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Money, court ‘shopping’ in Anambra Gubernatorial politics

divorce courtroomThe journey to the off-season governorship election in Anambra State exposes the three peculiar elements that make elections in the state very intriguing and exasperating. Affluence, influence, and godfathering constitute the underlying factors that propel gubernatorial contests in the state.

Anambra fell out of the national general elections loop in 2006, when Mr. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), went through the courts to retrieve his mandate from Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige and his then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Owing to the fledgling nature of APGA at that time, the internal contradictions and silent contest for prominence among some of its leaders introduced a new dimension to Anambra State politics. For instance, in what was seen as a palace coup within the then-new ruling party, APGA’s former national treasurer, Chief Victor Umeh, supplanted the founding national chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie. In the continuing efforts to sustain the insurrection, especially the suspension of Okorie, many court cases were instituted by the parties to sustain the leadership disputation.

Inside sources disclosed how highly placed judicial officers were invited to neighbouring countries, especially Benin Republic, Cameroun, Ghana and United Kingdom, to reach understanding on how the course of ‘justice’ should flow in the various litigations.

It was against the background of such negotiations and considerations that in the about 16 years that APGA held sway in Anambra State, every governorship election in the state threw up its own peculiar actors, troubling processes, and outcomes. 

How It All Began
IT was not as if APGA created the three-sided interplay of money, influence and godfathering in Anambra politics. Money and power have always played decisive roles in the determination of who governs the state.

Prior to its creation as a separate entity from the old Anambra State, side by side with the politics of dichotomy between the Wawa and Ijek’ebe, money and influence were prominent. For instance, within the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), the search for governorship candidates revolved around men of ways and means.

While Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh and Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme threw their financial weights around as they competed for the NPN ticket, within the NPP, which had the Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe as its leader, Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo’s deep pockets helped him to dislodge his brother, John Nwobodo and Moses Obiekwe. That was in the second republic.

In 1998, seven years after Anambra State was created with Awka as capital, the nomination process within the PDP raised the idea of money politics to another dimension. Dr. Ekwueme agreed with Chief Joseph Okonkwo (Ofiadiulu Enugwukwu), who was state chairman of PDP to hand over the governorship ticket to Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju after Chief A. B. C. Orjiako effortlessly paid the N2.1million as the cost of expression of interest and nomination forms.

Thereafter Chief Emeka Offor was invited to augment the campaign funding for Mbadinuju, who was by then practising law from a dingy office in Onitsha. With Ekwueme’s influence, it did not take time before other money bags and contractors joined the queue.

The former second republic Vice President, Ekwueme, was later to explain that the N2.1million slated for the governorship forms was to limit the number of aspirants for the governorship seat. Frustrated by the turn of events, one of the aspirants, Chief Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, took PDP to court.

Not only did Okonkwo protest against the high cost of nomination forms, but he also charged the party for a breach of covenant’, alleging that the party went against its regulation and promise to conduct a governorship primary by embarking on consensus giveaway.

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The cycle continued with the injection of impunity and indiscipline towards the build-up to the 2003 election. PDP had promised automatic second-term tickets to state governors elected on its platform in a bid to avert the planned mass defection of Southeast governors to the newly registered APGA.

But the party could not keep true to its promise in Anambra State, as political godfathers that ganged up to impose Mbadinuju on the PDP accused him of non-performance and indifference to the suffering of students, who were out of school for one academic year due to strike action by teachers.

In the claims and counterclaim about the party’s performance in the state, Governor Mbadinuju’s supporters blamed the ISPO (Irrevocable Standing Payment Order) he (Mbadinuju) signed with some of the political godfathers that propelled him to office. The ISPO, they explained, entailed the withdrawal of money from the source at the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), thereby making it impossible for the governor to pay workers’ salaries, including teachers.

Out of the injustice against Mbadinuju came the drafting of Ngige from his senatorial ambition into the 2003 Anambra State governorship contest. Having lost the PDP ticket Mbadinuju and his loyalists moved over to the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in search of a second term mandate. With the mass defection that hit PDP, especially the coming of APGA, analysts said it became impossible for PDP to win at the first ballot.

