The Court of Appeal sitting in Port Harcourt Wednesday nullified the recognition of Mr. Nicholas Ukachukwu as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 16 governorship election in Anambra State and held that Tony Nwoye was duly nominated by the PDP and remained the authentic candidate of the party in the elections.
But in his reaction, Ukachukwu, who has been parading himself as the party’s candidate in the past weeks discountenanced the ruling and insisted he was the authentic PDP standard bearer.
However, in spite of the drama in his party in Anambra, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday pleaded with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure a peaceful, free and fair governorship poll.
In the same vein, the Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, has promised to ensure a level playing field in the race to succeed him as governor.
Yesterday’s ruling had upturned the judgment of the Federal High Court of September 17, which ordered the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise Ukachukwu as the authentic candidate of the PDP for the Anambra election.
Delivering judgement yesterday on the appeal filed by Nwoye challenging the decision of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, the three justices of the Appeal Court unanimously held that the procedure with which the suit was conducted at the lower court was wrong.
In his lead judgment, Hon. Justice Ejembi Eko held that the provisions of the Electoral Act guidelines as canvassed by Ukachukwu was made in error as he (Ukachukwu) adequately participated in the primaries that produced Nwoye as the candidate.
Eko further held that though the legality of the provisions of the Electoral Act was not challenged in the appeal, the issues brought before the Federal High Court was an internal party affair and not a matter for determination in the courts.
He said the essence of the Electoral Act was not for contestants to go to court and upturn outcome of primary elections but to correct any deficiency.
The judge also held that the electoral screening committee had screened and resolved all issues relating to tax-papers of Nwoye, which was why he was cleared. He therefore frowned on the attempt by Ukachukwu to disqualify Nwoye and make himself the party’s candidate.
The lead judge further held that the Federal High Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter as issues of candidature of a party are only decided by the party.
The judges, therefore, upturned all the orders of the Federal High Court, including the interim and interlocutory injunctions, the originating summons, adding that the judgment was entered in error. The court also awarded N20,000 for each of the two appeals in favour of Nwoye.
Shortly after the judgment, counsel to Ukachukwu, Nwafor Orizu, who spoke to journalist, argued that the judgment was not complete as the appellant did not specifically ask the court to order INEC to put Nwoye’s name in the ballot box.
While conceding that the judgment of any court was correct until decided otherwise by a higher court, Orizu said he would appeal against the judgment of the court, insisting that the issue of the candidate of the PDP in the Anambra election was yet to be settled.
But counsel to Nwoye, Mr. Clems Ike Ezika, hailed the judgment of the court, adding that with the pronouncement, Nwoye had become the authentic candidate of the PDP in Anambra State.
Also, counsel to INEC, Tochukwu Nweke, said the commission has a duty to obey court order and as such, would go ahead to put Nwoye’s name as the candidate for the gubernatorial elections.
But Ukachukwu, who insisted he was the authentic candidate of the PDP said his insistence was in line with Section 33 of the Electoral Act (as amended) which states: “No political party shall be allowed to change or substitute its candidate whose name has been submitted pursuant to Section 32 of this Act, except in the case of death or withdrawal by the candidate.”
The Court of Appeal’s nullification of Ukachukwu’s candidature took place yesterday, whereas the INEC deadline for the substitution and change of candidates ended on October 17, 2013.
Ukachukwu told journalists in Abuja, that he remained the governorship candidate of the PDP as the timeframe for the substitution of the candidates had elapsed since October 17.
But the PDP, through its National Legal Adviser, Victor Kwom, said the party would abide by the decision of the Court of Appeal that voided the nomination of Ukachukwu and replaced him with Nwoye.
“The judgment of the Court of Appeal is what we shall follow. The judgment is emphatic. Tony Nwoye was the first name submitted by the party, until the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt directed to the contrary.”
Amidst the lingering drama, however, President Jonathan has pleaded with the INEC to ensure that the poll was free, fair and devoid of violence as was the case in Edo and Ondo States.
President Jonathan who gave the charge yesterday during a one-day sensitisation workshop for political parties, governorship candidates and stakeholders organised by the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs headed by Senator Ben Obi, said the election must not be a do-or-die affair.
Obi, who spoke on behalf of the president said having achieved successes in Edo and Ondo States, where similar sensitisation workshops were held, the workshop was put in place to enable participants deliberate and come up with far-reaching recommendations to ensure free and fair elections in the state which would be accepted by all.
He also enjoined all the stakeholders, particularly party executives and their supporters to abide by the resolutions of the workshop.
INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who was represented by the Federal Commissioner on Political Party Monitoring, Hajia M. Zakari, said all processes for the governorship election have been followed as directed by the nation's constitution and the electoral law.
The INEC boss, who commended the office of the Special Adviser to the President for sustaining the pre-gubernatorial election sensitisation workshops, added that the commission accorded special attention to the workshop with the hope that it would help greatly to re-orientate not just the governorship candidates but all stakeholders towards an enduring culture of tolerance, respect for rule of law and constructive engagement in addressing emerging challenges.
Obi, who was also represented by his deputy, Mr. Emeka Sibudo, implored all contestants to abide by electoral regulations, eschew politics of bitterness and not overheat the polity. He assured all contestants and stakeholders that his government would ensure and provide fair and level playing ground before and during the election.
Chairman of the event, General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd.), called on all the participants to adhere strictly to the rules of (engagement) adding that they should abide by the agreement reached at the end of the workshop.