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Tension in Awka as Election Tribunal reads judgement today!

From Chuks Collins, Awka

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Palpable fear pervades Awka, the capital city of Anambra state as the National/State Assemblies election petition Tribunal One prepares to read its judgement in some of the cases before it.

Top on the list which its verdict would come up Thursday morning at the Anambra Judiciary Headquarters Awka complex venue of the tribunal sitting is the petition brought by the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA) in the February 23,2019 general election -Chief Dozie Nwankwo, against the declaration of Barrister Valentine Ayika who had claimed to be the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) in the poll instead of himself.

At the adoption of final addresses proceeding on August 3,2019, the lead counsel for the petitioner, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) pointed out that PDP had no candidate in the election. He therefore prayed the tribunal to declare Nwankwo winner of the election. Because the PDP had no candidate in the election, as disclosed by Ayika himself, and the PDP and the INEC witnesses/officials during the proceedings.

Hinging his submission on what he described as the cardinal Nigerian constitutional and electoral laws, Chief Fagbemi (SAN) reiterated as confessional the submissions of other parties/witnesses in the matter -the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) and her “candidate” -Valentine Ayika.

He noted, “it’s cardinal law that there must be a candidate”, as copiously indicated in Sec 65 and Sec 66 of the nation’s Constitution which listed the qualification of a candidate in an election.

Moreso, Sec 138(1)a of the Electoral Act stated that one can challenge a candidate if you feel he’s not qualified. Which was why INEC was constitutionally obligated to display and publish list of candidates in an election for the public to view and register their objections, if any. See the Dr Chris Ngige Vs Prof Dora Akunyili matter.

Fagbemi(SAN) disclosed that even a prosecution witness(PW2), a senior INEC official; and a defense witness (RW1) – another senior INEC official and the Commission’s witness during the hearing stated clearly in their presentation before the tribunal that ‘no name of any PDP candidate was submitted by the party or published by INEC for the Feb 23,2019 House of Representatives election for Njikoka/Anaocha/Dunukofia Federal Constituency’.

He drew the attention of the judges to a decided case -Dirry Kelly Vs Adeoye and Anos, and INEC/2 Ors as delivered by Hon Justice I.M.M Saunawa(Dec 1,2016), where it was held that testimony of the INEC officials, an office that was central and statutory to election matters in the country was confessional and inarguable. Also that Exhibit 3R9 which was the Feb 11,2019 Supreme Court judgement which the respondent had all along been bandying around, Chief Fagbemi pointed out that between Feb 11,2019 and Feb 23,2019(date of the election), there was nowhere it was indicated or mentioned that a copy of the apex court’s verdict was submitted to either the Returning Officer or INEC.

More so, there was no court order about Ayika(the claimant of PDP candidature) anywhere, but it was all about one Dr Richard Egenti who was never part of the election or the petition. That even the Supreme Court verdict did not return or recognize either Ayika or Egenti whatsoever.

The Senior Advocate noted that in view of Sec 285(14) of the nation’s Constitution as amended, and Sec 89 of the Electoral Act, Ayika and the PDP would have dragged the INEC to court within 14 days of the publication of the final list to complain that his name was omitted and hence compel the commission to publish his name.

And for not doing this, the door was therefore irredeemably shut against him in the election. Because time was of the essence. The Senior Advocate noted that “the effect of this is that all votes purportedly cast in favour of the PDP are wasted…”

Consequently therefore, he urged the tribunal to declare the candidate with the next highest number of valid votes cast,- that is Chief Dozie Nwankwo as the winner of the election.

Ayika’s counsel -Chief Fidelis Anyanegbu maintained that it was clear that Ayika was “at all times the candidate of the PDP, I therefore urge my Lords to dismiss to dismiss the petition…”, while Mr I.A. Onwubuya counsel to PDP, and Mr E. E. Udeh counsel to INEC in their respective submissions urged the three-man tribunal to dismiss Nwankwo’s petition.

More judgements in the petitions are expected.

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