With about three months to the governorship election in Anambra State, it is pathetic that voters are yet to know the real candidates for the exercise. Factions of the three major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are currently contesting the exercise in courts. The development has given rise to conflicting rulings by courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
There have always been disagreements in the selection of candidates at primary elections in some states in the country. But the Anambra scenario has assumed a ridiculous dimension. It is not healthy for our nascent democracy which well-meaning Nigerians are struggling to nurture.
The three major political parties had their primary elections in June. But since then, it has been from one controversy to the other. The APC primary appears to be the most controversial. Eleven of its 14 governorship aspirants had rejected the outcome of the primary which saw Senator Andy Uba emerging as its elected candidate. Even the leader of the party in the state, Dr. Chris Ngige, also questioned the conduct of the primary election. He called for a repeat of the exercise, saying there was no election. Ironically, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) appeared unperturbed with the APC primary as it swiftly recognised Uba as the governorship candidate of the party in Anambra.
The scenario is worse for APGA and PDP. The Victor Oye-led APGA had elected Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo as its governorship candidate. The euphoria was short-lived as Hon. Chuma Umeoji also laid claim to the same position. Umeoji, a current member of the House of Representatives, was screened out of the primary election.
But he aligned with the faction of one Jude Okeke to obtain a court judgement in Jigawa State, which facilitated his emergence as the faction’s governorship candidate. INEC, in its wisdom, chose to publish the name of Umeoji instead of Soludo as the candidate of APGA. A few days later, the Oye faction obtained its own judgement from an Awka High Court affirming Soludo as the authentic candidate of the party.
While APGA factions were flexing muscle in Jigawa and Awka, the PDP factions did not relent. The faction that produced Mr. Valentine Ozigbo as its standard-bearer was still holding victory party when the faction loyal to Chris Uba announced Ugochukwu Uba as the PDP candidate. The two factions eventually ended up in court and obtained conflicting judgements. While the Federal High Court in Awka declared Ozigbo the valid candidate of the PDP, a State High Court also in Awka declared Uba as the valid candidate. The PDP has accused the State High Court Judge, Obiora Nwabunike, of seizing the case file so as to frustrate the notices of appeal filed by the party and her candidate against the judgement.
In the face of the conflicting judgements, it is imperative to warn that INEC should be circumspect and recognise only those duly elected by their political parties as their candidates for the election. This is the time to demonstrate its independence.
On its part, the judiciary should be very careful in handling pre-election matters. We say this in view of the confusing and disorderly judgements that trail the exercise. It must not allow itself to be used by politicians. Judges should try as much as possible to respect valid judgements by their colleagues. There is no reason for courts of coordinate jurisdiction to be giving conflicting judgements on the same matter. They should bear in mind that the judiciary is the last hope of the aggrieved and should not abuse it. The National Judicial Council (NJC) should be alert and sanction erring judges.
We urge politicians to avoid taking actions that will derail our democracy. It is unfortunate that some of the factors that led to the collapse of the previous civilian administrations have not been sufficiently addressed.
Democracy is a process and not a destination. The process of choosing any candidate ought to be celebrated. Unfortunately, what is unfolding in Anambra, particularly in the major political parties, speaks volumes about what democracy should not be.
The choice of the people may not materialise if the disputations over party primaries are not satisfactorily resolved. Before campaign starts in August, we hope that the issues in the Anambra party primaries will be amicably resolved if the judiciary and INEC play their roles without fear or favour.
The Anambra election will serve as a litmus test for the 2023 general election. Its conduct will reveal how far we have learnt from our previous electoral mistakes. INEC must ensure that it delivers a free, fair and credible poll in Anambra come November 6.