A gloomy cloud is thickening around the electoral sky of Labour Party, LP, in Enugu State. If not dispersed with wisdom, it will rain disaster for the party in the gubernatorial election as they may not have any candidate to challenge the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate. Peter Obi, the party’s presidential candidate, may be able to salvage the party’s electoral fortune if he steps in between the combatants for the Enugu State gubernatorial ticket.
Majority of the vociferous LP supporters in Enugu State, hoping to dislodge PDP, do not know that the Enugu State gubernatorial ticket is the subject of a titanic battle at a Federal High Court, Abuja. The final outcome of the case will determine the gubernatorial candidate of LP in Enugu State. So far, Obi has not shown interest in the contest.
On October 5, the case that may rock the boat of the party continued in Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice Nkonye Evelyn Maha.
The suit, instituted by Evarest Edeh Nnaji, popularly known as Odengene, on August 16, has only two defendants – the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and Labour Party. Nnaji had earlier instituted a similar case at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, but abandoned it for the one in Abuja.
He has asked the court to determine if:
Having fulfilled all conditions precedent given to him by Labour Party for his emergence as the party’s consensus gubernatorial candidate in Enugu State for 2023 general elections, he ought not to be declared as the authentic and validly nominated consensus gubernatorial candidate of LP in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
Having fulfilled all the conditions, if LP “is not estopped from submitting to INEC the name of any person other than himself as the authentic and validly nominated consensus gubernatorial candidate” of the party for the election.
His exclusion by LP “from participating/contesting as an aspirant at the party’s Enugu State gubernatorial primary election purportedly conducted on the 4th day of August, 2022, or any other date, is not illegal, unconstitutional and renders the said primary election null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”
If INEC “ought not recognize, deal with him, and publish his name as the authentic and validly nominated gubernatorial candidate of LP in Enugu for the forthcoming 2023 general elections.”
Against this background, Nnaji is seeking for the following reliefs:
A declaration that he is the authentic and validly nominated consensus gubernatorial candidate of LP in Enugu State for the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
A declaration that LP is estopped from submitting to INEC any person other than himself as the candidate of the party.
A declaration that LP’s Enugu State gubernatorial primary purportedly conducted on the 4th of August, 2022 is null, void and of no effect whatsoever.
A declaration that INEC ought to recognise Nnaji, deal with, and publish his name as the authentic and validly nominated gubernatorial candidate of LP.
An Order directing LP to submit his name to INEC as gubernatorial candidate of the party.
An Order directing INEC to forthwith accept and recognise Nnaji as the gubernatorial candidate of the Party.
An Order of Injunction restraining Labour Party from submitting any name other his name to INEC as the gubernatorial candidate of the party.
An Order of Injunction restraining INEC from accepting, acting on, according recognition to, or in any way or manner dealing with any person other than Nnaji as the gubernatorial candidate of the party.
Or in the alternative, an order directing LP to conduct a fresh gubernatorial primary election in Enugu State within a reasonable time from the date of the order, at which Nnaji and other eligible aspirants in the party shall participate and contest for the gubernatorial candidacy of the party.
In the supporting affidavit, Nnaji swore that Labour assured him that if he paid N25 million for expression of interest, nomination form and waiver, he would be the consensus Enugu State gubernatorial candidate of the party. That he paid the N25m to the Party on 13th of July, 2022, and therefore fulfilled all the required conditions. That Labour Party promised/assured him that “the Party would conduct a primary election for me, at which I will be declared as the consensus candidate.”
He equally averred that surprisingly on August 5th, he heard the news on the radio that Labour Party had purportedly conducted a gubernatorial primary election for Enugu State on August 4th. That he contacted the Enugu State secretariat of the party to verify the news and confirmed it to be true. That the Party held the primary “without any prior notice publicly published or given to me and thereby excluded me from participating in the primary, despite having issued me INEC Nomination form.”
He prayed the court that granting the reliefs sought “will enhance internal democracy in Labour Party and accord with the dictates of the rule of law.”
The motto of LP is ironically “Equal opportunity and social justice.” Nnaji’s membership card number 34479 was signed by both the national Chairman and Secretary. It was found that the two signatures were consistent with the signatures of the two national officers. The card showed that he paid his monthly subscription for May, June and July 2022. Documents examined by TELL showed that Nnaji made the payment in installments from the corporate account of Odengene Air Shuttle Services Ltd. domiciled in FCMB to LP’s United Bank for Africa account number 1021575052.
In its written address, Labour Party argues that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter on three grounds: that Nnaji has no locus standi to institute the action; non-joinder of Chijoke Edeoga as a necessary party to the suit, and that the complaints of Nnaji in the suit borders on internal/domestic affairs of Labur Party.
The party asserted that it did not wrongfully nominate its gubernatorial candidate for Enugu State for the 2023 election. That the conduct of primaries by the party is “its absolute internal affairs.” That the claimant woefully failed to provide evidence to support his case; that though Nnaji is a member of the party, he has no right in the internal affairs of the party, and that the party never promised any aspirant automatic ticket; rather, it provided a level playing field for all aspirants. The party insists that it fixed the date of its primaries which was announced to all aspirants. It further asserts that the party has the right to sponsor any candidate of its choice, and that the grounds of Nnaji’s application would amount to the court intervening in the internal affairs of the party. The LP concluded that Nnaji’s intention was to mislead the court and waste its precious time, and that his application “is neither supported by law nor logic.”
The party noted that Nnaji is not seeking any relief against Chijioke Edeoga, Enugu State gubernatorial candidate of the party.
In further reply to LP’s argument, Nnaji’s lawyer argued that the party infringed on his client’s fundamental human right by denying him fair hearing by purportedly conducting a primary election without inviting him after collecting money from him and issuing him with nomination form. “The law is trite that infringement/breach of the right to a fair hearing is unpardonable, has dire consequences, and automatically donates locus standi to the party who has been denied such right.”
Judgement in the case has been reserved for November 2, 2022.