Dr. Obiora Okonkwo contested the last PDP primary for Anambra Senatorial seat. He has been in courts seeking to prove that he won the exercise. In this interview, the politician spoke on last week’s Supreme Court ruling that threw out the suit by Senator Uche Ekwunife. Ekwunife had earlier challenged the Appeal Court judgment that nullified her election. He also shared his thoughts on other issues including the APC government, survival of PDP and the next Anambra governorship poll.
Last Friday, the Supreme Court threw out Hon. Uche Ekwunife’s case on account of lack of jurisdiction. What is the implication?
The decision in itself does not entirely take care of the Anambra Central dispute. It only answered to Uche Ekwunife’s appeal to the Supreme Court to review the final judgment of Appeal Court, which we all know is the last court of jurisdiction on any post election matter. It was expected, those who should know, knew that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to even look into that matter. It is a constitutional matter. I knew the case would end up that way. It was an outcome that I predicted. If at all it is of any benefit, the benefit comes only personally to me as the authentic candidate of the party. The decision of the Court of Appeal that nullified Ekwunife’s candidacy was like deciding my own pre-election matter. I have a pre-election matter before the court, challenging the authenticity of the candidacy of Uche Ekwunife. After the primaries, I had gone to court to say with all the proofs that, indeed, I am the original candidate of PDP for Anambra Central senatorial district election. To support this claim, we have affidavit for all the members of the panel, the national executive panel that came to Anambra to conduct the primaries. The affidavits were sworn by former chairman, former senators, professors; they are clearly before the court. They are saying that concerning the primaries they conducted in Anambra Central for senate, it was me who won the primaries.
When we heard Uche Ekwunife had applied for joinder, we allowed her to come and defend herself. She came up with a result sheet, which obviously in the new electoral law is the most determinant factor. She came out with the result sheet that purportedly gave her victory. In the same result sheet also, we have been able to prove that even the Returning Officer she claimed had gone to the field to conduct the election, had disclaimed even being nominated to do that job, and that the signature purportedly contained in that result sheet was not his. They were forged.
The panel members also in that affidavit had claimed that they never appointed that individual to do the job and that the only person appointed to do the job was the Returning Officer that returned with my result sheet, which was declared authentic for the victory.
This matter has been there before the election. She has been to the Appeal Court, and the Supreme Court because of the other technicalities that are contained in the judiciary process. They are okay. You have to allow people to explore all legal options open to them. Other issues are interlocutory matters where people will want to use some delay tactics, so we are back to where we were. But we are hopeful that something positive will come out of it. But, basically, having gone through the Appeal Court and other interlocutory issues, we are back to the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court was about to determine this matter before Justice Abang was transferred out of Abuja last year. Now, the matter remains in his court and the new judge taking over has fixed the matter for February 23, 2017. The electoral law and the constitution have made it very clear that it is the party that wins, not the individual. In this case, the court has said Uche did not win the primary election, so the court has actually joined verdict to our own claim. We are only waiting for any other court to authenticate it, that this is ours. We were not party to post election matter between her and other contestants.
So, as soon as that is done, we have to demand to go and occupy the seat that belongs to PDP in Anambra Central. I am the only candidate who can step into that seat without any election. Therefore, we are declaring for the benefit of those who may not know that the seat is not vacant. It belongs to the original winner of that primary who ought to have been the candidate for the senatorial election. The Appeal Court that nullified Uche Ekwunife election did not nullify the PDP victory; it nullified Uche Ekwunife’s candidacy because she could not prove that she was nominated.
But former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi is also in court seeking to be the candidate of PDP. Isn’t that a sign that PDP is singing discordant tunes?
As far as I am concerned, there is no case in court with the name Peter Obi as claiming any candidacy because you can only claim candidacy if you were part of the primary process. Out of the other aspirants in PDP who were there before the primaries and who went to court after the primaries, I am the only person who has a substantive suit. I am the only man standing. The reason is because I have all that it takes to prove that I actually won the primaries of PDP. So, I am not aware of any case because Peter Obi has no locus to institute a case. However, I am aware that PDP had gone to court and has said to INEC: if indeed there would be any re-run (which is fair enough), PDP ought to have a candidate. PDP has sworn an affidavit to support that case.
What if the court rules that you go through election, would that be acceptable to you?
We will not preempt what the court will rule but it will not be justified with the reality on ground. We should expect that if the court authenticates our candidacy, then the only thing left in law is to say ‘go and take over the seat,’ because part of the consequential orders we are demanding is to order INEC to issue us the certificate.
There are insinuations that the plots of some political personalities in the state are to ensure that no one occupies the seat till 2019, what do you make of such rumour?
It is not out of place for people to plot such, but the important thing for me is that someone who does not win the election will not occupy that seat. And if it pleases God at His own right time, the rightful occupant of that seat (which is obviously no other person but me) will take over the seat. So, we are also watching. There is a high interest in Anambra Central. I can tell you it is the most hotly contested senatorial seat in the entire country.
Have politicians in the district realized that the state is losing a lot over this unnecessary dispute?
