that is very bitter and heat up the system. Also, the unfortunate situation has affected the church by dividing the people. In other places, it is seldom seen like that and we, as stakeholders, must try to rethink, irrespective of our political linings.
“We should avoid allowing uncertainties to beclouded and bedevil our system. So, I advice that politicians should avoid acrimony and play the game according to the electoral laws of the land which has laid down the requisite rules to follow for the sustenance of the polity.”
Politicians in Anambra State, certainly, need such lessons as they wish they are not just hoping against hope that governorship election would hold in the state next year.
The aspirants who are set to do battle in the race for the governorship of the states are the incumbent governor, Peter Obi who may have to contest for the APGA ticket with Emeka Etiaba, the son of his deputy, Virgy Etiaba, Andy Uba who will slug it out for the PDP ticket with Senators Nicholas Ukachukwu and Annie Okonkwo. Ready to fly the flag of AC is Dr. Chris Ngige.
As the incumbent who is also believed to be doing well in the delivery of democracy dividends to the people, Governor Obi is more favoured to clinch the APGA ticket and probably win the general election. His weakness however is that he is not the typical politician able to hold the party together behind him. Also, many people in the state do not believe he is playing his politics well.
At least, it is believed that if he is handling the political aspect of governance well, he will not have a strong opposition like Emeka Etiaba within his party.
The son of the incumbent deputy governor is mounting serious challenge to Governor Obi within the APGA. Many however believe that at the right time when Obi fully thrown himself into the race, Etiaba’s campaign will peter out. However, the recent support he got from Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu may be a major point for his campaign.
Uba who won the governorship election in 2007 but was not allowed by the court to rule on the ground that there was no vacancy at the time of the election is still concentrating on the court battle to get him to the Awka House without contesting in a fresh election.
However, if the litigation plan fails, Uba will have to contend with Ukachukwu and Okonkwo for the PDP ticket. He is a hard fighter and wealthy politician with a vast network of influential political friends to rely on. It is believed that Uba will get the PDP ticket but will face an uphill task in the general election.
Ukachukwu, an incumbent senator is a serious politician who is believed to have contacts all over Anambra that can h elp him run a comprehensive campaign. However, it is doubtful whether he has the kind of influence compared to that of Uba at the party headquarters to secure the PDP ticket for him. He also does not have the deep pocket that may be, crucial factor in the Anambra polls.
The business mogul is an incumbent senator. He moved to the senate after several unsuccessful attempts at the governorship. Okonkwo who also has the required fund may however not be able to get the ticket when pitched against Uba and Ukachukwu.
Surprisingly, Ngige whose governorship tenure between 2003 – 2006 does not exist in law, is still very popular in Anambra State. His popularity stemmed from his performance, particularly during his last months in office. Ngige will have the financial and physical backing of the leaders of AC who are now motivated by their successes in the South-west zone. He will surely give a good fight to the APGA and PDP candidates. Ngige may however suffer from the suspicion in the South-east that AC is a South-west party. Also, his involvement with the Ubas in the past may also come back to haunt him.
In all, the next battle in Anambra state will be interesting. It will also be fierce, and may be dangerous.