The news headlines greeting the result of the Saturday, January 13, Anambra Central senatorial election screamed variously: “APGA in landslide victory,” “Victor Umeh elected senator,” “Umeh in resounding victory,” etc. The headlines tell a true story, but not the whole story. True, Chief Victor Umeh swept the polls in each of the seven local government areas, which make up the Anambra Central Senatorial District, by winning over 95 per cent of the 67,000 votes cast. It was a triumph that could be described as a chronicle of a victory foretold, to paraphrase the Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It came less than two months after Governor Willie Obiano’s sensational triumph in the November 18, 2017, gubernatorial vote in which he won each of the 21 LGAs in the state by a landslide.
Both Governor Obiano and Umeh won on the ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). It simply shows that APGA has been etched in the hearts and minds of the people because of the robust performance record it has established firmly. As the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo once remarked, there is nothing as satisfying as leaders having their names engraved in the souls of their people. This fact should serve as a very important lesson to all Nigerians, beginning with states that share boundary with Anambra State, like Imo, Abia and Delta.
The fear of APGA may be the beginning of wisdom in not just Anambra State but also the South East and, perhaps, the former Eastern Region, because of its accomplishments. Dr Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Employment, who scored a miserable 975 votes, issued a strongly-worded statement on Saturday evening denouncing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for including his name in the list of candidates contesting in the Anambra Central rerun. Though he was the APC candidate in the Anambra Central senatorial election in 2015, Ngige claimed that INEC included his name this time just to ridicule him. Ex-governor Peter Obi must thank the Court of Appeal from excluding him in the rerun. Otherwise, he would have lost again, after the shellacking of November 18, 2017, where he and his surrogate candidate, Oseloka Obaze, were defeated in their local government areas in the governorship election. As things stand today, it is APGA all the way in all elections in the South East.
Yet, the victory of the January 13 Anambra Central senatorial election does not go to either APGA or Umeh. It rather belongs squarely to the people of Anambra State and, by extension, all Nigerian people. The election is a mark of the triumph of due process, the rule of law, democracy, justice, equity and fair play. The people of Anambra Central have finally got a senator, the first time since November 2015, when the Court of Appeal removed Mrs. Uche Ekwunife from the Senate because she was not duly elected a senator to represent the zone. All attempts by the INEC to conduct the necessary re-run election were frustrated by politicians, who, unfortunately for the nation, found a willing ally in some judges.
Even though he did not contest in the initial election held during the 2015 polls, a former governor of the state did everything to participate in the re-run election. Apart from printing and distributing posters announcing his candidature, the the Federal High Court was approached to order that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) be allowed to present a candidate in the election. The request was, to use a euphemism, curious, because the PDP candidate in the original polls, Mrs. Ekwunife, had since defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). As every fresh Law student knows, only candidates who participated in the initial election can take part in a rerun. Still, the Federal High Court, in March 2016, ordered that the PDP be included in the list of political parties to participate in the Anambra Central election rerun, which was earlier scheduled to hold on March 5, 2016. This judgment has, expectedly, since been vacated by the superior court. The Court of Appeal was to disqualify both Mrs. Uche Ekwunife and the PDP from participating in the rerun.
Rather than allow INEC to conduct the rerun and enable the people of Anambra Central to have a representative in the Senate, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo went to court to ask that he be declared winner of the 2015 senatorial election on the grounds that he won the highest number of votes in the purported PDP primary, which he claimed was conducted on December 7, 2014. But a court of competent jurisdiction had ruled that the PDP conducted no primary election to choose its standard-bearer in the 2015 senatorial election, even though it collected N4.5 million from each aspirant for this purpose. Yes, Justice Olasumbo Goodluck of the Federal High Court last month directed the PDP to refund Chike Maduekwe his own N4.5 million. How Dr. Okonkwo would claim that he, indeed, won the primary, which was never held in the first place, is a conundrum. Still, Justice John Tsoho of the Federal Capital Territory, on December 13, 2017, first ordered INEC to present a certificate of return to Okonkwo and also instructed the National Assembly authorities to swear in Okonkwo as a senator.
Of course, both INEC and the Senate ignored the order because it was bizarre. The order came against the decision by the Court of Appeal, which is superior to the FCT High Court, cancelling the so-called senatorial election in Anambra Central in December 2015, and directing the conduct of a rerun within 90 days. Even illiterate Nigerians recognise that a decision of the Court of Appeal is binding on every High Court. Good a thing, Justice Tsoho reversed himself on Friday, January 12, 2018, and blamed his earlier order on his being misdirected.
Chief Umeh has proved himself to be a determined fighter for justice, due process and rule of law. If only other APGA candidates in Anambra State in the 2015 had fought like him after they were openly and brazenly robbed of victory by the PDP, which used its so-called ‘Federal Might’ to rig the election, being in power at the centre, all the National Assembly members from the state would have been APGA members. With President Muhammadu Buhari enthroning the rule of law by allowing INEC to conduct free and fair elections, APGA is now regaining strength and growing bigger and better. No wonder, National Assembly members from Anambra State are moving into APGA in droves. The people are winning in Anambra State and elsewhere.
• Hon. Nsofor, former Majority Leader in the Anambra State House of Assembly, is a Knight of St. Christopher in the Anglican Communion and member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He was, until recently, chairman of the PDP Caretaker Committee, Anambra State.