A rash of opinions, both lay and legal, have followed the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal, which nullified the Anambra North Senatorial District election. While ruling that Uche Ekwunife, formerly of the Peoples Democratic Party, was not a candidate in the election, the Court consequentially ordered a new election. Party opponents have seized on what some see as a lacuna in the judgment to purvey various self-serving interpretations.
For Chief Victor Umeh of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, who came second behind in the poll, the judgment precludes the PDP from fielding a candidate in the rerun election. Is Umeh right? No, he’s not; as we shall presently see below.
For Senator Ekwunife, the judgment meant that the platform (or faction) of the PDP that produced her was illegal then and remains so to this day. Therefore, since nothing can come from nothing, Ekwunife figured that the only route open to her is to seek a new platform and outside the PDP. Ekwunife also correctly understood the judgment to have precluded a new PDP primary by the same faction the judgment held to lack the legal standing to nominate a candidate. Is Ekwunife right on this one? Yes, but with some provisos.
For the PDP as a party, the judgment means that it is free to conduct another primary to pick a new candidate. Is the PDP right? Yes, but just as the judgment did not expressly preclude a new primary except by the ‘Ekwunife faction’, it also did not expressly mandate a new primary. So, it is left to the PDP to decide whether it should conduct a new primary, or travel back in time to pick the candidate from the very primary conducted then that met the conditions of the party’s Guidelines and Constitution. Yet, between picking an already standing and conducting a new primary, which one is legally safer? To answer this question, we need to consider the following:
Having held that Ekwunife’s nomination failed the muster of PDP Guidelines on primaries, the Court then concluded: “The 11th Respondent (Ekwunife) was therefore not the product of a valid primary and was therefore not duly and legitimately nominated. That has disqualified her from contesting the election in the Anambra Central senatorial District.”
Above is the kernel of the judgment and the overriding reason why it dawned on Ekwunife that the platform that produced her was, and still is, an illegal faction. But because the other PDP ‘factional’ candidates were not a party to the suit, the Court stopped short of taking the next logical action – naming a replacement for Ekwunife. And because it wanted a second chance for PDP but sans Ekwunife, the Court also flatly refused Umeh’s request to be declared the reserve winner.
Thus, it’s now left for PDP to figure out who, amongst the three Okonkwos – Annie, Obiora and Sylvester – and Kodilichukwu Okelekwe that should now become the lawful candidate. To determine this, the party needs to do a time travel to when the various primaries that produced these four plus Ekwunife were held. This travel back in time is the only fair way the party can truly determine the candidate that emerged from a lawful primary. This is a no-brainer as the PDP knows too well that the primaries that produced Annie Okonkwo, Sylvester Okonkwo and Okelekwe, all bear the same illegalities that felled Ekwunife.
This then leaves us only with the primary that produced Dr. Obiora Okonkwo. For avoidance of doubt, this is the only primary that met the conditions of the PDP Constitution and Guidelines on primaries and which were upheld by the Court in the instant judgment.
Now this: In an affidavit filed in a still-pending case seeking to uphold the same primary, Alaye Tremie, the Chairman of the PDP National Assembly Electoral Panel for the National Assembly primary election for Anambra State, stated under oath: “It was Dr Obiora Okonkwo that scored the highest number of votes cast at the PDP primary election for Anambra Central senatorial district held on 7/12/2014.”
Thus, it is within the discretion of the PDP to proceed with a new (and legally controversial) primary, or embrace the legally safer option of finally owning up to the primary that produced Dr Obiora Okonkwo.
. Ejimakor, a lawyer, writes from [email protected]