By Ogu Bundu Nwadike
The native connectivity between democracy and judiciary in any society has been succinctly established by the rather protracted and prolonged legal hostilities between external and internal godfathers and godsons squabbling over who produces the “candidate” and who emerges the “direct beneficiary” of the December 5, 2020, Imo North senatorial by-election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on December 6, 2020, decided that the by-election was won by the All Progressives Congress (APC) without declaring any candidate as the direct beneficiary, leaving many people to ask whether political parties can win elections without candidates.
It has been averred that it is for the lacks, lags, lapses, and limitations of the courts that democracy suffers acute go-slow that cripples its very raison d’etre, creating an avoidable lacuna that puts on the throes the appropriate delivery of dividends of democracy, with the electorate being the biggest losers of returns on their huge investments in democracy.
For instance, before, during and now over 100 days after the afore-stated by-election, camps of the APC have been in a tug-of-war over the person between Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and Mr. Frank Ibezim, who will become the APC “candidate” of “direct beneficiary” of the party’s purported “victory” in the by-election.
The matter has lately been further encumbered with the recourse by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State with their candidate in the by-election, Distinguished Chief Emmanuel Okewulonu, to the Election Petitions Tribunal opened for aggrieved parties and their candidates.
As it is now, there are countless lawsuits on the by-election by the APC, which hamper and hinder the progress of democracy with regard to the Okigwe North by-election, with the good people of Okigwe Zone enduring lack of representation in the Senate for over a full year now and still counting.
From the post-party primary litigations among the APC aspirants, and with suits unresolved, two courts, a Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, disqualified Araraume and Ibezim on the eve of the by-election on December 4, 2020.
The former was disqualified for not winning the primary election conducted by the party, the latter for committing the felony of perjury by presenting questionable academic certificates to INEC.
For that surprising ruling by the courts, APC had no candidate for the by-election the next day, December 5, 2020, as reflected in the official INEC list of candidates for the election in the row and columns for the name of the APC candidate were left open without any name.
It is the views of some pundits that, after the December 4, 2020, disqualification of both Araraume and Ibezim, and with the confirmation of that fact by INEC, APC as a party should not have been accepted by INEC as a participant in the by-election.
At the end of the voting, however, the great expectations of political pundits were that INEC would without let or hindrance expressly declare PDP winner of the by-election and Okewulonu as the direct beneficiary, based on the discrepancies in the qualifications of the two APC aspirants, Araraume and Ibezim.
But that was npt to be, as INEC went on to deliver an abnormal declaration of APC as the winner, having scored about 36,000 votes against its closest rival, PDP, which garnered about 31,000 votes.
The next thing that followed was high uproar and strong disagreement by PDP and concerned citizens over the wrong action and indeed inaction of INEC declaration of APC the winner of the by-election, without declaring the direct beneficiary of the win.
APC fielding two aspirants, so to say, was underscored by many people as the awkward signal that democracy was facing a very big litmus test that was set by INEC and the very variable and flexible judiciary.
It such now that the observable character of the APC political warlords in the courts is that as Araraume is declared the “APC’s candidate” in the morning, a court would counter him and declare Ibezim the “APC’s candidate” in the evening of the same day.
In one of such absurdities of the APC, a High Court over-ruled the Supreme Court and issued a fresh order that countered an order of the Supreme Court. It is as bad as that!
That has been the prevailing experience with the Okigwe North by-election, which has stalled the declaration of the winner of the election to date, sustaining Okigwe Zone as the only senatorial district without a senator in the Senate.
Expectedly, the PDP has also made efforts to deploy litigations and counter-litigations to resist the abnormalities observed in the judiciary. The ultimate being its recourse to the Election Petitions Tribunal that was set up for the by-election.
The unfortunate situations at the courts have been interpreted by some pundits as an unlawful and illegal ploy to manufacture an illegal candidate for APC, which did not have any candidate on election day.
Recently, an Abuja court gave an order for INEC to issue the certificate of return to Araraume as the winner of the by-election. But before anyone could spell “Order” another High Court in Owerri on the same day issued a counter-order stopping INEC from issuing the certificate of return to Araraume.
The legal hostilities by the APC leaders, godfathers and godsons, Araraume and Ibezim, specifically, have taken the shine away from the by-election, robbed it of credibility and exposed APC in poor light as power-mongering and power-rustling adventurists. It still beats the imagination, questions comprehensibility and creates enough opprobrium among the people, particularly the good people of Okigwe Zone, who have been denied representation in the Senate for over a calendar year.
Many people feel that since it is proven beyond reasonable doubts that APC did not have any candidate in the election, all the votes it garnered in the by-election were inconsequentially wasted, voided votes.
Hence, the popular opinion of a rather large number of respondents is that PDP and Okewulonu should have been declared winner of the election, since they did not have any encumbering issues and came second on the winners’ table. And that proposition has been accorded impetus by the popular opinion among critics and analysts, who argue that the most legally reasonable thing to do under the circumstance would be for INEC to declare PDP and Okewulonu winner of the Imo North senatorial by-election and direct beneficiary of the win, respectively and collectively.
It is the reasoning of many commentators that the wangling in legal forests seeking a made-in-Supreme Court candidate for APC is not only an abuse of legalism but also a severe insult on democracy. They argue that the judicial support of such self-help by APC is very injurious to democracy, causing hurt and harm to the practice and the practitioners alike. Manufacturing candidates for parties without candidates in an election is not part of the constitutionally stipulated terms of reference of democracy.
The good advice under the circumstance would, therefore, be for the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling that will be truly final, that will re-establish the earlier rulings by courts, which remains that APC had no candidate in the by-election.
Then, INEC should save its face and do the needful by announcing the PDP winner and Okewulonu the direct beneficiary of the victory. The world is watching!