By Olusegun Adeniyi
It is not for nothing that I call Dr Okey Ikechukwu ‘Ijele’. The former University of Lagos philosophy lecturer has a way with words. Asked on ARISE Channels early in June for his impression of the acrimony resulting from the gubernatorial primaries of leading political parties in Anambra, Ikechukwu dismissed the situation as the usual “epidemic of court cases” that define election seasons in the state. Nothing could be more apt.
This judicial ‘epidemic’ that first began in Awka has, within two months, spread to at least seven states across four geo-political zones in the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). For an election holding in Anambra, it is beyond scandalous that cases have been filed and heard at the Jigawa State High Court in Dutse, Delta State High Court, Okperke Division, Bauchi State High Court, Katagum Division, Abia State High Court, Ukwa Division, Imo State High Court, Owerri, FCT High Court, (Bwari and Maitama Divisions), Federal High Court, (Abuja and Awka Divisions), Court of Appeal, Kano Division, Anambra State High Court, Awka etc. As things stand, some of the cases will not cease until they reach the Supreme Court.
Mr Festus Okoye, the INEC national commissioner in charge of public enlightenment, recently lamented that these indiscriminately dispensed orders and judgements from diverse courts have “far-reaching implications on the conduct of the Anambra State governorship election”. This is because party chairman, the target of most of the cases, plays some vital roles in the election process. The commission, according to Okoye, usually issues access codes to the national chairman of political parties with which they upload the personal details and list of their candidates electronically. Thus, the inability of INEC to ascertain who is the chairman of a participating party may create a huge problem. “Unfortunately, some of the judgements and orders given especially on the primary elections in Anambra state have bypassed our portal and sought to restore the manual submission of the list and personal particulars of candidates,” said Okoye. He added that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the commission to obey these court orders and judgements “as some of the political parties and the candidates have perfected the art of shopping for the first in time or the latest in time”.
The danger of this state of affairs, as I have highlighted in the past, is that it encourages judges to issue orders on matters not within their jurisdictional competence, putting the judicial system in jeopardy. That forum shopping has become a weapon of political mischief and corruption in Nigeria should worry critical stakeholders in the justice sector. Many countries have taken a tough stance on it. In a landmark case on 5th March 2003, the Supreme Court in the Philippines described forum shopping as “the institution of two or more suits in different courts, either simultaneously or successively, in order to ask the courts to rule on the same or related causes and/or to grant the same or substantially the same reliefs,” before reaching this conclusion: “It is an act of malpractice that is prohibited and condemned because it trifles with the courts and abuses their processes. It degrades the administration of justice.”
Whatever reliefs are being sought by Anambra politicians, the overall objective in this game is to scuttle the ambition of someone or ensure they get their name (or that of their principal) on the ballot. This is regardless of the outcome of party primaries. Not surprisingly, the majority of these cases originate from members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the party in power in Anambra State. They are targeted at the candidature of the assumed front-runner in the upcoming gubernatorial election, the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo. But there are also cases within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a few other fringe parties. Caught in the middle is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has had to change the names of candidates as dictated by the courts. This singular fact has presented its own problem. On 19th July, there were two conflicting orders from courts of coordinate jurisdiction on the PDP gubernatorial ticket being contested by Senator Ugochukwu Uba and Mr Valentine Ozigbo who has been endorsed by the party’s national secretariat.
Before I conclude, let me highlight a few of the cases that have come up within the last two months. On 23rd June, Alhaji Rabiu Garba Aliyu filed a case against Chief Jude Okeke at Dutse High Court, seeking an order to validate the APGA Owerri national convention of 31st May 2019 and declare him (Aliyu) the validly elected Deputy National Chairman (North). On the same day, Alhaji Kabiru Yusuf filed a case against INEC at the Bwari division of the FCT High Court seeking an Order to compel the commission to monitor the APGA primaries then scheduled to hold on 1st July 2021 under the leadership of Chief Jude Okeke. Again, on the same day at FHC, Akwa, Chief Eze Boston sought an Order to declare the APGA Owerri convention of 31st May 2019 null and void. A day later, on 24th June, Hon. Pete Ibida was at the High Court in Akwa seeking a declaration that those elected as members of National Working Committee (NWC) of APGA on 31st May 2019 were entitled to conduct the gubernatorial primaries as well as an Order restraining INEC from accepting, receiving, or recognizing as APGA gubernatorial candidate from any other primaries except the one conducted by Victor Oye and his NWC.
Chief Sopuluchukwu Ezeonwuka instituted, on 25th June 2021, the most dramatic case in FHC Akwa where he sought a declaration that any aspirant who purchased APGA’s nomination form could validly contest the gubernatorial primaries irrespective of the faction from which the nomination form was purchased. On the same 25th June, Mr Sylvester Ezeokenwa sought an Order from the Anambra High Court, to declare the APGA national convention of 31st May 2019 as the authentic one that produced the NWC members and thus the only body to conduct APGA gubernatorial primaries and submit name of candidate to INEC. On 28th June, Ogbueshi Anthony Eboka was at the High Court of Delta State (Okerkpe Division) seeking an Order to declare that all members of APGA were bound by the party’s constitution as well as an injunction restraining INEC from accepting or recognising names of certain people as candidate. On 13th July, Okoye Nonyelum Nwabuogo sought an Order nullifying, invalidating, and setting aside the APGA special ward congresses held on 15th June 2021 for being in default of notice of 21 days to INEC as well as an Order nullifying, invalidating, and setting aside result of the primaries held on 23rd June 2021. Same day, 13th July, Alhaji Abubakar Adamu at the High Court of Bauchi State (Katagum Division) sought an Order to declare him as the APGA acting chairman with the power to conduct primaries and nominate candidate for the Anambra State gubernatorial election.
