As the people of Imo North senatorial district await the ruling of the Supreme Court on the outcome of the December 5 senatorial byelection, ANAYO EZUGWU writes on the optimism of the two gladiators in the tussle
As uncertainty continues to surround the outcome of December 5, 2020, Imo North Senatorial bye-election, Francis Ibezim, one of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates contending for the senatorial ticket is optimistic that he will regain his mandate at the Supreme Court, just as he believes that the apex court would declare him the authentic candidate of the party.
Ibezim has been locked in a legal tussle with Senator Ifeanyi Ararume for the party’s ticket for Imo North Senatorial seat. Presently, the two contending candidates are anxiously waiting for the Supreme Court to reconvene in order to decide their fates.
The apex court had on Tuesday, March 23, suspended hearing on the case following the accusation by APC that justices of the court are working to subvert judgment. Justice Musa Muhammad, who led a five-man panel of justices, said the interim chairman of the party petitioned against him and two other justices for allegedly having a meeting with members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to undermine justice in the case.
Justice Muhammad informed counsels in the matter that the proceeding will not go on as scheduled until they are cleared of the accusation. “The APC alleged that my humble self had led my two brothers Helen Ogunwumiju and Abdu Aboki, to attend a meeting with members of the PDP to strategize how to subvert the outcome of this case.
I must say that this is most unfortunate and my heart bleeds for this country. “If people as highly placed as the interim chairperson of the APC would open his mouth and make this weighty statement against innocent justices of this court, then I say my heart bleeds. We are not interested in any matter and I challenge him and the party to substantiate his allegation that my humble self attended a meeting with members of the PDP with a view to subverting the interest of their party.
“This is a reckless and irresponsible statement. That is how these useless statements were made in the past and that is why we are not taking it likely. If they have honour, let them substantiate their allegations and I will not leave a day longer in this court.
So, this matter is adjourned sine die, and parties should approach the chief justice of the federation,” he said. In order to enable the Supreme Court conclude on the case, APC issued an apology to the justices, while promising to uncover those behind such accusation. Governor of Yobe State and Chairman of the APC Caretaker/Extra- Ordinary Convention Planning, Mai Mala Buni, who made the apology on behalf of the party, said: “It has come to my knowledge that an allegation was made against some Supreme court judges claiming that there was a meeting between their Lordships with the PDP to subvert the cause of Justice in the case of the Imo North Senatorial election.
“I want to make my position abundantly clear and in unambiguous terms that, I Hon. Mai Mala Buni, the Executive Governor of Yobe State and Chairman APC Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, had, at no time personally said, written nor directed anyone to write on my behalf or the party to allege or claim that their Lordships met with members of the PDP or any political party on any matter. “I must say I am conscious of the positions their Lordships occupy, and would not be a party or be associated with such reckless statements against their Lordships.
As Leader of APC, I am saddened by such weighty allegation said to be emanating from our party, obviously without my consent. On behalf of every member of the party, we distance ourselves from this allegation and sincerely regret the injury and hard feelings this might have caused their Lordships.” Before this latest development, on February 5, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ibezim by refusing the plea of Ararume to be declared the authentic candidate of the party after dismissing two of his appeals.
The Supreme Court held that Ararume’s appeals lacked merit and should be dismissed. Ruling in two separate judgments, the five-man panel of the apex court led by Justice Amina Augie, affirmed the decisions of the Court of Appeal, Owerri Division, which voided the proceedings and decisions in the suit filed by Lady Uchenna Onyeiwu Ubah before the Federal High Court in Owerri. As Ibezim and his supporters went to town in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling, an Appeal Court sitting in Abuja upheld the disqualification of Ibezim as the candidate of the party.
The appellate court in a unanimous decision by a three-man panel affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court Abuja, which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to remove Ibezim’s name from the list of candidates for the by-election, after it found him guilty of submitting falsified documents. The trial court held that Ibezim was not qualified and eligible for nomination to contest the bye-election, having made false declarations in the affidavit and certificates he submitted to INEC for the purpose of contesting the Imo North Senatorial by-election. The court also cited irreconcilable conflicts in his names.
It, therefore, barred INEC from accepting him as the candidate of the APC for the senatorial by-election. Ibezim challenged the ruling of the appellate court at the Supreme Court. He also faulted the judgment, saying that the court was wrong on many grounds. He regretted that the judgment was based on weak evidence of mere name variation. He said the variation in his name is not sufficient grounds to disqualify him as the photograph on his certificate is enough reason to disqualify him. Also, he said, the court refused to invite the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and his secondary school, Uboma Secondary, Ikperejere, Etiti.
“On the issue of using Frank and Francis, my photograph would have been enough proof that I’m the bonafide owner of the results and that the opponent could not contest the facts that the result and certificates are mine but relying on a mere technicality,” he said. According to Ibezim, the court was too lenient on his opponents and relied on him to prove his innocence instead of expecting them to prove their allegations against him, as is standard in matters of this nature. He also maintains that his certificates remain valid, irrespective of name variations.
It would be recalled that Lady Uchenna Ubah had gone to court after the senatorial by-election primaries seeking an order of the court to compel the APC to submit Ibezim’s name to the INEC as its candidate for the election. The Federal High Court sitting in Owerri in its judgment delivered on November 6, 2020, dismissed the suit on the premise that Ubah lacked the locus standi to institute the action. The court went further and disqualified Ibezim and ordered INEC to accept Araraume as APC’s candidate for the by-election. Dissatisfied with the judgment, both Ubah and Ibezim went to the Court of Appeal in Owerri to challenge the ruling. While Ubah insisted that the trial court wrongly held that she lacked the requisite locus standi to institute the action, Ibezim, contended that his right to fair hearing was breached by the court.
Ibezim argued that the trial court made a declaration against him, even though he was not a party to the suit. In its judgment, the Appeal Court on December 4, 2020, affirmed that Ubah was bereft of locus standi to maintain the legal action. It, however, held that Ibezim’s right to a fair hearing was breached by the trial court. Consequently, the appellate court proceeded to set aside the order that disqualified Ibezim and directed INEC to recognize him as an APC candidate.
The controversy surrounding the Imo North Senatorial by-election started when Ibezim was disqualified from contesting the party’s primaries by the screening committee. The committee said 11 aspirants were screened, out of which five were cleared and six aspirants, including Ibezim were disqualified for not meeting basic requirements. The committee said: “Section 3(f) of the guidelines for the nomination of candidates stipulate that only aspirants fully cleared by the party shall be eligible to stand election at the party’s primaries. Section 3(k) also clearly stated that all aspirants must show knowledge of the party’s manifestos and programs and must commit themselves to the full implementation of the party’s goals and objectives.
“Not losing sight of section 3(L) which states that all aspirants are to submit evidence of membership of the party for at least one year except a waiver is given. Therefore, in compliance with section 11 of the same guideline stipulating the roles and responsibilities of the screening committee, we have done our job sincerely, honestly and diligently without fear or favour but we have observed that Mr. Frank Ibezim who is purported to be one of the possible flag bearers of our party was not cleared to contest the Imo North Senatorial primary elections,” it said.