Wlfred Eya and Odogwu Obinna
Between Senator Ifeanyi Ubah of the Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Dr. Obinna Uzoh of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is the authentic representative of Anambra South zone at the Senate? The above is one question, which continues to resonate in public discourse more than six months into the life of the Ninth National Assembly. It has become a jigsaw puzzle of some sort.
Though Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Ubah the winner of the Anambra South Senate in the last general elections, the outcome of a suit filed by Uzoh has substantially upturned the victory of the YPP candidate in favour of the PDP.
Uzoh had joined in a pre-election suit by a member the YPP on the allegation that Ubah’s certificate was forged. He also challenged the nomination of Ubah (first defendant) by his party, YPP (second defendant), for the Anambra Senatorial District Election.
In an affidavit he deposed to before the trial judge, Uzoh averred: “The first defendant (Ubah) presented a forged and fake NECO result with candidate No: 31474672FC to run for the said general election to the 3rd defendant (INEC). Exhibit B attached.
“That to the best of my knowledge, Exhibit B which was the NECO result of June 2003, with candidate No: 31474672FC presented by the 1st defendant to the 3rd defendant as his NECO result is forged and fake result which its original carried Biology, with F9 but the one presented by the 1st defendant to the 3rd defendant did not carry Biology subject, evidence of a fake result. Exhibit B, the NECO logo and signature, etc. are different from the ones on original NECO certificate, same having been cloned.”
Based on the merit of Uzoh’s suit, Justice Bello Kawu of the Abuja High Court sitting in Kubwa nullified Ubah’s election as the senator representing Anambra South. Reason: The senator allegedly used a forged NECO certificate to contest the senatorial election that held in the state on February 23, 2019. The court ordered INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Ubah and issue a fresh Certificate of Return to Uzoh, who came second in the election, as the senator-elect for the district.
Justice Kawu, in ruling in favour of Uzoh, held: “The deposition in the affidavits evidence was not controverted by the 1st defendant who was given ample opportunity to do so, but refused and neglected to file any process in challenge of the claimant’s claim after being served with all the processes by substituted means and hearing notices having been duly served too.
” The judge said he was satisfied with the evidence led in the case and held that the NECO certificate submitted by Ubah was fake.
The judge also held that the party that nominated Ubah did not hold any primary elections and consequently, declared his nomination invalid. The Electoral Act as amended made it mandatory for all political parties to conduct primaries for aspirants, from which a candidate will emerged. In the Ubah case, no primary election was conducted by YPP, which is clear violation of the Electoral Act.
Ubah would have none of that. He also approached the court to set aside the judgment on grounds that he was neither given fair hearing nor served with the court process and hearing notice in the suit before the court delivered its judgment against him. Following his application for a stay of execution, Kawu, on December 4, restrained the Senate President from swearing-in Uzoh, pending the hearing and determination of the motion challenging the verdict. The court equally ordered all the parties, including INEC, to maintain the status quo until it decided the merit in Ubah’s suit.
Ubah had filed the application before the court praying for an order setting aside the judgment on the grounds that it occasioned a grave miscarriage of justice against him.
He said he was not served with the court processes or the hearing notice throughout the proceedings leading to the judgment.
However, on January 17, the judge ruled that Ubah’s application to vacate the judgment lacked merit, hence, it was dismissed. By so doing, the court affirmed Ubah’s sack from the Senate. The judge also dismissed a motion filed by another claimant to the PDP senatorial ticket, Chief Chris Uba, to be joined as an interested party in the substantive suit.
The judge had stated: “In a nutshell, the preliminary objections of both the claimant and 4th defendant succeed by virtue of section 285(9)-(12) because the application of the 1st and 2nd defendants together with that of the party seeking to be joined were brought after 180 days allowed by the constitution.”
On lack of service, the judge held: “There is enough evidence before the court to show that all the processes were served on the 2nd defendant personally and the 1st defendant by substituted means because of the inability of court’s bailiff to access him directly. In fact, several hearing notices were served on the defendants.
“From the record of this honourable court, the second defendant and third defendants acknowledged receipt of the processes served on them with their official stamp and the court bailiff deposed to an affidavit of substituted service on the 1st defendant. It is therefore absurd for the 1st and 2nd defendants to turn around and deny service. In view of that, all the argument of the 1st and 2nd defendants on the issue of service is hereby rejected.”
After the court’s judgment, a curious twist came when the NECO wrote, in answer to an inquiry by a human rights organisation, stating that the certificate it issued to Ubah in 2003 was genuine. However, Uzoh pointed out some discrepancies. He said: “To begin with, the serial numbers are different. The initial certificate Ifeanyi Ubah submitted to INEC has serial no 303865920 while the NECO certified copy is 303565920. Curiously, the certificates have different signatures, logos and even font.
“A comparison of these two documents glaringly shows differences in signatures, stamp, logo, typeset font and so on. If we take the NECO certificate released by the examination body as Ifeanyi Ubah’s certificate, then the initial one he submitted to INEC was, indeed, forged as declared by the Abuja High Court.”
Reacting to this, Ubah faulted the allegation that there are some discrepancies in then certificate, while daring the complainants to swear an affidavit. He said: “That’s photocopy effect. Tell them to swear to an affidavit to that effect or go to NECO and ask. They said it was forged earlier but NECO said it was OK. They are using INEC photocopy to deceive people. Why can’t they go to INEC for a certified copy? They should wait for their waterloo in due time.”
He challenged his traducers to approach NECO with their fact. “They should depose to an affidavit and present it to the public as I did,” he added.
He also faulted the judgment of the High Court on several grounds, claiming the FCT High Court lacked the “territorial jurisdiction” to entertain a matter that arose from Anambra South senatorial election primaries.
he said the decision to file the case against him in Abuja and not in Anambra was to ensure that he and Chris Uba of the PDP were not aware of the proceedings.
Uzoh, a lawyer, rejected this argument, saying: “Where primary is not held, any state or FCT High court or FHC has jurisdiction to entertain the case. In the case of Lau v PDP (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1608) 60 at 110-111 and 123, the Supreme Court held thus: ‘The law has moved on since the 1999 Constitution vested the Federal High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over any action for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision of the Federal Government or any of its agencies, which includes INEC. The current position of the Electoral Act, the Federal High Court and the High Court of a state or the Federal Capital Territory have concurrent jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes arising from the conduct of a party’s primaries….’”
From the way things are, it is obvious that the Anambra South senatorial district election will be finally determined by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The courts will determine whether Ubah’s certificate was forged, as affirmed by the lower court. They will also resolve the puzzle whether the YPP did conduct primaries for Ubah to emerge as candidate.
Curiously, Ubah is not challenging the judgment of the lower court at the appellate level, but seeking a stay of execution, which had earlier been rejected. Instead of pressing for the Appeal Court to resolve the matter on forged certificate and non-conduct of primaries, he is pursuing a stay of execution at the appellate court.
Some political pundits believe that the embattled senator, realising that the pre-election matter is status barred is resorting to the use the court to frustrate the execution of Justice Kawu’s judgment. They posit that Ubah knows that the appeal court and the Supreme Court would dismiss his case, as time allowed for this has elapsed and therefore, is using the court to buy time, explaining why he does not want to pursue the appeal of the substantive case.