By Robinson Amaechi.
The Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party(PDP) in the March 2023 Governorship Election in Ebonyi State, Dr Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii has asked the Ebonyi Governorship Election Petition Tribunal to declare him winner of the Governorship election.
This was the submission of Odii through his team of lawyers, led by Chief Chris Uche(SAN), just as the PDP, APC and APGA and their candidates in the election adopted their final written addresses, as the Justice A.L. Ogunmoye-led three man panel reserved judgement on the matter for a later date, to be communicated to the legal teams of all the parties.
This development followed the declaration of Nwifuru as the winner by the Independent National Electoral (Commission) after the March 18, 2023 Governorship Election in Ebonyi State.
After Nwifuru’s declaration, Odii filed a petition through his lawyers at the Tribunal on 7th April, 2023. In the petition marked EPT/EB/02/2023, Odii and the PDP challenged the declation of Nwifuru, contending that INEC was wrong to have declared Nwifuru the winner as he was not properly sponsored by a political party as demanded by the provisions of section 177(c) of the 1999 Constitution as ammended.
They argued that his purported election was characterized by corrupt practices contrary to the extant provisions of the 2022 Electoral Act and that he did not secure the majority of lawful votes cast in the election.
Moreover, the petitioners argued that Nwifuru did not validly resign from the PDP before he was allegedly nominated by the APC as its Governorship Candidate.
They also urged the Tribunal to order the INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Nwifuru and to return same to Odii who was the first runner up in the election.
But Nwifuru, through his lawyers, led by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu(SAN) opposed the petition and urged the Tribunal to dismiss the it for lacking in merit.
They averred that the issue of membership of political parties cannot be the basis for disqualifying a candidate as the political parties knew whom their members were.
The petitioners had predicated their petition on three main authorities, namely: the ruling of the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided over by Justice Inya Ekwo on 8th March, 2022, the judgement of an Abakaliki High Court presided over by Justice H. A. Njoku and a Supreme Court judgement delivered in March, 2023.
On the judgement of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in a matter brought against the 16 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly by the PDP, the Court ordered that the 16 members (including the then Speaker, Nwifuru) should vacate their seats, having crossed over to the APC.
The affected House of Assembly members sought for, and got a “Stay of Execution” of the judgement and also appealed against the judgement of the Federal High Court at the Court of Aopeal. But the matter has remained at the Court of Appeal without prosecution till date.
Then in order to block the pressure of vacating their seats, the 16 members of the House went further and deposed to an affidavit, signed by the Clerk of the Assembly on their behalf where they asserted that they still remained PDP members, based on which the Abakaliki High Court then ruled that they were still members of PDP and would not have to vacate their seats.
Then the third authority was the case of one of the 16 members, Victor Chukwu(former Majority Leader of the House) whom the APC gave a ticket to run for the 2023 election into the State House of Assembly. But the Supreme Court in its judgement on the matter brought between Chukwu and his opponent in the APC primary election, ruled that Chukwu was still in the PDP and should not have been granted an APC ticket.
The apex Court ordered that the APC ticket be given to Chukwu’s challenger who was then declared winner of the primaries.
Another important issue raised by the petitioners was the purported resignation ofbGov. Nwifuru. The lead Counsel to Odii, Chief Uche(SAN) argued that the resignation was an “afterthought”, as the document document ( which they tendered and was admitted in evidence)was not signed and moreover the resignation letter was directed to the APC instead of PDP.
Uche, SAN, likened it to a “situation where a man who wrote a letter of divorce to his wife, directed the letter to his newly intended wife and not to the one he wanted to divorce”.
But in their reply, the lawyers to Gov. Nwifuru contended that “it was not for the petitioners to dictate to the APC who their members were”.
After all the legal exchanges, it is now left for the Tribunal to examine all the issues and give judgement at a date to be communicated to both parties through their lawyers.
The National Organizing Secretary and the National Legal Adviser of the APC wrote officially to the High Court of Abakaliki in 2022 denying knowledge of the 16 members of the House of Assembly. In their separate letters, they denied knowing them as members of the APC.
Documents were tendered by the Petitioners to prove that Nwifuru and the 16 members of the House had been remitting their party dues to PDP up and untill May, 2023.