The forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra state is about to be a bad poster boy for the nation’s judiciary as injunctions and counter- injunctions become the order of the day. For those familiar with the politics of the state, bickering and endless acrimony are perceived as integral parts of the electoral contest. But the worry is that, somehow, the judiciary, unwittingly, allows itself to be sucked into the conundrum. It has happened severally before and the ugly trend is rearing its head again as the election day approaches.
Already, the primaries of the major contestants in the election – the All-Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) are up for adjudication at various levels of the judiciary as the aspirants insist on becoming the preferred candidates.
The worst culprit, so far, is APGA which, incidentally, is the ruling party in the state. The party’s candidates have elevated forum shopping to an art. The Victor Oye-led APGA had elected the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, as its governorship candidate while the Jude Okeke-led faction elected Hon. Chuma Umeoji as its candidate. Ridiculous as it may seem, it follows a pattern.
However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had aligned with the faction of Jude Okeke after it obtained a court judgment in Jigawa State and published the name of Umeoji instead of Soludo as the candidate of APGA. A few days later, the Oye faction obtained its own judgment from an Awka High Court affirming Soludo as the authentic candidate of the party.
The Anambra High Court in Awka ordered INEC to restore Soludo as the candidate of the APGA. It promptly obeyed and inserted Soludo’s name in its list of gubernatorial candidates in place of the candidate of the Umeoji faction.
The commission also replaced the APGA deputy governorship candidate, Onyekachi Ibezim, with Obiageli Orogbu. The Okeke faction then got the Jigawa High Court judgment that nullified the candidature of the former Central Bank of Nigeria and also recognized Umeoji. We recall that an Imo State High Court had also declared Umeoji as the authentic governorship candidate of APGA for the election.
However, INEC, again, recognized Soludo as the candidate of APGA. The electoral body said the decision to replace Umeoji with Soludo was based on a judgment by the Kano Division of the Court of Appeal which had declared Victor Oye as the authentic national chairman of APGA. But, the factional national chairman of APGA, Okeke kicked against INEC’s action.
Okeke argued that by the provisions of both the Electoral Act and the INEC timetable, the commission ought not to make any other publications of candidates until October which would be the final publication.
On the part of the PDP, a faction produced Valentine Ozigbo as its candidate while the faction loyal to Chris Uba announced Ugochukwu Uba as the party’s candidate. Expectedly, the two factions went to court and obtained conflicting judgments. While the Federal High Court in Awka declared Ozigbo as the valid candidate of the PDP, a State High Court also in Awka declared Uba as the valid candidate.
As this unsportsmanlike tendency unfolds, INEC expressed worry about the spate of forum shopping from one court to the other by politicians ahead of elections, and said that the situation posed a serious threat to the 2023 general election.
National commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of the electoral umpire, Festus Okoye, who raised the alarm, also decried the situation whereby politicians tend to abuse the geographical jurisdiction of a court.
This newspaper, in the strongest words possible, condemn the deliberate attempt by politicians to undermine the democratic process and at the same time ridicule the judiciary. For the avoidance of doubt, forum shopping is not peculiar to Anambra alone even as we think that the state has its ways with it.
We have consistently advocated on this page that the process whereby courts determine winners of elections is not healthy for a democratic culture such as the one the nation is trying to cultivate. The electorate should always be given the free hand to choose their leaders at all levels. The influence of the courts should be minimal, if at all. Candidates with the highest and popular votes should lead the people and not those chosen by the courts.
Accordingly, we advise that all court cases should be resolved before the main election so that voters will not be confused as to who actually are the party ticket bearers. It is from this perspective that we call on the Nigerian Judicial Commission (NJC) to sanction lawyers and judges who entertain frivolous petitions and stiff punishment meted out to them to serve as deterrent.
Also, the judiciary should not allow itself to be used by the politicians. Judges and lawyers should not abuse the maxim of the judiciary being the last hope of the common man. We insist that the peoples’ will must always be allowed to prevail in elections.