It was a big relief for the member representing Ideato North and South Federal Constituency of Imo State, Hon. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere Ikeagwuonu, when the Court of Appeal, sitting in Lagos, on Wednesday, unanimously affirmed him as the validly elected member of the House of Representatives.
Ugochinyere of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had suffered a miscarriage of justice when the Imo State National and State House of Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal nullified his election and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a supplementary election within 90 days.
But in a unanimous judgment, the Appeal Court panel headed by Justice Abubakar Babandi Gumel overruled the judgment of the tribunal.
The election petition tribunal had disqualified Ikenga and nullified his election based on a pre-election matter of the primary election of the PDP despite plethora of authorities by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to the effect that Election Tribunals do not have jurisdiction over pre-election matters.
The tribunal’s three-member panel of judges, had in a unanimous decision, held that Ugochinyere was not validly nominated by the PDP to contest the Ideato North/South Federal Constituency election held on 25 February.
Justice Anthony Akpovi, who chaired the panel, concluded that the PDP and its candidate should be excluded from the supplementary election.
Recall that insecurity had forced the PDP to conduct their primary elsewhere. Secondly, before the primary, Ugochinyere’s residence and personal and campaign vehicles in his hometown were razed down by gunmen who were on a mission to assassinate him.
Insecurity had also forced the tribunal to sit in Nasarawa State instead of Imo State.
Yet, curiously, the same tribunal, had in its judgment sacked Ugochinyere, citing the failure of the PDP to hold the primary that produced him in his constituency.
The Appeal Court and Supreme Court had on several cases on “not validly nominated” or “improper nomination” called the petitioners “meddlesome interlopers.”
The Presidential Election Petitions Court (PEPC) had ruled in Vice President Kashim Shettima’s case, that the issue of nominating or not nominating a candidate validly by a political party is a pre-election matter and an internal affair of the party, which can only be challenged within 14 days of such nomination at a Federal High Court.
Many analysts had predicted rightly that the tribunal judgment in Ugochinyere’s case would be quashed by the Appeal Court.