By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
Next to the widespread insecurity in the country and violent attacks on facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by hoodlums, is the danger posed by internal rumblings within some of the 18 regular political parties fielding in the 2023 poll.
Interestingly, the situation in the political parties have put the country’s judiciary on the spot. In his remarks at a special court sitting to mark the start of the 2022/2023 legal year for the Federal High Court in Abuja, recently, Chief Judge of the court, Justice John Tsoho, disclosed that more than 1,000 pre-election cases were assigned to FHC judges in a bid to beat the constitutional 180-day window for hearing and determination of pre-election causes.
It should be noted that court orders bordering on wrongful substitution or omission of names of winners of primary elections, dubious claims, fractionalisation of party leadership, have continued to alter the list of parties’ nominees for next year’s general elections.
By giving effect to these court orders, INEC said it has amended the list of candidates for governorship and National Assembly positions on its platform. While noting that some semblance of sanity has attended court processes on pre-election matter, the commission’s national commissioner for voter education, Mr. Festus Okoye, told journalists that INEC has so far, replaced no fewer than 126 names.
The INEC spokesman declared that the Electoral Act 2022 reposed jurisdiction for pre-election causes solely on the Federal High Court, instead of the previous instance when even state court could entertain any such matters from any part of the country.
However, while illegal substitutions and faulty nomination process have moved the courts to come down hard on political parties, the issue of internal rifts have also created parallel leaderships that wrong-foot INEC in its preparations and state of preparedness for the 2023 poll.
Intra party disputations have been at the root of the undulating position of candidates on the platforms of Action Alliance (AA), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and African Democratic Congress, (ADC).
But, while the case of APGA remains at the foetal stage, in AA and ADC, the Federal High Court has taken advantage of the new impetus granted it by the Electoral Act 2022 to deliver impactful judgments that continue to reverberate even beyond the parties.
The APGA matter appears the only exception to the new rule, because prior to the coming into force of the Electoral Act 2022, a Jigawa State High Court sitting in Birnin Kudu had pronounced on the leadership wrangling within the party.
Chief Edozie Njoku and Ozo Victor Oye started laying claims to the position of national chairman of APGA following the party’s division over the 2019 national convention of the party.
While the party had originally scheduled the elective convention for Owerri on May 31, 2019, the then chairman, Oye, decided to shift the venue midway into the processes leading to the exercise. But, the confusion took an intriguing dimension when Chief Jude Okeke, who emerged as the deputy national chairman from the Owerri national convention, suddenly announced the suspension of Chief Njoku.
It was based on that ugly development, particularly the urgency of the November 2021 governorship election in Anambra State, that Jude Okeke travelled to Birnin Kudu, Jigawa State, to get the state High Court to legalise the suspension of Chief Njoku, as well as affirm his (Okeke’s) emergence as acting national chairman in Njoku’s place.
Stung by that bold and defiant upset, Oye, who organised a parallel convention at Awka, where he cornered a disputed second term, approached the Court of Appeal in Kano, Kano State. The Appeal Court, in apparent judicial oversight, did not allow the joinder of Edozie Njoku, whose suspension gave rise to the litigation and instead, allowed Oye’s appeal to succeed, thereby granting him (Oye) an interim victory.
Nonetheless, rejecting the Appeal Court judgment, which favoured an outsider to the dispute, Jude Okeke appealed to the Supreme Court, praying for the setting aside of the Kano Appeal Court ruling as well as the upholding of the Jigawa State High Court decision on the matter.
Although the apex court ruled on October 14, 2021 that the removal of Njoku was none justiciable, being an internal party matter, a slip in the enrolled order of the court granted Oye another life support, even as Njoku continued to press on for justice and correct interpretation of the ruling.
As in the Anambra governorship primary, both Oye and Njoku factions conducted straw polls during which rival candidates emerged. Currently, Peter Umeadi and Dr. Chekwas Okorie, are laying claims to the APGA presidential ticket, while the electoral commission is being awaited to take a final position on the matter based on recent corrections effected on the apex court judgment.
APGA’s potpourri of litigation mirror those of Action Alliance (AA), where like Oye, Mr. Kenneth Udeze, has been walking through different courts in search of revalidation of his quashed leadership of AA.
On September 8, Justice J. O. Abdulmalik of Federal High Court, Abeokuta, had ruled on suit No FHC/AB/CS/12072022, in which the expulsion of Udeze from the party was upheld.
Dissatisfied by the judgment, Udeze went on appeal, but lost as the Court of Appeal declared on November 11 that his removal from office was in order and as such could not lawfully claim chairmanship of AA.
Based on the subsisting judgments of FHC Abeokuta and the appellate court, Justice Zainab Abubakar of Abuja Federal High Court granted an order mandating INEC to remove the name of retired Major Hamza Al-Mustapha as the AA presidential candidate, as well as the delisting of all nominees from the Kenneth Udeze-supervised straw polls.
As the court held that he is not the authentic leader of AA, the list of candidates submitted by Udeze were invalid, it ordered INEC to accept the alternate list presented by the plaintiff, Adekunle Omoaje.
Subsequent judicial appeals by Udeze to quash the favourable judgments granted Omoaje on the grounds that they were procured by fraud failed to stand up to reasonable legal scrutiny. There are no indications that a further appeal could change the narrative.
