Dr. Obiora Okonkwo won the 2014 primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Anambra Central Senatorial election. He became victim of the gale of impunity that reigned then. Since then, he has battled to regain his mandate in the courts.
His challenge of the matter brought before the court in December 2014 is still pending, making it difficult to proceed with the court-ordered re-run election. He tells Forefront that the pre-election matter is vital in determining progress of the senatorial zone.
A few days ago, INEC came up with a statement fixing a new date for the Anambra Central Senatorial election. What do you make of this position by INEC?
Our position remains the same. Rushing to fix a date for the election without dealing with all the critical and genuine matters in court makes me wonder why INEC, at this economic situation of the country, want to just waste taxpayer’s money; and also, why APGA and its candidate continues to misinform the public and want to deceitfully get into the senate from the backdoor. One thing I make out of it is that this issue of Anambra Central, as regards the rerun, cannot fully and finally be decided without dealing with my own case which is pending in court. It is a pre-election matter which is superior to any other post-election case as far as the constitution of Nigeria is concerned. Yes, given that the Appeal Court has, rightly or wrongly, ordered for a rerun, that judgment is being misrepresented by APGA and its candidate, who are also using undue pressure and propaganda to push INEC into doing what at the end of the day will be an effort in futility. A rerun was ordered, yes, but even in the same judgment of post-election, the Appeal Court confirmed and affirmed the victory of PDP as a party with the highest number of valid votes cast in the election hence the refusal of the court to declare APGA, which came second, as winner. My matter which was instituted in 2014 and still pending in court, is a pre-election matter which can decide the fate of a post-election matter. Remember that in 2007, while Peter Obi was at the Supreme Court fighting to validate his four-year mandate, INEC hurriedly went and conducted an election into the office of governor in Anambra state and had someone sworn in as governor that lasted only 17 days. That episode cost Nigeria a lot in wasted resources.
But the recent Court of Appeal Judgment ordered that PDP should not be part of the re-run?
Now, if you go back to the Appeal Court judgment that ordered a re-run, it did not imply that PDP should not have candidate. The order was very clear. Even if that judgment was meant to exclude PDP, it would have been clearly stated in the judgment. If the Court intended to exclude PDP from the rerun, it would have been categorically stated by the court. The disqualification contained in that judgment is strictly as it concerns the candidate of PDP as a party in that suit. It did not affect anyother candidate of the PDP that contested in the primary election. The judgment was not ambiguous. It was also very clear, in the judgment, that PDP won the senatorial election by winning majority of valid votes cast. The point the court made was that the candidate at the time was not validly nominated. It did not invalidate the election and the result from it. Remember that the candidate of APGA, in the matter, did not ask for a rerun. He rather asked to be declared the winner and be sworn in. The court refused that prayer. This means that the victory of PDP in the Anambra Central Senatorial election of 2015 is still intact. Therefore, anybody who is interested in what is happening in Anambra Central must be interested in what becomes of my matter which is a pre-election case and which began in 2014 and has taken this long. We had to deal with five other candidates who were interested parties in this suit. We had to face them one after the other and now as the only one standing I will continue to defend that mandate of PDP.
Why blame APGA for asking that re-run election be held? Has APGA erred by asking that court’s decision be upheld?
My mention of APGA is not to blame. But I have heard of sorts of shenanigan from APGA’s candidate, Victor Umeh, who has now demonstrated that he has diarrhea of the mouth. He has been around insulting everyone in the senatorial district, the same persons he says he wants to represent, in a desperate pursuit of the Anambra Central seat as if his whole life depends on it. However, I am saying that in putting your case forward, you just have to be honest and not deceitful. You also have to be respectful and show decorum in your utterances and conduct. I do not intend to join issues with him but I know we do not need to be disrespectful or touts and talk down on others to become senators. In advancing your cause, you don’t blind your eyes to part of the judgment which is also clear to everybody and begin to propagate a single aspect of it which says to go for a rerun. Ordinarily, one should expect that an order of court must be obeyed. No one is saying the order of court should not be obeyed but the Court of Appeal s not the final arbiter on this matter. It is also obvious that INEC has been served with the notice of appeal at the Supreme Court and stay of execution in this matter. All the records of Appeal have been transmitted to the Supreme Court. It is therefore expected that a law-abiding INEC should naturally comply and wait for the outcome of the appeal at the Supreme Court rather than being stampeded into engaging in an act that will prejudice the Supreme court. INEC cannot truthfully take an uninformed decision by saying, in their own statement, that there is no anyother case in any court in Nigeria which has direct effect on the Anambra Central election. So, is it possible that INEC is not aware of this matter at the Supreme Court even when it has all documents served it? (CTC of Notice of Appeal, Stay of Execution, copy of acknowledgement of service on INEC received by its own officials)
There is the argument that INEC cannot be stopped from conducting election simply because of a case in court.
It may be so if it has to do with constitutionally scheduled election time-table but surely not court-ordered election expect the matter has been finally decided by the highest court, in this case, the Supreme Court, or, if it is not encumbered with all other court matters.
Is INEC party to your suit seeking validation of result of the primary at which you were returned the winner?
