Members of Ogbette Main Market Traders Association, OMMTA, Enugu State, have cried foul over the illegal disqualification of Stephen Aniagu, a popular candidate in the Association’s EXCO election billed to hold on August 8.
The traders, therefore, called on the state government to maintain neutrality in the conduct of the election, alleging that the electoral committee chairman’s body language has already exposed his bias, accusing him of being tied to the apron strings of the caretaker chairman of the market, Hon. John Eze, who they claimed is not a trader, but was imposed on the association about three years ago when Governor Ugwuanyi disbanded the association’s EXCO.
The leader of the group, Mr Okwudili Ani of Wine and Spirit Section of the market, who made the call on behalf the concerned members of the Association on Friday while briefing newsmen in Enugu lamented that the actions of the Electoral Committee Chairman, Very Rev. Fr Nnamdi Nwankwo, is posing serious danger to the peace of the market which Governor Ugwuanyi had worked hard to build.
Ani described the letter of disqualification handed to Aniagu as one without any basis since following an order of the Federal High Court in 2019, Aniagu is deemed not to have contested any election given the nullification of the constitution that gave birth to the exercise.
Ani who said that the traders would not take kindly the glaring undue external influence in the process of choosing their leaders, insisted that their position was informed by intrigues, claims and counter-claims from some quarters leading to the build up of the election, which eventually culminated in the disqualification of Aniagu.
Ani alleged that the traders had earlier uncovered plans to disqualify one of the candidates vying for the office of the president of the association simply because he is not from a particular section of the state and appealed to the electoral committee to be fair and just in the conduct of the election.
He accused the leader of the caretaker committee of OMMTA, Hon John Eze of being the unseen hand behind the intrigue to disqualify the contestant whom he described as the most popular candidate in the race, saying that “the traders would resist the disqualification of any of the contestants unjustly”.
Ani also said that their group has petitioned the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese Most Rev. Dr. Callistus Onaga on Fr. Nwankwo’s derailment from the responsibility given to him, which they believe is capable of bringing the image of the Catholic Church to disrepute.
The petition with multiple captions: “The Very Rev. Fr. Nnamdi Nwankwo is heavily compromised, A clergy about bringing shame to the Catholic Church, etc,” alleged that Fr Nwankwo is working in concert with John Eze, who has meted unimaginable misrule on the traders of the market and whose bias has been exhibited through boasts in the public that he would foist his own candidate as president of the market at all costs.
However, the petitioners called on Bishop Onaga to intervene and stop the macabre dance steps of Fr. Nwankwo, which they said has become unpleasing.
Ani further narrated how Counsel to Aniagu, Chief M. O Uzor Esq of Uzuagbara Chambers, had written two letters to the electoral committee chairman, Fr. Nwankwo referring to an uncovered plan to disqualify his client, who was a candidate in the election.
According to him, “the two letters by Uzor dated 30th June and 16th July 2020 were consistent on Fr. Nwankwo’s plan to disqualify his client, Stephen Aniagu in the election”.
The ground, to disqualify Aniagu, according to the letters, was the invocation of a “note” inserted on page 21 of Article 11 of OMMTA constitution of 2002, which reads: “The incumbent officer(s) or the outgoing officer(s) /aspirant(s) have the right to contest for any election after the next tenure”.
It was gathered that Aniagu had contested for the post of treasurer of the Association in 2010, which was organised using a later constitution made in 2005, but was later nullified by an Enugu Federal High Court since it was not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC.
Uzor contended that a judgment in a suit No. FCH/EN/CS/56/2019, between Hyacinth Offor Nnaji and Anor vs the registered Trustees of OMMTA issued by Justice Buba J. N. of the Federal High Court Enugu brought a nullity to any election of the Association that Aniagu had contested in since the constitution upon which the election was conducted was declared illegal.
A member of the electoral committee, who pledged anonymity alleged that Fr. Nwankwo was running a one-man show in collusion with some none members of the committee, adding “that the judgment order of the Federal High Court gave Aniagu a clean bill to freely exercise his constitutional rights by contesting election for any position in the association.
“We the members of the committee are not carried along by the chairman in the electoral process instead he jettisoned us for co-opted persons which include his own brother”, he said
When Eze was contacted by journalists in Enugu, he said that neither him nor the electoral committee was involved in any illegality, but that he was following the constitution of the association in the conduct of the election.
He said that it would be wrong to accuse him of trying to influence the outcome of the exercise, adding that “OMMTA has a valid constitution and we are following it. Anybody who feels they are qualified is free to contest it.”
The chairman of the Electoral Committee, Rev. Fr. Nwankwo, in his own reaction to the allegations, said that he had been given the mandate to follow the law in discharging his duties as an umpire.
He had earlier said that “the screening will be done today and it is only after then that you start talking about qualification and disqualification. I will be very fair, but will follow the law blindly.”
The Catholic cleric said that it would be too early to start talking about disqualification when the screening has not ended since there’s still a window for appeal.
According to the traders, in violation of the constitution of the market, which stated that those in Market EXCO shall not be members of the electoral during elections, Kasie, the CSO to Eze, is presently a member of the electoral committee.
It would be recalled that since three years ago when the state government disbanded the elected executive of Ogbette Main Market Traders Association over leadership tussle, the market has known no peace due to the conflict of interest in its association’s election.