In what looks like a messier legal debacle, the Appeal Court in Owerri, Imo State and the Federal High in Abuja gave two contradictory rulings on the same matter and on the same day.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri, Imo State, Friday, December 4, sacked Senator Ifeanyi Araraume as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC for Imo North Senatorial bye-election.
Justice Uchechukwu Onyemenam delivered the judgment less than 24 hours to the bye-election.
On the contrary, a Federal High Court in Abuja, Friday, disqualified Chukwuma Francis Ibezim as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the bye-election.
Justice Inyang Ekwo in a judgment disqualified Ibezim from contesting the election on grounds that he made false statements/declarations in the affidavit and documents he submitted to APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), wherein he presented falsified and uncertified photocopies of West African Examination Council (WAEC) certificate.
The Imo North by-election holds on Saturday, December 5, in the 64 wards across the six local government areas.
Justice Onyemenam declared Ibezim as the authentic candidate of the ruling party, APC, ahead of the election.
The judge faulted an earlier judgment of the Federal High Court of November 6 which sacked Ibezim.
The justice ordered INEC to immediately enlist Ibezim’s name as the candidate of the party for the bye-election.
In his ruling, Justice Ekwo found that the WASC certificate he submitted “bears two different and irreconcilable names – Ibezim Chukwuma Frank and Ibezim Francis Chukwuma.”
The judge ordered INEC to remove his name from the list of candidates for the by-election.
The judgment was on a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1229/2020 filed by Asomugha Tony Elebeke, with Ibezim, APC and INEC as defendants.
A Federal High Court in Owerri had on Friday, November 8 sacked Frank Ibezim of APC candidate for the senatorial by-election.
The court, in a ruling declared Ararume as the rightful candidate to stand as the APC candidate for the election.
Following the death of Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu last December, the seat of Imo North senatorial district at the Senate became vacant.
INEC had fixed a by-election to pick a new senator for the zone on October 31, 2020 but later postponed it indefinitely because of #EndSARS protest.
However, APC had ahead of October 31 date, organised parallel primaries which produced both Ibezim and Ararume as candidates of the party. The party later settled for Ibezim, said to be Governor Hope Uzodimma’s anointed candidate.
But not satisfied, one of the candidates in the primaries, Lady Uchenna Uba dragged the matter to court and prayed for an order to declared the authentic candidate of the party for the by-election.
In her suit, APC, INEC, Araraume, Edith Chidinma Uwajumogu (Late Uwajumogu’s wife) and Mathew Omegara were joined as 1st to 5th defendants.
The court earlier fixed October 27, 2020 to rule on the suit No. FHC/101/2020. Finally, ruling on the matter last Friday, the presiding Judge, Justice Tegem isolated two issues for resolution, which were the issue of tentative result and determining the rightful winner.
The judge said that there were two different results tendered in evidence before the court, the result from the Plaintiff, the 1st Defendant, and also Mr. Frank Ibezim.
The judge noted that whereas the first result was signed by the chairman and secretary of the APC’s seven-member panel that conducted the primary election, where Ibezim polled the highest number of votes and was declared winner, the second tendered in evidence before the court by the third defendant (Araraume) was written by a split group of the same seven-member panel for the conduct of the election, but did not sign that result in which Ararume scored the highest number of votes and was declared winner.
On the first issue the court held, “In the court of law an unsigned document is no document, since the authenticity of the document cannot be ascertained.”
The presiding judge said, “The result signed by the chairman and secretary of the seven-member panel in my view is the tentative result.”
Then ruling on who is the rightful winner, Justice Tegem asked, “What is the implication of the disqualification as adduced by the counsel to the 4th respondent (Edith Uwanjumogu)?”
According to the judge, Ibezim, by coming to court through a proxy, spoilt what ordinarily was a very good opportunity before him, but missed it having chosen to do it by proxy.
Justice Tegem said that tendered in evidence before the court by the plaintiff were reports of both the screening committee and the appeal panel of APC. The reports he said, showed no evidence that the disqualified aspirants (the Plaintiff (Uba), Ibezim and the 5th defendant Omegra and three others) appealed to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party.
He further noted that counsel to the plaintiff and the 1st defendant never raised any point of law in defense of the issue of disqualification during their adumbration in adoption of their written addresses.
He said, “This amounted in my view to an admission.”
He held, “In the eyes of the Law, the plaintiff, Frank Ibezim, Mathew Omegra and three others never participated in the primary election. Disqualified aspirants remained not aspirants in the said primary having been disqualified.”
Justice Tegem then ruled, “The participation of Frank Ibezim is nullified having been disqualified by the party screening committee and the appeal panel before the primary election.
“That the next person who polled the third highest votes in the resolved tentative result, which is Araraume, to be the candidate of the party for the by-election of the Imo North senatorial district, replacing Ibezim.”