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Of Ibezim, Araraume, INEC And Imo North Senatorial By-election

By Oseloka Zikora  |

The attention of the Sir Frank Ibezim campaign organisation has been drawn to a hatchet opinion piece by one Chika Njoku published on the Friday December 11th edition of LEADERSHIP. Writing under the title “INEC, Ararume And Imo Senatorial Bye-election”, Njoku sought mischievously to confuse the readers into believing that his obvious sponsor, Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume was the winner of the December 5th Imo North Senatorial by-election. it was meant to not only tilt public opinion to Ararume’s favour, but to perhaps blackmail INEC into awarding the certificate of return to a man who to all intents and purposes did not participate as the APC candidate for the polls.

Njoku’s spins of false narratives and mischief remain an obfuscation of the facts of the matter. There would be no need to rehash the writer’s alternative facts as any discerning reader would have noticed the desperation in the misadventure. On the contrary, this rejoinder seeks to counter the falsehoods with real facts and to set the records straight.

Fact no 1 is that Sir Frank Ibezim duly contested and won the APC Imo North bye-election party primaries beating Ararume to a distant third position. Second fact is that Ibezim was the candidate on ballot on election day having had his lawful mandate restored to him by a three-member Federal Court Appeal Panel which quashed a scandalous judgement by a Federal High Court Owerri which had earlier removed Ibezim from the INEC list of candidates.

Thirdly, Ibezim, flying the APC ticket, won the Imo North Senatorial by-election held on December 5th 2020 with a total of thirty-six thousand, eight and eleven votes to PDP’s 31, 903 votes.

Worthy of note is the rebuke of Justice Ringim of the FHC Owerri by the Court of Appeal when in delivering their judgement the Court stated inter-alia: “It is baffling, shocking and unbelievable how the Judge misdirected himself and delivered a ridiculous and controversial judgement without jurisdiction?” Significantly the major consequent implication of the Court of Appeal judgement was the frustration of the notorious way usually employed by Sen. Ararume to win the ballot through the back door.

Unfortunately for him, by that singular judgement, all his claims to being a candidate for the election were rendered null and void. Not even his claim of filing a notice of Appeal against the judgement at the Supreme Court can ameliorate the incurable defect of his candidature.

It is trite law that notice of appeal does not stay the execution of a subsisting judgement. Since he does not have a stay of execution, he therefore suffers the harm of being ignominiously removed from the ballot by the Court of Appeal, and rightly so.

That incurable defect is occasioned by a provision in the 4th alteration to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution amending portions of Section 185 dealing with pre-election matters. That provision states that “An election tribunal or court shall not declare any person a winner at an election in which such a person has not fully participated in all stages of the election.” This is why the suggestion by INEC commissioner, Barr. Festus Okoye that there are two prospective APC candidates in that by-election is tragically faulty.

There is only one candidate contesting on the APC platform and that is Sir Frank Ibezim. Reason being that he does not have same debilitating handicap. Yes, it is true that a Federal High Court Abuja presided over Justice Inyang Ekwo curiously disqualified Ibezim from contesting the election in a controversial judgement delivered at about 10 am Friday 4th December 2020. Yet, INEC must take judicial note of the judgement later that same day by a superior Court of Appeal mandating the umpire to reinstate Ibezim on the ballot as the APC lawful candidate for the election.

So INEC ought to obey that still subsisting order notwithstanding the lower court’s controversial order. If it feels unease about the so-called disqualification of Ibezim by the lower court which is already being challenged by Ibezim, what INEC should have done is to first obey the superior court judgement while it approaches the Appeal Court for further clarification. It is not within the purview of its authority to refuse to return Ibezim as the winner of the election, since there is no court order under which Ararume could be said to be the APC candidate.

I have referred the lower FHC Abuja order of 4th December as controversial because Justice Ekwo was billed to deliver that judgement the previous week of 27th November. His sudden postponement of delivery to the eve of the election was rather curious and tended to reinforce the perception of some that the change in timing was designed as an ambush on Ibezim.
It is however a pre-election matter which has life up to the Supreme Court, and which constitutionally grants Ibezim fourteen days from judgement delivery within which to file an appeal. However, the concomitant effect of the Court of Appeal order is that it protects Ibezim’s candidature while he pursues his appeal on the provocative lower court’s decision.

On Njoku’s allusion that Ibezim was “convicted” for perjury and forgery, that of course is a fairy tale and the distorted imagination of a troubled soul. The matter before Justice Ekwo was a civil matter, not a criminal case, and so there is no perjury conviction or declaration of Ibezim as unfit to hold public office. The spewing of such falsehood credited to an unknown Barr. Victor Giwa in the write up is quite clearly a libelous diatribe and Ibezim may need to seek legal redress in the hands of his traducers. That is if Njoku and Giwa are real persons not fictitious names of non-existent persons.

In conclusion, it is instructive to state that Ibezim is eminently qualified and was cleared to contest the APC primaries by the party’s caretaker National Working Committee being the statutory organ authorised by the party’s constitution to clear or disqualify aspirants seeking the party’s ticket.

That responsibility is not conferred on any screening and/or Appeals Committee which mandate is only recommendatory. Screening and/or Appeals committees are ad-hoc, not statutory party organs manned by elected officials or by NEC duly appointed caretaker officials.

Such ad-hoc committees are most times populated by members with partisan interests with a tendency of rendering controversial outcomes that often rub off negatively. The framers of the party’s constitution, aware of the likelihood of such pandering and in the wisdom of enthroning equity and fairness, entrusts only the NWC the authority of deciding who contests a primary or not.

–Zikora, a public affairs analyst and immediate past Governing Council Chairman, Federal Polytechnic, Offa, writes from Abuja

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