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Judiciary and Anambra Renegades — By Chuma Ekezie

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Despite not known to have made any contribution on the floor of the House of Representatives or associated with any motion or bill, Chukwuma Umeoji has been reported to be nursing the ambitions of being the next Anambra State governor. But family members and close associates say he actually has never sought to contest for the governorship. Though a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the ruling party in Anambra State since 2006, he is a surrogate for Andy Uba, the controversial All Progressives Congress (APC) gubernatorial candidate in the November 6 election.

Uba’s elder brother, Ugochukwu Uba, is fighting so hard through the judiciary to get himself declared the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate. He is in cahoots with his younger brother, Andy Uba. All he wants is to prevent the PDP from having its preferred candidate, Valentine Ozigbo, be its standard bearer in the November election. In other words, Andy Uba and his small coterie of those the great Chinua Achebe famously called “renegades who are determined to turn my homeland of Anambra State into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom” want to severely weaken the two major political parties so that he will be announced the winner of the November election. They are inspired and emboldened by the strange development in neighbouring Imo State in March, 2020, when Hope Uzodimma, who came a distant fourth in the 2019 general election, was declared the state governor via a judicial judgment.

There would not have been any problem with this wish if Uba and his people had not dragged the judiciary into this bizarre project. His surrogate, Umeoji, is the person who secured the controversial secret June 30 order from the Jigawa State High Court at Birni Kudu, the border town between Nigeria and Niger Republic, through one Aliyu Garba recognizing Okeke as the APGA national chairman. Okeke is Umeoji’s in-law. On the strength of this controversial order which Nigerians describe as jankara, Okeke submitted Umeoji’s name as the APGA governorship candidate in Anambra. Okeke and Umeoji used merely used Aliyu Garba, an obscure politician who claimed to be an APGA member form the Northwest, to go to court to obtain the directive. Aliyu, Okeke and Umeoji are all working for Andy Uba.

The controversial order was secured without APGA being joined in the suit. The APGA national chairman, Chief Victor Oye, was not aware of the court proceedings until INEC published Umeoji as the APGA candidate on July 16. This legal ambush is symptomatic of the grave ills afflicting the Nigerian judiciary. Justice Musa Ubale of the Birkin Kudu ought to have known from the beginning that there was something sinister about one or two politicians to ask him to rule on events which took place in Awka or the Southeast, over 835 kilometres away. The principle of territorial jurisdiction forbids such rulings. After all, there are appropriate courts in and around Anambra State.

Lest we forget, there have been court rulings on the nomination of the APGA candidate by both the Anambra State High Court and the Federal High Court, both in Awka, affirming Chukwuma Soludo, the former Central Bank governor, as the APGA nominee for the November election. These orders were sent to INEC by Professor Soludo’s lawyer, Patrick Ikwueke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a competent election petition lawyer. Soludo’s name was duly submitted on July 2, and the electoral commission accepted it the same day. It is a conundrum that INEC was to decide to comply with the lone order which favours Umeoji and his sponsors. What is special about the Birni Kudi court?

Anambra people have since 2003 grown used to controversial judicial pronouncements on governorship issues. These rulings have on each occasion resulted in serious consequences for those who delivered them, despite being procured by with the tacit support of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. Andy Uba, Obasanjo’s Senior Special Assistant then, was then Obasanjo’s most powerful and trusted aide. The most famous examples is Stanley Nnaji of the Enugu State High Court who ruled that Dr Chris Ngige, then the state governor, be removed from office in Awka. The National Judicial Council recommended Justice Nnaji’s dismissal from the Bench. He left the judiciary in disgrace. Just last June Nnaji was assassinated in broad daylight in his SUV, and the video went viral quickly. The second example is Wilson Egbo-Egbo who claimed that Governor Ngige had resigned. He was retired compulsorily on NJC’s recommendation. Yet another example: both Justices Okechukwu Opene and David Adedoyin Adeniji were thrown out of the Court of Appeal over their decisions in favour of Ugochukwu Uba on February 26, 2004, in Enugu.

There were other casualties of the perfidy in Anambra State under Obasanjo’s watch. Raphael Ige, an Assistant Inspector General of Police, led the kidnapping on July 10, 200, of Governor Ngige which was at the behest of the Uba brothers. Ige was consequently retired from the Nigeria Police Force. He died a few weeks later. Dr Okey Udeh, Ngige’s deputy, close friend and professional colleague, lost his job for being privy to the conspiracy to the plot. This former member of the House of Representatives has become a political pariah since then. Many wonder if he is still alive. Chuma Nzeribe, a member of the House of Representatives, who led was in the thin and thick of the sordid drama, has long become a political liability. He is a persona non grata, even among his kinsmen.

Chuma Umeoji’s days in politics are over. How will history regard him? Will he suffer the fate of Judas Iscariot whose family was considered worse than leprous? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the National Judicial Council has its job cut out for it as regards the Anambra governorship election. What defence can Justice Musa Ubale possibly put up? Confidence in the Nigerian judiciary is at an all-time low. There are elements who have absolutely no business being there. An Augean stable is needed for the Nigerian judiciary.

Ekezie is a lawyer in Abuja.

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