You are absolutely right. They are losing. But if you look at the flipside, it is a lot better to fight in court than to fight with guns and knives. Since the election took place, no one has heard that anybody has been killed. Strangely enough, majority of those in this electoral battle are friends; they attend personal functions and visit one another’s homes; they drink from the same bottle of champagne and share glasses and hug themselves. It is healthier that way than becoming brutal and killing innocent people because of politics. That is one phenomenon in Anambra which other states envy. But I wish that by the time we finish this struggle, most people will just sit back, and then count their losses. Probably, that will help them and other people who are coming into Nigeria to know that it is not the best way to play politics.
It appears PDP in Anambra is almost gone, if by tomorrow there is an election, do you see yourself winning on that platform?
If it becomes the very last option, I have no fear. I know that all the contestants are afraid, that is why they are just clamouring that PDP must not have a candidate. They are not talking about the candidate that has been disqualified; they are not talking about the individual that may be aspiring to be a candidate, they are saying so because they know the likely candidate that should be for the election. And that person is me. That is why they are afraid. I don’t have a problem winning the election.
I don’t think we would get to that, though, because this matter is clear. We have to follow our matter to conclusive end. You can’t conduct an election in a place that is not vacant. The decision of the Appeal Court for rerun is based on the information before it.
How do you feel about prominent PDP members in the South-East leaving in droves for the ruling party?
It is normal. While some people are leaving, some are coming in. There is nothing to be worried about. I have seen people leave. Maybe at this point those people in their calculations think their political aspirations or ambitions are better achieved in their new party. This is what is happening for now. Let’s see how things turn out in the future. My prediction is that there will be a lot of movements and counter movements in the Nigerian political landscape in the coming months and years. That is why I am not worried.
Some people recommend that the South-East should have good presence in both APC and PDP. Do you share that kind of argument?
Well, for the benefits that those schools of thoughts believe will accrue from such arrangement, why not? It is a simple thing that you should not put all your eggs in one basket. I don’t think that should be the issue. My own concern is wherever anybody is moving to; you should play the right politics and know that you must not be motivated by your own individual ambition. It must be a place you are going to exercise proper representation and do service to mankind. But if it is just politics, for your stomach, that is where I have a problem.
I really think that PDP is facing its own challenges. I think there are challenges in other parties. If the current leaders of the party have thought it wise to make a presentation of how they think this party can be revived, they are taking the right steps in the right direction. I will not simply discard the effort until I see the implementation and the outcome. It is not in my nature to undermine people’s effort especially when I know that the leaders are working hard to make things happen. But I know in the coming years there would be more people from PDP moving to APC and there might be more people moving from APC to PDP. That movement will continue. There might be a possibility of even PDP going into marriage with another party. There might be a change of name of a party. PDP might even evolve into a new party with a new image just like APC. I really think that we all have to wait and see.
The Nigerian democratic system will continue to evolve until that time when we get the right political parties with clear vision and philosophies that will get people who will stick to it because of its belief. As long as we politicians see political parties as platforms, as vehicles to get to their destinations, this movement will continue. I am not really worried about that.
Anambra will be holding governorship election soon, we have not heard you comment or criticize the incumbent administration in the state, is it an indication that the governor is doing well and deserves another term?
I didn’t say so. When we have a government that is in place at this time in our nation, if we can’t do much, we can give the person a chance and time to observe what he is doing and the result those things are yielding. Criticism is not always the best solution. I say my mind, but I don’t engage in baseless and empty criticisms. When it comes to second term, you know it is determined by a whole lot of factors, that all aggregate to how good you are. It is never easy for a governor to come back. There is no doubt that this second term is going to be a tough challenge for the incumbent governor. There are a whole lot of interests.
Weighing how easy or how successful his bid for second term will be, I will want to wait and see how the other parties will manage their own internal affairs, the process they will adopt in bringing out their candidates. It is until then that you will be able to judge. The process might start well and ends badly. That will make party members to protest, and such protest could make it very easy for the governor. It might be a bit early to comment on how that will turn out, but I really think that just like in many other cases, his chances of coming back will not only depend on how well he has done or how bad he has done, but also on how the challengers emerge and who emerges from other platforms.
Away from Anambra, is the Buhari administration meeting your expectations?
It is obvious that there are still things to be done. I have seen a whole lot of efforts. I will not be revealing anything from the sky because the administration itself, on many occasions, has made it clear that its own expectations are not being met. What they expected was not what they met, so that is affecting what they had planned to do. It is a common knowledge that a lot of things are not the way they should be. I would rather say that there are challenges this administration is having and that is affecting the expectations. We are not where we are supposed to be, that’s an obvious fact and I am not seeing a difference either.
So it is good that Labour and civil societies protested?
I don’t think protest is the answer. As pressure groups, I would rather, in my opinion, they engage constructively with the government to ensure that there are no actions taken that would add to the injury.
Our situation is quite delicate; any action that is not in the right direction would complicate the situation. I don’t think it is the best approach. I would always recommend a peaceful approach to demands and constructive engagements with the government from all the quarters that have issues.
This government, I want to believe, is ready to listen to people who have issues but jumping to the street, and in some cases, taking laws into their hands, creates avenues and opportunities for people with other intentions to hijack and compromise the genuine reasons for such demonstrations.
My advice is to engage government constructively at the end of the day. No matter how long they strike or no matter how tough a demonstration is, I have always known that problems are better addressed around the table. So, why not take advantage of that from the beginning and save all these energies?