TUESDAY Column by VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
The recent victory and swearing-in of Sir Victor Umeh a.k.a. Ohamadike, pioneer chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the long overdue, rescheduled Anambra central senatorial rerun election is significant. First and perhaps more important is that it is the first time that an APGA candidate will be representing the district, indeed Anambra state in the Senate in Abuja, the nation’s federal capital.
Recall that APGA had occupied the seat of government in Awka since 2007 and has set the standard for good governance in Anambra and in fact the south east region as residents and analysts concur that Anambra has never had it so good since advent of APGA. It was during the APGA-led government that ndi Anambra began to really taste the ‘dividends of democracy’. Hitherto, that phrase and the word ‘government’ were like an alien entity to which they had little or no connection because it did not touch their lives as such.
And the current governor, Chief Willie Obiano has been consolidating on the pioneering gains of the Peter Obi-led APGA government, taking governance in Anambra State a notch higher. It was therefore, not surprising that ndi Anambra overwhelmingly renewed their confidence in Obiano’s APGA government when he won the November 2017 gubernatorial election with a landslide – winning in all 21 local government areas of the state. Come March, 2018 the governor will be formally sworn-in for a second and final term that would expire in 2022.
Against the background of APGA’s strong footing in Anambra State, results of the March 2015 National Assembly elections for which that party fielded Umeh as a senatorial candidate was as intriguing as it was mysterious. All three senatorial seats were won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), notwithstanding that State assembly elections were won hands down by APGA candidates. Those that INEC declared as winners of the senate election that year were, Andy Uba, Stella Odua and Uche Ekwunife. APGA kicked against the results with Chief Umeh soldiering on at the High Court where he provided evidence to prove allegation of irregularities in conduct of that election in his senatorial district. And the court agreed with his submissions, fingered the PDP as the culprit and ordered for a rerun in which original candidates should participate sans PDP candidate (Ekwunife). INEC fixed Marc 16, 2016 for the rerun.
It emerged that some water had passed under the bridge as this date approached. Dr. Chris Ngige a participant at the 2015 election under banner of APC had been appointed minister of the federal republic and it was apparent that he fancied the post of minister to that of a senator and Mrs. Ekwunife’s party (PDP) having been disqualified from contesting, it meant that the coast was clearing for the APGA flagbearer, Chief Umeh to emerge victor. Ekwunife the sacked senator sought to wriggle her way out of her party’s dilemma by defecting to the APC. But the then APC woman leader, Mrs. Sharon Nzeakor now executive secretary of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD) defeated her at the party’s primary election. In the meantime too supporters of former governor Obi who had defected to the PDP began campaigning for him as a possible PDP candidate for the election. Howbeit, APGA’s Umeh continued to sound it loud and clear that only the original candidates whose names appeared on the March 2015 ballot paper sans PDP were eligible for the rescheduled vote. Still some ‘wisecres’ decided to give a different interpretation. Some politicians continued to misinform the public on the court’s ruling. It was therefore not surprising that names on the January 2018 ballot papers were those of the very first contestants like Ngige, minus the PDP in obedience to the judgement.
As is the case with Nigerian politics, the High court’s ruling was appealed against, making the March 16, 2016 rerun date unfeasible while the case was still subject to litigation. It was only last year that the Appeal court affirmed the judgment for a rerun that excludes the PDP, whereupon Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chose a new date of January, 13, 2018. This date was to be sacrosanct so to speak as all National Assembly litigation cases terminate at the Appeal court. Yet, the politicians sought to scuttle Umeh/APGA’s long struggle when barely few weeks to the January, 2018 election, news filtered that a High Court had declared Annie Okonkwo the authentic PDP candidate and winner of the March 2015 election. This verdict which was actually a pre-election matter ruffled not a few feathers, so much so that INEC initially could not confirm whether the January 13 poll would still hold, stating only that it would study the ruling and take advice from its legal department.
Nevertheless, APGA/ Umeh’s camp insisted that this High Court’s decision was a nullity because an Appeal Court’s ruling takes precedence over it. INEC later continued with preparations for the election and some two days to the poll itself a higher Court of Appeal in Abuja nullified the Annie Okonkwo verdict. At long last, the Anambra Central senatorial rerun poll was held on Saturday, January 13, some two and half years after the original, nationwide March 2015 National Assembly polls. In the long awaited rerun APGA’s Umeh like Governor Obiano in last November’s gubernatorial election recorded a landslide victory, winning in all local government areas of Awka North and South, Idemili North and South, Dunukofia, Njikoka and Aniocha. Overall he scored 95 per cent of the total votes cast. It is worth noting that only Chief Umeh of APGA campaigned for the election. His campaign jingles and posters were on air and on the streets. The other listed candidates/ parties were literally nowhere to be found or seen.
This rerun election brings to fore, the need for further fine tuning of our electoral laws. The judiciary should be empowered to dispose of both pre and post election litigations timely. Consider that Chief Umeh will spend just 18 months of what should have been four year tenure as the life span of the current 7th National Assembly terminates in June 2019. When one considers that campaigns for the 2019 general election which is fixed for February/March next year commences in a few months time, it will be realised that the APGA pioneer senator has little time left for real work. Therefore, the challenge before Senator Victor Umeh is to make best use of the little time available to him. He should deliver to his constituency and Anambra people the much expected dividends of democracy for which his party, APGA is noted especially in Anambra State and for which they gave him their overwhelming mandate.