But, being in control of the federal government, PDP deployed the legendary federal might to write results for its governorship candidate, Ngige. Yet, the APGA governorship, Obi, himself a beneficiary of imposition on the new platform, brought his financial muscle and bulldog tenacity to bear in the rigorous election petition against Ngige and PDP.

Owing to the fact that Ngige, like Mbadinuju before him had fallen out of favour with his godfathers, it was easy for the ministers in the temple of justice to dispense justice without fear or favour. Not even Ngige’s reminder to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo that “your Excellency, remember that our results were written on the same table,” could save him from the impending judicial review of his electoral ‘victory.’

Three years after the governorship poll, the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, upheld Obi and APGA’s contention that they won the majority of lawful votes cast in the 2003 governorship election. Peter Obi was sworn into office on March 17, 2006, as the rightful governor of Anambra State. And with that, his journey to complete his four years in office reset the governorship election calendar for the state. 

Repeat Of History
MUCH like PDP, which 16 years’ perch at the top echelon of federal politics ended on a contentious note in 2015, APGA in Anambra State is going round a vicious circle of intriguing divisions, subterfuge and conflicting judicial pronouncements.

It appears history is in a hurry to repeat itself in Anambra State as the November 6 date for the governorship poll draws nearer. Alongside the notorious PDP, the two other mega parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and APGA, are all enmeshed in candidate selection uncertainty and conflicting judicial rulings.

Within the governing APGA, three factions emerged to produce three different governorship standard-bearers. While it is obvious that the outgoing governor, Obiano and Victor Oye favour the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, the two other factions led by Jude Okeke and Chief Edozie Njoku, have favourable court rulings that encourage them.

The Jude Okeke faction recently secured a ruling from the Jigawa State High Court, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to list its candidate, Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji as APGA candidate for the election.

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However, surprised by the judicial ambush, Oye accused Okeke as an impostor and usurper, pointing out that the renegade travelled to Birnin Kudu in Jigawa State to sue themselves and obtain a judgment in error against APGA and its authentic candidate, Soludo.

The State High Court, Awka, after listening to Oye’s arguments, ordered INEC to replace Umeoji’s name with that of Soludo, adding that Okeke and Umeoji should stop parading themselves as chairman and governorship candidate of APGA respectively.

On their part, the Njoku faction cried foul, contending that Okeke committed perjury, forgery, and impersonation at Jigawa High Court when he claimed to be Deputy National Chairman (South) of APGA, as well as the claim that he (Njoku) was suspended by the National Executive Committee of the party as APGA national chairman.

Further, the Edozie Njoku hit back at Oye and Soludo, saying that the Federal High Court Awka in its ruling of July 1, 2021 by Justice H. Nganjiwa did not ask INEC to accept Soludo’s name as the candidate of APGA for the November 6 governorship poll.

In a statement, the faction disclosed:  “It has come to the notice of Chief Edozie Njoku that Prof. Charles Soludo and Chief Victor Oye have been going about claiming that Justice Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court Awka ordered that Prof. Soludo’s name be forwarded to INEC. That is far from the truth. Justice Nganjiwa had on 1st July 2021 ordered that the name of Chief Edozie Njoku be forwarded to INEC.

“It is confusing that Oye and his group having now become tired of filing cases all around the country and shopping for an order to validate their illegality have now resorted to claiming orders that were granted in favour of other people.”

The Njoku faction also accused Oye of forum shopping for amenable courts in a bid to validate its position. Some of the myriad court orders obtained, the Njoku faction stated, include, “Ezeokenwa Sylvester filed Suit A/201 at the Awka High Court. Ezeokenwa is the National Legal Adviser to Chief Oye.

*Sir Pete Ibida Member House of Assembly filed Suit A/202 with exactly similar prayers as A/201. Pete Ibida is a member of the House of Assembly for the Oye faction.

*Alhaji Abubakar Adamu filed Suit BA/KTG/103/21 filed at the Bauchi High Court. Abubakar Adamu is the Deputy National Chairman North to Chief Oye.