Yes, INEC is a party to the suit.They have always been in court. They have never missed one day in court. They are in custody of all the processes in the matter. They have all the documents involved in this matter. They are however neutral and want to abide by the judgment of the court.Therefore, they should not have in any way ignored that matter in all their consideration. That is why I am asking why the deceit? Is someone trying to play a fast one? I know that the people of Anambra central are missing out in quality representation at the senate. But what is right is right. They will also not be happy to see that the process was not properly conducted. But I think that it is in the interest of all for the process to be clarified and the people have their say. If INEC, by any way is misinformed, I will advise that they go back and look at their records and processes in this matter, which they already have. That will help them to make a fair, unbiased and balanced decision on this matter.
Don’t you think that there are people in Anambra central who are desirous of having the re-run and would be ready to vote in January 2018, regardless of outcome of the pending legal matters?
We all desire for that seat to be filled. We are only saying that if that election process must be initiated, we must have to put into consideration all the outstanding legal matters so that the election does not become an effort in futility. Elections cost resources. So, I am yet to see that Anambra Central person who would want to be dragged into an election process where he will waste time, money and resources for a rerun election only to come back to realise that the election was mere academic exercise, except probably, Victor Umeh, who knows quite well that he cannot stand me in a free and fair election because he has been rejected by his own party for all his illicit activities which I won’t go into unless he refuses to be respectful and remains mannerless.If at all the election should hold, let it hold at a time when all due consideration to all pending issues in court had been sorted out.
Ekwunife, who is party to the suit, a few days ago withdrew from it. Has her withdrawal in anyway impacted on the progress of the suit?
Uche Ekwunife is one politician in Anambra state, who, I believe, has paid her dues and should never be ignored or disrespected by any one. I have nothing against her for all the effort she put in to fight to retain the senatorial seat. Anyone in her position would have done as much. It is a welcome development at this point to withdraw her defence in the suit because there is a saying that a good soldier knows when to pull the trigger and when to pull back. He that fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. I respect her for that. In an earlier development, PDP, which is the platform upon which all of us contested, had surrendered to judgment as part of the efforts to right the wrongs in the party. The interim PDP leadership had looked into the matter, reviewed it, checked the records, read the reports of the Appeal and affidavits sworn in by the panel members sent to Anambra state and came to the conclusion that from all available evidence, that I won the primary election and in the interest of justice, they have no other choice than to withdraw their own defence and said in an affidavit sworn and also filed in court, that I won the primary election. That was also a welcome development. It is a positive sign. Therefore, I have no doubt that justice can only be delayed but, in this case, not to be denied.
Having taken over three years, do you still think there is need to continue in the pursuit of this matter when we are entering another election cycle? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on the coming election, instead of dissipating energy on this?
This process has been on since 2014, and there is every need to continue because we are simply demanding for justice. We are here in the court for justice. At whatever time this matter is finally determined, am convinced the outcome vindicates us. That is why we have been very committed, and resilient,but strictly going by the rules of the court. It has taken this long obviously, but you should know that Anambra central is the hottest senatorial district in Nigeria. Don’t forget that contestants in that election include then sitting Sen. Chris Ngige of APC, who is Minister of Labour and Productivity; we had Victor Umeh of APGA and National Chairman of the party; inside PDP we had Sen. Annie Okonkwo, we had Uche Ekwunife who was in the House of Representatives then; we also had Sylvester Okonkwo and others. Actually, six top contenders in PDP, individually, have the resources to run for governorship of Anambra state all on their own. And then you still had to deal with the issue of the other factions of PDP. During the court processes, all these interests came into play. All these persons were involved in the matter. They applied to join and if you refuse, the matter goes up to the Supreme Court. So, we took on each of those candidates and dealt with their matter as they came before we arrived at where we are now. So, I am the only man standing in this matter. It has been a long process and a tough one. We are not doing it by any other means except by the rule of law and patiently waiting for justice. However, at this point, there is nothing to wait for anymore. There is no time to waste. There is need to determine this matter expeditiously. In the course of this matter, three judges have withdrawn. They begin the process and somewhere along the line, the pull out. I don’t know what made them withdraw, but that has caused delay because each time a judge withdraws, we start all over again. But at the end of the day, the truth must be told. Certain impunities in our party just have to be addressed and dealt with. I hope the outcome of the court process will help address some of these issues.
Why have you put yourself through all this trouble?
I am majorly in it to advance the rule of law and help to clean up the impunity in the political process. As a person, I am gainfully self-employed and fully engaged in business through which I have continued to provide services to my people and work for common good. This is not something to promote selfish ambition. I am in it for the good of our systems and to promote the rule of law. There are a whole lot of good people who would have loved to get involved in the political process but they are discouraged by the impunity in our political system. For this reason they stay away. Many of them keep encouraging me in this fight, as they believe that the process will help to clean up the system and encourage them to fight in the future. There are some who have been victims of such impunity and gave up because they did not have the courage and resources to fight for justice. They look up to my case and say it will give them hope. My victory in this matter will help to, one day, bring in more decent people into the political process in Anambra and Nigeria at large.