The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may have decided to go ahead with the conduct of the re-run election for the vacant Anambra Central senatorial seat but is hesitant to make its position public due to the possibility of a new ruling by the Court of Appeal on the matter.
THISDAY gathered from impeccable sources at the commission at the weekend that barring any ruling by the court, the commission will go ahead to implement the ruling of the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja which had ordered INEC to conduct the re-run within 90 days.
“I think that it will be difficult for INEC to obey the Federal High Court order when we have an Appeal Court order pending on the same issue. That is what I believe is going to be the dilemma of the commission under the circumstances.
“If you observe, this present leadership of INEC has been law-abiding and we have always obeyed court orders, but you cannot have an Appeal Court deliver a judgment on an issue and then a Federal High Court will now go and deliver a judgment on the same issue. It is an anomaly,” the source said.
The people of Anambra Central Senatorial District have remained without representation in the upper legislative chamber since 2015 when the Appeal Court in Enugu had nullified the election of Senator Uche Ekwunife over irregularities in the primary held by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2014.
The Appeal Court judgment had also barred the PDP from fielding any candidate in the re-run election and prevented the All Progressives Congress (APC) from fielding a fresh candidate for the re-run poll.
Since then, various contending forces, including two political parties – the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – have engaged each other in a bitter legal battle to secure a favorable judgment on the issue.
Both the PDP and its candidate, and former governor of the state Peter Obi, went to court to challenge the Appeal Court ruling and obtained an order compelling INEC to include the PDP in the re-run election.
On November 20, 2017, the Appeal Court in Abuja overruled the court in Enugu on the non-inclusion of the PDP in the re-run election and also ordered INEC to conduct the election within the next 90 days.
Based on the Abuja Appeal Court ruling, INEC immediately fixed January 13 for the Anambra Central Senatorial re-run.
However, another judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja threw a spanner in the works of a fresh election for the Senate seat when it ordered INEC to handover the certificate of return to another PDP candidate, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo as the substantive senator representing the zone.
It also ordered Senate President Bukola Saraki to swear him in as a senator.
Okonkwo had won the PDP primary held for the senatorial district in 2014, but the party fielded the name of Ekwunife to contest the National Assembly election.
INEC’s response was to apply for the Certified True Copy of the High Court judgment, which it said would enable it to act on the judgment.
When THISDAY enquired to know the position of INEC on the matter since it had obtained the copy of the latest High Court ruling on the matter, the Director in the Department of Voter Education and Publicity, Osaze Uzzi said his office had not been briefed on any decision yet.
Uzzi who spoke to THISDAY on the phone at the weekend, however, confirmed that deliberations on the lingering Anambra Central re-run election would have featured prominently in the management meeting of INEC.
Uzzi said: “I am not aware of a decision by INEC on the Anambra Senate seat because I had travelled to Cross River State and I am just on my way back to Abuja.
“I can assure you that INEC will issue a statement soon to clear the air on the matter.”
But from all indications, it appears the commission would most likely implement the order of the Appeal Court in Abuja and go ahead to conduct the senate re-run election as scheduled on January 13.
A reliable source at the INEC who spoke to THISDAY but preferred to remain unnamed, said the commission would remain guided by the ruling of the Appeal Court on the issue.
“I do not think that the commission will obey a High Court order over and above an Appeal Court judgment. I don’t think it is going to be wise to do that, although INEC is yet to take a final decision on the issue but it will do so soon and it will be in line with established practice on situations like this,” he said.
THISDAY gathered that the issue of the Anambra Senatorial District re-run election was a key item on the agenda of the management meeting of INEC last Thursday but the commission failed to meet due to the lack of a quorum occasioned by the absence of many of the national commissioners who had travelled for the Christmas holidays.
Perhaps another reason for the delay in taking a decision on the thorny issue stemmed from the fact that INEC was still waiting for the outcome of a fresh Court of Appeal ruling expected to break the deadlock on the senatorial re-run election.