* Ogbueshi Anthony Ogugua Eboka filed suit HOR/25/2021 at the Delta State High Court Orerokpe. Chief Eboka is the Vice-Chairman South-South to Chief Oye.

*Deacon Samson Olalere filed Suit I/512/2019 at the Oyo State High Court against Oye where both of them got a consent judgment and he was rewarded by being appointed as the Chairman of the illegal primaries that produced Prof Soludo.

*APGA v INEC Suit FHC/AWK/39/21 is at the Federal High Court Awka. P. I. N Ikwueto appeared for APGA in this case and has been appearing for the Oye/Soludo faction.

While urging “relevant and appropriate authorities to call Chief Victor Oye to order to stop abusing the courts and its processes by filing multiple suits,” Njoku declared that time has come to separate fraud from the ridiculous machinations of dubious characters, especially those that forged his signature to obtain the Jigawa High Court judgment. 

IN APC, some governorship aspirants in the June 26 governorship primary of the party, Chief Maxwell Okoye and Dr. George Muoghalu, approached the court asking for the annulment of INEC’s listing of Senator Andy Uba as the party’s candidate.

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Moghalu, in a suit he filed at the Federal High Court, Abuja, averred that APC did not conduct a governorship primary election on June 26, 2021 as it announced. He therefore prayed the court to order INEC not to recognise or list any person as APC’s governorship standard-bearer for the November 6 poll.

Moghalu’s suit, which was filed on his behalf by Chris Uche (SAN) on July 8, 2021, also prayed the court to “compel INEC to delist the name of Uba and APC from among the list of political parties and gubernatorial candidates for the November 6 election or any subsequent postponement.”

The plaintiff deposed to a 40-paragraph affidavit in support of the suit, even as he sustained his claim that the APC failed to conclude the selection and nomination process for its candidate, which it started with the sale of expression of interest and nomination forms.

Moghalu followed up with a motion exparte he filed on July 13, 2021, where he asked the court for an order for expeditious hearing of the suit, “so as not to deny him justice,” even as he prayed the court to declare that Uba is not a candidate in the forthcoming poll, having failed to emerge through a primary as APC did not comply with the provisions of the law. 

FOR PDP, it is back to a well travelled road. The party is troubled by the conduct of a parallel primary that produced two candidates, Mr. Valentine Ozigbo and Senator Ugochukwu Uba.

Both candidates procured court judgments asking INEC to recognise it as the bonafide standard-bearer of PDP for the forthcoming November 6 poll. But a twist in the conflicting judgments, when PDP through its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, accused the Justice O. A. Nwabunike of conniving with Uba to abort justice.

In the statement by Ologbondiyan, PDP demanded the Judge to release the copy of his judgment to enable it appeal against it, stressing that the judge plots to “derail the course of justice by making away with the case file on the Senator Ugochukwu UBA Vs PDP & Ors suit.”

The party remarked that before proceeding on annual vacation, the judge took away the case file and the judgment “in a desperate bid to frustrate an appeal against his judgment on PDP Anambra State governorship primary election.”

Part of the statement reads: “Barely 24 hours after Senator Uba instituted the suit, Justice Nwabunike curiously granted an ex parte injunction restraining INEC from carrying out their constitutional duty and also abridged the time within which the Defendants are legally obliged to file their defence from 42 days to only 3 days in violation of Order 16 Rule 1(2) of the Anambra State High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019. 

“Despite the obvious hardship created by this strange ex parte order, the judge, on the day of the hearing, being the 16th of July 2021, denied the defendants time to respond to the processes served on them and proceeded with the hearing of the Plaintiff’s case.

“Regardless of the 180 days provided by the constitution for the hearing and determination of pre-election matters, the Honorable Court hastily concluded proceedings and delivered judgment within 14 days.”

The party therefore urged Justice O.A Nwabunike to immediately release the case file, noting that “the compromises in the case are already known to the public, especially the people of Anambra State.” 

Although the influence of money and internal party recriminations compound governorship elections in Anambra State, the judiciary has always had the final say on who becomes governor. Will the 2021 exercise follow the same pattern? Nigerians can only wait and see.

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