KENNETH OFOMA reports on the multiple legal hurdles, which a former governor of Enugu State, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, has to scale in his bid to return to the Senate

Although he was declared the winner of October 3, 2018 primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for Enugu East senatorial contest, and therefore the party’s candidate for the forthcoming polls, former governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, and senator who represented the district from 2007 to 2011, will have to scale legal hurdles mounted by both party members and opposition party if he is to return to the upper legislative chamber.

Nnamani, who reportedly returned to the country on December 27, 2018, after many months away in the United States, has since taken the gauntlet by campaigning vigorously ahead of the February 16 poll. But just as he is campaigning, he is also looking back to ensure that his opponents don’t pull the rugs off his feet through legal means.

Presently, the former governor and founder of Ebeano political dynasty, is facing three separate lawsuits challenging his candidacy. Two of the lawsuits are from Senator Gil Nnaji and Prof. Agu Gab Agu, who contested the PDP primaries for the ticket with him. The third suit is from Prince Lawrence Ezeh, who though contested the same PDP primaries, defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) where he clinched the senatorial ticket for the same Enugu East senatorial district election.

Senator Nnaji had approached an Abuja High Court sitting at Bwari to challenge the election of Nnamani at the party’s primary election. The court in the suit marked FCT/HC/BW/148/2018, had since okayed hearing on the suit, seeking to disqualify the former governor from contesting the senatorial poll.

The plaintiff is contending that Nnamani is not qualified to contest for any elective position, having allegedly entered into a plea bargain with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently. Aside praying the court to bar the PDP from sponsoring the ex-governor as its senatorial candidate for Enugu East, the plaintiff, equally prayed for an order restraining the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognizing the former governor as a valid candidate for the poll.

Specifically, Nnaji, through his lawyer, Mr. Johnmary Jideobi, urged the court to among other things, determine “whether or not upon a comprehensive reading and intimate understanding of Section 270 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, 2015 especially sub-section (17) thereof, the 1st Defendant is not a convict in view of the plea bargain agreement he entered into with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Charge No. FHC/L/09C/2007, resulting to forfeiture judgement of the Federal High Court (Lagos Division( of 7th July, 2018?”

In another suit, the candidate of the APC, Prince Ezeh, asked the Federal High Court, Abuja, to disqualify the former governor and candidate of PDP, Nnamani from contesting to represent the zone.

His prayer was contained in a suit filed as Lawrence Ezeh VS Chimaroke Nnamani (1st defendant) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC 2nd defendant). Eze contends that the former governor failed to appear in person for clearance by the electoral commission, insisting that his clearance even in his absence violets the provisions of the Nigeria Constitution and Electoral Act.

In the court documents sighted by New Telegraph, Ezeh asked the court to determine “whether from a proper interpretation of the provisions of Section 117(4) of the Evidence Acts Laws of the Federation, the 1st defendant (Nnamani) is not duty-bound to personally appear before the Commissioner of Oaths to depose to the sworn affidavit filed with the 2nd defendant (INEC) as part of the legal requirement for the contest of the senatorial seat of Enugu East Senatorial zone.”

In his second prayer, Ezeh asked the court to determine if having not also physically and personally sworn the purported affidavit, Nnamani is eligible to contest for the senatorial seat.

He made a third prayer, asking the court to determine whether having failed to meet the obligations above, if this does not amount to automatic disqualification of Nnamani, for allegedly contravening Section 117(4) of the Evidence Act.

The fourth prayer wondered if it was legal for the 2nd defendant (INEC) to clear the first defendant (Nnamani) to contest for the Enugu East senatorial seat, in view of the fact that he did not personally appear before the Commissioner for Oaths for the administration of oath.

In his last prayer, Ezeh prayed the court to determine whether the purported sworn affidavit filed by Nnamani (1st defendant) with INEC (2nd defendant) was “not null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”

Ezeh, in seeking reliefs against Nnamani, asked the court to declare that INEC (2nd defendant) under the Evidence and Electoral Act, has a duty not to recognize him as a candidate, having contravened the provisions of Section 117 (4) of the Electoral Act; and that such continued recognition is therefore illegal and unlawful.

He also that as the nation’s electoral umpire, it was the duty of INEC (2nd defendant) not to recognize Nnamani (1st defendant) as the PDP candidate, with regards to the Evidence Act he contravened.

The petitioner further prayed the court to make an order compelling INEC to stop parading or holding Nnamani as the PDP candidate for the zone; as well as an order of perpetual injection restraining him from parading or holding himself as the PDP candidate of the Enugu East Senatorial zone.

The third suit is from one of the senatorial aspirants for Enugu East senatorial seat, Prof. Agu, who contested the primaries alongside Nnamani and Nnaji, among others. Prof Agu had equally gone to court seeking to be declared the winner of the primaries.

In Suit No. FHC /EN.CS/141/2018 – Prof Agu Gab Agu Vs Chimaroke Nnamani and two others (INEC and PDP) respectively; the professor of Law and former Dean, Faculty of Law of Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), is contending that he contested the primary election held on October 3, 2018. He also claimed that having garnered a total of 601 votes against 108 votes polled by Nnamani, he secured majority of the votes cast and that his name should be rightly forwarded to INEC by the PDP as its candidate for the election.

Agu contended: “Other aspirants who contested in the said primary election but on whom the party delegates had wasted their votes were Chinedu Nneji (88 votes), Nkwor Ngene (74 votes), Gilbert Nnaji (69 votes), Lawrence Ezeh (25 votes) and Joshua Mba (3 votes).

“That needless saying it, but even the 2nd defendant knows that the said result that it declared is not worth the parchment on which it is written, the plaintiff had won the election, but rather disingenuously, some fellows in the party had taken away the plaintiff’s votes and awarded to the 1st defendant.”

Agu made it clear that he was not against Nnamani or contending his legislative ability and intellectual capacity to represent the people, but only saying that he won the primaries. He therefore vowed that he would not let the injustice be and that he was ready to prove his case at trial where he intends contend that he and not Nnamani garnered majority of the votes cast in the primary election.

He also stressed that he was going to urge the court to order for a recount of the votes/ballot papers used for the election which he said, would clearly show, which aspirant had what number of votes in the primary election.

Despite these legal hurdles, the country home of the former Enugu State governor in Agbani, the headquarters of Nkanu West Local Government Area of the state, has been literarily turned into a pilgrimage center of sort, following his return to the country.

Nnamani, who had been away in the United States for some time came back to his country home Agbani on December 27, 2018. Before his return, speculations were rife that he was not going to come back for the senatorial election, which its nomination ticket, he won in absentia, defeating incumbent Senator Nnaji and others.

However, his return has put to rest all the speculations concerning his alleged critical health condition that would not have allowed him to come back to Nigeria and would have marred his Enugu East senatorial bid.

Soon after his return, the almost dashed hope of PDP members in the area seems to have been rekindled as they have in that euphoria continued to throng en mass to his country home to pay homage and pledge their loyalty.

The social media has been awash with photographs of Nnamani with various political personalities in the state, some, who only came to confirm his return having waited in vain each different dates given for his return since November last year.

Nnamani has also visited the Lion Building as Enugu State government house is known to thank Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for his assistance and concern. His visit to the government House was the first since he left off.