Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate who claimed to have won 2015 Anambra Central Senatorial seat election , on Monday failed woefully in his bid to claim the seat as the Court of Appeal Abuja division dismissed his appeal for being incompetent.
A five-man panel of the Court of Appeal in its judgment delivered Monday dismissed Okonkwo’s appeal for being incompetent. The court also affirmed the judgment of Justice John Tsoho, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who set aside its own consent judgment delivered on December 13, 2017.
Justice Tsoho, had in the consent judgment ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to issue a Certificate of Return to Obiora Okonkwo as the legitimate candidate for the Anambra Central Senatorial seat. This was sequel to a suit filed by Okonkwo after Senator Uche Ekwunife who won the election in 2015 resigned. Okonkwo had claimed he won the PDP primary and he got INEC, PDP to enter into a consent judgement.
However, the court on January 12, 2018 in a judgement on a motion by INEC set aside the consent judgment that had ordered INEC to issue Okonkwo with a Certificate of Return. In setting aside the judgment, Tsoho held that he was misled by the plaintiff.
Tsoho, accordingly aligned himself with the judgment of three Courts of Appeal which ordered INEC to conduct a fresh election within 90 days to fill the vacant senatorial seat.
Displeased with the decision of the trial court, Okonkwo approached the Court of Appeal to upturn Tsoho’s decision and ordered INEC to swear him in as the representative of the Senatorial District.
In the notice of appeal which was rooted on 13 grounds, Okonkwo had prayed the Court of Appeal to set aside the January 12, 2018, ruling of Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court which vacated the said consent judgment of December 13, 2017.
He also asked the appellate court for an order directing INEC to immediately comply with the consent judgment of Justice Tsoho delivered on December 13, 2017, by issuing him with a Certificate of Return as the winner of the disputed senatorial seat.
But delivering judgment yesterday on Okonkwo’s appeal, the appellate court held that the trial court was in order by setting aside the consent judgment it delivered on December, 13, 2017.
In the lead judgment delivered by Justice Frederick Oho, the Court of Appeal held that the lower court was in order in setting aside the judgment because the judgment was a nullity.
He said the court has the inherent powers to set the records straight by setting aside the consent judgment once it is discovered that there are a lot of infractions leading to the judgment.
The court while noting that a court cannot sit as an appeal on its own case however held that if it was discovered that the judgment was obtained by fraud, or that the court was misled as in this case, the court would be right to set aside the judgment.
Oho stated that the appellant who is the candidate of the PDP is not oblivious of the decisions of the Court of Appeal which ordered that a fresh election be conducted within 90 days with the exclusion of the PDP and its candidate.
He described the attitude of the appellant as a clear disobedience to the orders of the Court of Appeal, adding that his counsel was duty bound to have furnished the court with all relevant facts in the case including the three judgments by the Court of Appeal.
The court also held that whether the matter is a pre-election or post election matter, the lower court must always give way to the appellate court on the same issue.
The court, accordingly held that, “The appeal is lacking merit and accordingly dismissed” and affirmed the decision of the lower court which set aside its consent judgment.
The court earlier dismissed the preliminary objections of the 3rd, 5th and 6th respondent for lacking in merit.
Senator Umeh and his political party who were joined as 5th and 6th respondents in the appeal had asked the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit and a gross abuse of court process, while Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has in its notice of preliminary objection, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the appeal.
The Court of Appeal had on February 26, granted the application by Senator Victor Umeh and his All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) political platform to participate in the proceedings.
The court granted the application after it was not opposed to by counsel to Okonkwo, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Mrs. Uche Ekwunife.
Both counsel to the People’s Democratic Party and Senator Uche Ekwunife, Ifeanyi Umeji and Ernest Nwoye did not file any brief of arguments.
But counsel to Senator Umeh and APGA, Patrick Ikwueto (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit and allow his preliminary objection filed on March 5.
Ikwueto argued that a consent judgment can be set aside if it turns out that it was made by a court without jurisdiction or it was obtained by fraud.