by Chika Njoku
On 5th December, 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the Imo North Senatorial bye-election scheduled to replace the late Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu who represented the constituency before his death.
At the end of the election, the INEC returning officer, Hakeem Adikun, announced the All Progressives Congress (APC) the party with the highest number of valid votes cast with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the runner-up, having come second in the voting process.
Surprisingly, INEC did not return a candidate winner of the election despite the fact that it announced APC as the party with the highest number of valid votes cast in the election.
According to INEC, the decision not to declare any candidate winner was as a result of a plethora of court judgments on who was the authentic standard bearer of the APC for the election.
Before the election, a Federal High Court in Owerri, Imo State, had in suit No. FHC/OW/CS/101/2020, disqualified Chukwuma Francis Ibezim as the candidate of the APC and ordered INEC to replace him with Senator Ifeanyi Godwin Ararume as the APC candidate for the election. The court upheld Ibezim’s disqualification by the APC screening committee for perjury and certificate forgery. However, on the eve of the election (4th December, 2020), the Court of Appeal in Owerri declared Ibezim candidate on the basis that he won the controversial primaries of the APC for the senatorial bye-election. It is instructive that the Court of Appeal’s judgment did not address the disqualification of Ibezim for perjury and forgery.Advertisements
In a similar vein, a Federal High Court, Abuja, headed by Justice Inyang Ekwo on 4th December, 2020 in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/1229/2020 disqualified Ibezim from contesting the senatorial bye-election and declared him unfit to hold public office for life because of the offences of perjury and falsification of his academic credentials.
It is indisputable that the criminal offences of forgery and perjury which two Federal High Courts found Ibezim guilty of and declared him unfit to contest elections have not been quashed by any court of higher jurisdiction. A legal luminary and a very senior member of the Bar, Barr. Philip Ibekwe says that, “the fundamental problem which makes Ibezim’s candidature a nullity is his conviction for perjury and forgery which he has not appealed against in a court of higher jurisdiction”. Barr. Ibekwe says that any attempt by INEC to give Ibezim certificate of return would amount to an exercise in futility since he is yet to clear the statutory impediment of his declaration as unfit to hold public office and contest elections. Barr. Ibekwe maintains that Ibezim has “statutory stigma which made his participation in the election an illegality from abinitio”. He insists: “Ibezim cannot go to the Senate with this legal stigma and impediment which he is yet to clear.”
Though Ibezim insists he should be declared winner of the Imo North Senatorial bye-election, another legal luminary, Barr. Victor Giwa, describes Ibezim’s aspiration as an illusion, insisting that INEC would not make the mistake of recognising a man who illegally participated in an election for which he was declared unfit to run for the serious offences of perjury and forgery. Giwa maintains that in the sight of the law, Ibezim was an interloper who trespassed into the lawful activity of an election. He advised INEC to quickly issue the certificate of return to Senator Ararume who in his thinking, the law favours.
Ararume’s decision to file a notice of appeal in the Supreme Court and a motion for stay of execution of the Appeal Court’s judgment should be considered as a move that seems to have put the law on his side. This move was initiated the same day the Court of Appeal in Owerri delivered its judgement. While Ararume was able to initiate an appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Ibezim relaxed and never challenged the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which declared him unfit to run the election and hold public office.