However, the drama in ADC has been roiling the party’s determination to participate in next year’s presidential election. First was the crisis of confidence between the party’s standard bearer, Mr. Dumebi Kachikwu, and the National Working Committee (NWC) led by Chief Ralph Okey Nwosu, which led to the suspension of the presidential candidate.
The Nwosu-led NWC condemned the attempt by Kachikwu to mobilise state chairmen to destabilise the party, noting that his (Kachikwu’s) action “smacks of crass irresponsibility, gross indiscipline, disingenuous scandalization and blackmail, and completely unfit of someone, who wants to be President of Nigeria.”
But, prior to the suspension, Kachikwu and some chairmen of state chapters queried Nwosu’s prolonged stay in office in excess of the two maximum terms of four years each allowed by the constitution.
To put effect to their grievances, the state chairmen went to court and set up a caretaker committee led by Senator Patricia Akwashiki, to pilot the affairs of the ADC pending when a substantive national convention is held to elect new leaders.
However, INEC refused to give its blessing to the Akwashiki-led caretaker committee, by refusing to honour their application for a change of leadership and national secretariat, contending that the letter was irregular not being signed by the chairman and secretary of the party.
Taking advantage of that technical slip, Nwosu and his group went to Kaduna and held a make up National Convention, which ratified their stay in office pending the conclusion of the general election as well as reiterated Kachikwu’s suspension from the party.
The embattled national chairman had told reporters in Abuja that Akwashiki was not an original member of the party, describing her leadership of the Board of Trustees as honorary. He explained that in its wisdom, INEC put up institutional bulwarks to ensure that political parties were not hijacked by desperate politicians that usually shop for platforms during elections.
While Nwosu and his group were relishing their clever ambush, the Federal High Court presided by Justice Binta Nyako, ruled that the leadership had overstayed its mandate and therefore nullified all actions taken by that executive from August 21, 2022 to date.
The favourable Federal High Court ruling enabled Kachikwu to exult. He expressed relief that the judgment came as big Christmas gift to lovers of democracy, pointing out that Nwosu tried to convert ADC to his personal, seasonal political trading platform.
Expressing amazement that Nwosu could last for nearly two decades as chairman, the ADC presidential contender disclosed that: “Nwosu, deceived the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and everyone else to hang on as chairman for so long.”
Kachikwu condemned the penchant for chairmen of some lowly rated parties to create false sense of spread to engage in electoral transaction, pointing out that it was erroneous to equate party structures with well-established platforms.
He regretted that the former national chairman populated ADC with a plethora of placeholders, remarking that any serious presidential or gubernatorial candidate needs the structure of serious down-ballot candidates to operate.
“They are the ones to mobilise their people for you. The day you show up in their state they all want to show you the serious support they have amongst their people by mobilising them to the venue of your rally.
“So, what happens when there is no down-ballot candidate who is running a serious election? It means you are crippled. This is why we have been unable to have rallies in the different states. Nobody is there to host you,” he bemoaned.
Kachikwu disclosed that the tragedy of Nwosu’s ADC was that “he gave us the impression that this party had similar structures like APC and PDP across the country. This was the lie of the century.
“What many of us didn’t know was that this man was using us to send a message to the bigger parties that ADC had many persons vying for her ticket. Once the bigger parties got the message that ADC was a formidable force he could then use this to trade at the appropriate time.
“In this election season how many rallies or town halls organised by guber candidates down to House of Assembly candidates have you seen him attending? You will scarcely find any, because over 90 percent of guber and other down ballot candidates are place-holders who are not running elections. This is the tragedy of Nwosu’s ADC,” Kachikwu declared.
Calling for greater stakeholder-involvement, the ADC presidential standard-bearer, shuddered: “How did he stay on as Chairman of a political party for 17yrs without winning even a House of Assembly seat in his state and nobody noticed or talked about it?
“Well, this is the magic of the century. Nwosu made certain Presidential aspirants pay N25m for their forms and when we challenged this he told us that ADC was the third largest party/ third force and that we should see how much APC and PDP were selling their forms.”
Meanwhile, as the ADC presidential standard bearer was beating his chest for doing what none of the party stakeholders could not do, Nwosu and his camp appealed against the Abuja Federal High Court ruling.
The ADC national legal adviser, Peters Oyewole, who briefed journalists on the latest development in the party, disclosed that the party appealed the judgment. Oyewole explained that the ADC leadership under Nwosu was ready to slog it out on the court’s ruling that the party ”could hold a national convention to elect new officials.”
He pointed out that the Federal High Court failed to pronounce on the institution of “a Caretaker Committee as being claimed by some former party leaders,“ whom he described as disgruntled members.
According to the National Legal Adviser, for ADC, “the status quo remains, in line with the constitution and electoral laws,” following that application for a stay of execution of the FHC judgement.
Justice Nyako had ruled that the ADC leadership, having began in August, 2018, the NWC, under Ralph Okey-Nwosu, ended in August this year, and therefore, the emergency NEC meeting called by the committee was “null and void.”
But, Nwosu and his group are fighting back in the claim that not only does nature abhor a vacuum, the court did not uphold the establishment of a care-taker committee, which they described as a stranger to the ADC constitution.
With the current position of things in ADC, its participation in the presidential election remains a subject of conjecture, just as it seems possible that the Nwosu-led NWC would hang unto power as the litigation lasts and until the election is over and another convention is held.
Source: The Guardian