By Obinna Ezugwu
Tomorrow, Saturday January 13, the people of Anambra Central Senatorial District will head to the polls for the rerun senatorial election, but it is an election that will most likely be marred by voter apathy.
Chief Victor Umeh of the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the state is probably the only candidate on the ballot papers, he is the only person campaigning for the election. Across the length and breadth of Anambra Central, Umeh’s posters adorn roads and streets.
Both the country’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are busy trying to recover the senatorial mandate through the court, leaving Umeh as the sole known candidate.
But the APGA man is not particularly liked, as many people spoken to say he is no as popular with the people, but even his critics say tomorrow’s poll is all about him because there is no other person contesting with him.
“It is only Umeh, is there anyone running with him?” Asked a woman who gave her name as Mama Chisom. “He will win because he is the only one, but winning is one thing and taking the seat is another.
“From what I know, the case is in court and it is largely an internal affair of the PDP.”
The Senatorial seat became vacant in 2015 when the election of Mrs. Uche Ekwunife then of the PDP was nullified because he was not validly nominated.
The state’s Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal sitting in Awka had in their concurrent judgments nullified the election that produced Ekwunife as Senator for the district in 2015, on the premise that she was not validly nominated.
Both the tribunal and the appellate court directed INEC to conduct fresh re-run election within 90 days and consequently disqualified Ekwunife from participating in the rerun polls.
But she proceeded to court to challenge her disqualification. Nonetheless, February 10, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the verdict of the Court of Appeal on her disqualification and the rerun was final.
However, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo who contested the PDP primary election that produced Ekwunife in 2014 had proceeded to a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to claim that he was the validly elected candidate of the party having scored the highest number of votes in the primary.
In a suit marked FHC/Abj/CS/1092/14, which Okonkwo filed against the PDP, its former National Chiarman, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, INEC and Mrs. Uche Ekwunife in 2014, he told the court that he contested and won the primary election PDP conducted on December 7, 2014, at Ekwueme Square in Awka by scoring the highest number of votes cast at the said primary.
He said the primary was conducted by the National Executive Committee of the party. However, according to him, the Chairman of the Electoral Panel that was sent to Anambra state to conduct the exercise, refused to sign and forward the Result Sheet of the primary poll and insisted that Abuja had directed them on whom they should return whether the Plaintiff scored the highest number of votes or not.
Dissatisfied with action of the party, the Okonkwo filed the suit in which he sought an interpretation of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010, by the court, even as he alleged breach of provisions of 2014 PDP Guidelines for primary election.
On December 13, the high court in a judgement delivered by Justice John Tsoho, recognised him as the validly elected senator for the senatorial zone and ordered Senate President, Bukola Saraki to swear him in.
Following the judgement, the PDP asked INEC not to proceed with Saturday’s election, but the electoral body resisted, maintaining that the high court gave the consent judgement that recoginized Okonkwo in error.
The electoral body argued that the high court lacked the powers to order the issuance of Certificate of Return to Okonkwo, when the appellate court which is higher in hierachy, had earlier made definite orders that fresh election should be conducted for the Senatorial district within 90 days. It noted that both Okonkwo and the PDP were parties to all the cases at the appellate court.
Dr Okonkwo and the PDP would eventually approach the Appeal Court to stop the election, but the court on Thursday refused the request.
While this continued, Umeh who ran on the APGA platform in the election that produced Ekwunife and had gone to court to claim he was the rightful winner of the election had been the only one preparing for the election while Ekwunife had since defected to the APC.
Thus, while it is almost certain that Umeh will win on Saturday, the concern is whether he will take the seat in view of the pending court cases.