Nwoko vs Nwaoboshi Verdict, a Watershed in Electoral Jurisprudence
By Nzemeka Ogadinma
Great oaks grow from little acorns, according to a wise saying. When Prince Ned Nwoko vowed to challenge the outcome of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] senatorial primaries not many people took him serious. Only a few believed that his audacious challenge of impunity and fraud would end up as the spark that would usher the beginning of the end of the cankerworm of manipulation of party primaries in Nigeria.
However, that early perception of ‘an impossible mission to dare the monster of imposition and electoral malfeasance at the nomination level began to fade from Wednesday April 3, 2019 when Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja delivered a landmark judgment that has continued to resonate across the land. That epoch-making ruling was to the effect that Senator Peter Nwaoboshi was not the winner of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] primary held on October 2, 2018, to nominate its senatorial candidate for Delta North district in the 2019 general election.
The judge ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to publish the name of Prince Ned Nwoko as the rightful candidate of the PDP, having established the fact before the court that Nwoko scored a majority of the lawful votes in the primary. He also ordered Senator Nwaoboshi to stop parading himself as the candidate of the PDP for the Delta North senatorial district.
Nwoko through his counsel Ahmed Raji (SAN), had dragged INEC, PDP and Nwaoboshi before the court praying for an order to stop INEC from publishing or further publishing the name of Nwaoboshi as the candidate for Delta North senatorial district. Nwoko also asked for another order compelling the PDP to forward his name to INEC as the authentic candidate of the party for the senatorial district in the 2019 general election.
Nwoko who predicated his suit on seven grounds, which were supported by 20-paragraph affidavit evidence and five exhibits, claimed that he was screened and cleared for the Delta North senatorial district by the PDP Electoral Committee. He averred among other things, that at the end of the primary election, he scored 453 votes to defeat his closest rival, Nwaoboshi who scored 405 while Paul Osaji came third with 216 votes.
Nwoko, however, declared that to his surprise, the PDP jettisoned the result of the primary election and forwarded Nwaoboshi’s name as its candidate for the senatorial district. He stated that all efforts to redress the injustice through the party’s appeal panel were frustrated and thus unsuccessful.
The pacesetting judgment has been attracting wide responses with many holding the view that the outcome of the case would take the nation’s jurisprudence on electoral matters a notch higher. One key aspect of the judgment that has generated interest is the fact that it beamed searchlight on the way and manner political parties conduct their intra-party primary elections to nominate candidates for general elections.
The judgment also followed similar ones in Zamfara and Rivers states where shambolic party primaries marked by exclusion and other anomalies were conducted leading to long drawn legal tussles. But the particular case of Delta North senatorial district PDP primary was markedly distinct in view of the fact that it actually took place but was marred by underhand manipulations of the process by top officials who allegedly announced a tinkered version of the result.
Thus the seeming orderly and peaceful conduct of the primary election was a mere façade. The charade that the conduct of that election represents is underscored by the fact that the exercise was littered with cleverly coated fraud and high wire manipulation. Inside sources confirmed that Prince Nwoko won the primary contest but officials instead fraudulently announced Nwaoboshi as the winner relying on falsely allocated figures which did not tally with the sum of valid ballot papers. Such an election that was not free, fair and transparent cannot be said to have been democratically done.
It is thus a matter of relief that the fraudulent nature of that October 2 primary was confirmed through the laudable adjudication by the Federal High Court presided by Hon Justice Mohammed which reversed the injustice and established Ned Nwoko as the rightful winner of the contest.
The verdict of the judge was predicated on manifest evidence and facts which are provable. In other words, it is a judgment based on facts, an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from factual evidence. The judgment will not only likely stand the test of time, it may also end up serving as a vital precedent in future.
It is gratifying to note that Nwaoboshi has challenged the judgment at the appellate court. If he is cocksure that he won the primary election fair and clean, the onus is now on him to prove so. But the question that has not been answered yet pertains to why his lawyers and those of the PDP disobeyed court subpoena to produce the ballot papers for recounting in open court.
Could it be that they chose not to obey the subpoena because they knew that the process that produced Nwaoboshi was not clean enough to be exhibited before the open court? And in the absence of the original ballot papers used at the senatorial primary, the judge was left with no option than to admit the certified true copies tendered by Nwoko’s counsel and ruled based on verifiable evidence before him.
Justice Mohammed’s ruling is therefore a judgment based on facts and an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from evidence that was not countered.
The judgment in this case shows that Nigeria’s democracy is progressing and getting reformed somehow. Today, with this there is a valid court judgment to the effect that matter doesn’t just stop at inspecting the INEC ballot papers, the ballot papers used during the political parties’ primary elections can also be subjected to integrity test to establish their validity.
For so long, the bulk of the rigging and manipulations had been perpetuated at the party level with unpopular candidates escaping with false victories and enjoying unmerited mandates. With this verdict as precedent, the ubiquitous cases of impunity, manipulation, imposition and sundry corruption in our electoral system particularly at the party primary level can now be successfully challenged and stripped bare to pave way for the emergence of truly chosen candidates by the people. The development is very healthy for the growth and sustenance of the nation’s democratic process.
· Nzemeka Ogadinma wrote from Abbi, Ndokwa West LGA, Delta State