Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia.
Fear has griped the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Abia State as the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, has reserved judgment on the appeal by one of the party’s governorship aspirants, Hon. Sampson Orji.
Orji, a former member of the Abia State House of Assembly is seeking the disqualification of the PDP governorship candidate, Professor Uche Ikonne, alleging irregularities in the process that produced him.
The Abam, Arochukwu-born Consultant had dragged Ikonne, PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to the Federal High Court sitting in Umuahia, seeking the nullification of the primary which he argued was marred with irregularities.
However, Justice Evelyn Anyadike of the Federal High Court Umuahia dismissed the suit marked FHC/UM/CS/111/2022 on November 30, 2022.
Dissatisfied with the judgement of the High Court, Orji through his Lead Counsel, Rilwan Idris, moved to the Court of Appeal Owerri where the matter is now pending.
The appellate court last week, reserved judgement for a date yet to be communicated to all parties.
Meanwhile, Concerned Lawyers for Advancement of Democracy, have picked holes with the judgment of the Federal High Court Umuahia, describing it as “a miscarriage of justice.”
They vehemently disagreed with the position of the judge that the alleged non physical presence of the Appellant at the venue of the primary amounted to withdrawing from the race.
The group led by Thomas Ikechukwu Iko, argued that “Orji proved beyond reasonable doubt that he participated in the election which earned him some votes as published by PDP.”
“The judgment as delivered by Justice Anyadike has impacted negatively on the democratic tenet because it is hard to reconcile the evidence made available to the judge and the judgment that was delivered,” the group said in a statement obtained by Ikengaonline.
It further argued that the Electoral Act spelt out the process of withdrawing from party primary election, adding that “being absent is not one of them despite the fact that the plaintiff was never absent.”
According to the lawyers, the only way to withdraw from an election primary is through writing a withdrawal letter and submitting to the party “which the Appellant never did.”
It wondered what must have influenced the trial court to arrive at the judgment it delivered.
“What is worrisome is that the Judge neglected petitions brought before him in contestation of the primary election which was marred by irregularities and cannot produce credible result.”
It called on the judiciary to save Nigeria’s democracy from impunity by some anti-democratic elements.
Meanwhile, Orji has urged the appellate court to set aside the Umuahia Federal High Court judgment.
He, also, sought an order dismissing the motion on notice by the first and second Respondents (PDP, and Ikonne) for extension of time in respect to their counter affidavits to the originating summons dated September 26, 2022, and filed September 28.
The aspirant in a copy of the appeal sighted by our Correspondent also sought “an order pursuant to Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, CAP. C36, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, granting the reliefs sought in the Appellant’s originating summons filed on June 7, 2022.”
The former lawmaker in his grounds of appeal, argued that the trial court erred in judgment when it held that: “the lone issue is whether this Honourable court has the power to grant the Defendants extension of time with which to file their preliminary objections and counter affidavits to the originating summons considering the circumstances of this case.”
He faulted the decision of the court on the grounds that “the subject matter of the suit is a pre-election matter, and the court lacks the jurisdiction to make an order of extension of time.”
Orji also argued that the trial court erred in law when it held that he failed to exhibit any document in proof of his protest to the Electoral Panel of the PDP against the exclusion of statutory delegates and the use of invalid list of ad hoc delegates during the primary election.
The former Commissioner said his protest against the exclusion of statutory delegates from voting at the primary started at the venue of the primary on May 25, 2022, adding that he followed it up with protest letters dated May 26, and 29 respectively.
He faulted the trial court for holding that besides having been screened and cleared for the primary, he failed to show that he “actually and physically” participated in the exercise by being present at the venue of the primary.
Orji said he never at any time withdrew from the governorship race, challenging anyone with proof of his withdrawal or resignation letter as required by the Electoral Act to show proof.
The former Commissioner for Industry also said that the trial court erred when it held that the third defendant ( the Independent National Electoral Commission), was duly notified of the PDP congress; and further faulted the court’s position that it was only INEC that could complain on whether or not the notice met the mandatory 21 days required by law.
The trial court had declared that: “The plaintiff not being the third defendant whose duty it lies to monitor same cannot be heard to complain.”
Orji argued that “the issuance of a proper notice for the conduct of a party congress is a mandatory and statutory requirement of the Electoral Act,” maintaining that failure to comply with the clause, amounts to non-compliance with the entire Act.
He insisted that being a party affected by the conduct of the primary, he had right to complain.
Orji further on the grounds of his appeal, disagreed with the trial court that he failed to state what number of delegates constituted quorum, saying that affidavits in his originating summons clearly established that no quorum was formed.
He also disagreed with the trial court that he contradicted himself on the total number of statutory delegates to the primary, arguing that Exhibit marked “SCOURJ 2,” and not “exhibit 1” was a copy of a list of 2,200 statutory delegates.
Orji further said that “PDP is not a public authority and that exhibit SCOURJ 2, and (not exhibit 1 relied upon by the court), was not made by a public body to require the mandatory certification of the document before it could be admissible.”
He averred that he had clearly established by probable evidence that the total number of votes returned was less than one third of the number of statutory delegates at the primary.
Meanwhile, there has been apprehension among PDP stakeholders and members following the rumour over the health status of their governorship candidate who has not been sighted in public for some time now.
The legal battle over the party’s governorship ticket and the health condition of the candidate have created uncertainty about the party’s fortunes in the March 11 governorship poll.