You may wonder what could be the business of these Alhajis in an election holding in the Southeast. That is because you know little about Anambra politicians. Behind these Alhajis are prominent political Ogbuefis. On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal sitting in Kano ruled on the appeal of Alhaji Kabiru Yusuf who had earlier filed a case against INEC at the Bwari division of the FCT High Court, and subsequently filed another one in Jigawa when he was dissatisfied with the ruling of the FCT High Court. He got a judgement in Jigawa High Court that initially made INEC to withhold the name of Soludo from the list of candidates. With the affirmation by the Court of Appeal of Victor Oye, the INEC’s recognized chairman of the party, the ambition of Michael Omeoji is now technically over unless the Supreme Court reverses the decision of the Court of Appeal.
This sordid drama, sadly, is not restricted to APGA. On 26th June at the FHC Akwa, Edwin Akwuobi sought an Order to declare that the PDP Anambra State Congress conducted on 26th June 2021 was not properly constituted and therefore null and void. On 7th July at the Anambra High Court in Akwa, Senator Ugochukwu Uba sought an Order to declare that the PDP primaries conducted on the same day at a different location, which produced him as winner, is valid, lawful, proper, and binding on the party. On 9th July at the FHC Akwa, Hon Genevieve Ekwochi sought an Order setting aside the PDP primaries conducted on the 26th of June 2021. This case has been adjourned till 21st September which means another banana peel is on the cards. On 16th July, Dr Godwin Ezeemo sought an Order declaring that the PDP primaries in which Ozigbo emerged the winner was null and void. Meanwhile, the drama in the APC has been no less intense. On 16th July, Hon Maxwell Okoye was at the FHC, Awka, seeking an Order to declare him the APC gubernatorial candidate. On 19th July, Dr George Moghalu sought an Order to compel INEC to delist the name of Emmanuel Andy Nnamdi Uba from among the list of candidates participating in the election.
There are also cases within the smaller parties, even though petitioners may be proxies for others within the leading parties. For instance, on 19th July at the High Court of Abia State, Ukwa Division, in a case involving Action Alliance (AA), Hon Chukwudi Tony Ezekwelu sought an Order to recognize the gubernatorial candidate and running mate submitted by the Chief Kenneth Udeze leadership as the authentic, lawful, and duly nominated candidates of the party for the election. Other cases involve Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP).
Clearly there is an interesting intersection between politics and the judiciary in Anambra State. President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed as much in one of the interview sessions I had with him before the publication of my 2017 book, ‘Against The Run of Play’. In explaining how his view on the distinction between corruption and stealing was deliberately taken out of context by his opponents, President Jonathan illustrated his point with a meeting he held with the leadership of both the legislature and judiciary to find an institutional framework to tackle corruption in Nigeria: “…I also invited Chief Judges from one state in each of the six geopolitical zones. I specifically requested for Lagos and Anambra to represent their zones. My choosing Anambra was because that is one state where every political aspirant goes into election with at least two court orders in his pocket. You cannot fight corruption without dealing with such issues”.
I agree with President Jonathan that what is happening in Anambra State is antithetical to democracy. But we should not blame the politicians. In fact, there is a positive to what is happening in Anambra State. As Dr Ikechukwu also said, rarely do you see violence in Anambra politics. It’s either the politicians engage in ‘financial shootout’ (a phrase coined by Mr Ferdinand Agu) or they slug it out at the courts. That is commendable in a milieu where elections are generally fought as a do-or-die affair in which lives are usually lost.
However, the growing trend of indiscriminate use of ill-gotten court orders and judgements to achieve political goals is fast eroding the credibility of the Bench in Nigeria. And those we must blame are judicial officers who offer themselves as willing tools for desperate politicians. At all times and in all circumstances, the role of the courts as the interpreter of the law, resolver of disputes and defender of the constitution, requires that Judges abide by their oath. A judiciary debilitated by, or prone to, all manner of misconduct, including hawking judgments and orders, is a danger to any society. That danger stares us in the face even more conspicuously in the reprehensible free flow of baffling court orders and judgements regarding the upcoming Anambra State gubernatorial election.
A Clash of Interests
From 1999 to 2007, Sheddy Ozoene was spokesman to the then Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ononefe Ibori. So, when he told me last year that he was writing a book on politics, I was excited. Even if he avoided some of the controversies that dogged the administration he served, I reasoned, an account of politics in Delta State would be fascinating. I was therefore surprised when I arrived my office recently to see a copy of Ozoene’s book on my table. It was not about Delta State! And the title says it all, ‘Clash of Interests: Godfathers and the contest for political power in Enugu State’.
Unknown to me, Ozoene hails from Enugu State and also served as spokesman to the incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi between 2015 and 2019. I was initially disappointed that the book was not about Delta State, but the moment I began to read, it was difficult to put down. Ozoene not only provided rich insights into the nature of political godfatherism in Enugu State from 1999 to date, but he also named names. In an environment where the only lucrative enterprise is politics, those who make it their own business to get people elected into public offices will also always be in demand. But there are codes for this business as I wrote in my 2019 piece, ‘The Way of Godfathers’. There are also enormous rewards for political entrepreneurs, as I learned from interactions with the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu.
The lessons to draw from Ozoene’s book on Enugu politics, which is not much different from what you find in many other states, is that politics for the godfather is not based on platforms, issues or programmes. Concerns about the welfare of the people have nothing to do with it. It is all in pursuit of personal interests. That of course leads to the clash of interests that Ozoene talks about in his book. At the end, we can all agree that no society can thrive when public engagement is dictated by political godfathers.
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