There was confusion among voters and electoral stakeholders in Imo state on Friday following two conflicting court judgments on the fate of the All Progressives Congress APC for Imo North Senatorial bye-election holding today (Saturday).
While the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri sacked Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and declared Sir Frank Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the rescheduled Imo North senatorial bye-election, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on its part, disqualified Mr Ibezim based on allegations of forgery.
The developments nonetheless, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC said while the APC logo would be on the ballot, it would be guided by the law at the point of declaration and return.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Barr. Festus Okoye told Saturday Vanguard that in obeying the court judgments, the commission would be mindful of the timelines for the nomination of candidates as well as the validity of such nominations.
He said; “The Commission has distributed all the sensitive and non sensitive materials required for the conduct of the Imo North Senatorial bye-election. The Commission deployed two additional Resident Electoral Commissioners to assist the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Imo State.
“In Imo North Senatorial District, 14 Political Parties will contest the election. The APC will be on the ballot for the election. Voters will vote based on the logo of the parties. The issue of candidature will only manifest at the point of Declaration and Return.
“The Commission removed the name of the candidate originally submitted by the APC based on Court Order and replaced him with that of another candidate based on Court Order.
“The Commission is aware of the decision of the Court of Appeal and that of the Federal High Court relating to the candidature of the candidates.
“The Commission will study all the judgements and orders and carry out the decision and orders of the Courts bearing in mind the position of the law and the Constitution relating to timelines for nominations, validity of nominations and constitutional requirements for contesting elections.
“Ultimately, the Commission will take a position based on its understanding of the judgments and orders but the Courts are the final arbiters in matters relating to nominations and disqualifications”.
In the appellate court judgment, read by Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam, the court roundly faulted the November 6, 2020 judgment which sacked Ibezim and announced Araraume as the candidate of APC, having won the party primary election.
It was the considered opinion of the Judge that the revalidation of Ibezim’s candidacy, was in tandem with the Electoral Act, having won the APC party primary, way back in September 2020.
Justice Onyemenam ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to immediately enlist Sir Ibezim’s name, as the APC candidate for the bye-election.
In Abuja, the Federal High Court in its judgement delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, ordered INEC, to remove Ibezim’s name from the list of candidates for the bye-election, after it found him guilty of submitting falsified documents.
The court said it was satisfied that the Defendant made false statements/declarations in the affidavit and documents he tendered to both the APC and INEC.
He was found to have presented falsified and uncertified photocopies of his West African Examination Council, WAEC, certificate.
The judgment followed a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1229/2020, which was filed by Asomugha Elebeke.
The APC and INEC were cited as 2nd and 3rd Defendants in the matter.
Specifically, Justice Ekwo found that the WASC certificate that was submitted by the Defendant bore two different and irreconcilable names, Ibezim Chukwuma Frank and Ibezim Francis Chukwuma.
The court held that held that the 1st Defendant, Ibezim, “is not qualified/ eligible for nomination to contest the Imo North Senatorial By-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, and the irreconcilable conflicts in his names”.
It therefore barred INEC from accepting him as candidate of the APC for the senatorial by-election.
In a related development, the court, on Friday, upheld the nomination of Chief Abel Ebifemowei, as candidate of the APC for the Bayelsa Central Senatorial by-election.
The court, in a judgment by Justice Okon Abang, dismissed a suit Oyowei Manfred filed to challenge Ebifemowei’s nomination.
The court held that the plaintiff failed to prove that the 1st Defendant failed to resign from the Nigerian Air Force before he participated in primary election the APC conducted on September 3.
It stressed that the Plaintiff failed to controvert Ebifemowei’s claim that he was dismissed from the Air Force 27 years ago.
Besides, the court held that the suit was statute barred, noting that it was not filed within 14 days after the cause of action arose.
The court also held that the onus was on the plaintiff to prove that the 1st Defendant was not dismissed from Air Force and that he did not resign at least 30 days before the date of the election.
More so, it said there was no proof from the Plaintiff that the 1st Defendant supplied false information, or still in service, contrary to section 66(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution.
Consequently, Justice Abang awarded a cost of N100, 000 against the Plaintiff, and in favour of the 1st and 2nd Defendants.
It further awarded a cost of N30, 000 in favour of INEC, noting that it did not file any process in the matter.