The Unconstitutional Jailing Of Labour Party Assembly Candidate And Systemic Conspiracy To Destroy The Party In Enugu State.

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The political ill wind has once again blown in Enugu state. The Labour Party is once again the object of attack and this time it is politics taken too far. We will not bore you with what transpired during and after the 2023 governorship election where the Labour Party was overwhelmingly voted for but the mandate freely given to the party was snatched by desperate persons in connivance with a hugely compromised system.

We are also aware of how the party lost a federal legislative seat in Enugu North by the same gang of political marauders who will stop at nothing to ensure that their desires are met whatever it takes, even in most bizarre ways.

Likewise, the same anti democratic elements pressured as much as 6 members of our state Assembly members to defect from the party to the to a political party that was rejected by Ndigbo Enugu in the last general election. To the PDP, what they are unable to achieve at the polls can be achieved through other means.

Of course, being the minority, they wanted the majority presence in the state Assembly, by so doing they would have secured the badly needed assurance of safety of the executive. Labour Party has of course approached the courts to get those Assembly seats vacated in line with the constitution and electoral laws.

However, the controversy surrounding the election into the Enugu South Urban state Constituency, during the March 18, 2023, general elections has become a tragedy of a sort on account of which our candidate Hon Bright Ngene has now been sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.

After Hon Ngene won the election against the PDP candidate, who also challenged the victory and sought for the election to be declared inconclusive, which the Election Petition Tribunal agreed and ordered a rerun in eight polling units, the ruling government not comfortable with the decision, knowing what awaits them at the poll decided to toe an infamous path of resurrecting a matter involving Ngene’s community, a matter which has been stayed by the community since 2017.

Our candidate, Hon Ngene had raised the alarm over an alleged conspiracy between the executive and judiciary arms of the state government to imprison him. He had claimed that the plot was aimed at punishing him for insisting on the mandate he won in the March 18, 2023 House of Assembly Election. This alarmed was sounded after the Magistrate, who handed the verdict on Friday had a day earlier said that he was under instruction to deal with the matter decisively.

He had also noted that the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice A. R Ozoemena, the Deputy Chief Registrar, Chijioke Agbo, and Magistrate E. D Onwu colluded to disregard the petition pending before the National Judicial Council which seized the case. He had reported the erring judicial officers to the Nigeria Judicial Council, (NJC) and had sought an urgent intervention to prevent what he sees as a gross miscarriage of justice aimed at terminating his political and legal careers.

Labour Party is a law abiding entity which has enormous confidence in the rule of law, however what we have seen in this matter is a manifestation of rot in the system which ordinarily should be protecting the ordinary man. The judiciary in Enugu has since unmasked itself and has clearly assumed a position of an interested party.

Our party clearly won the Enugu South Rural Constituency election, our candidate was duly sworn in, a petition tribunal ruled against our party and ordered a rerun in the disputed eight polling units in the Constituency, twice the rerun happened and Labour Party came tops yet they were declared inconclusive. A third-time re-run was scheduled for June 8, that too was cancelled without notice to the party. All these hiccups were clearly to stop the party from expected victory.

For our albatross, the only thing that can stop Labour Party from coming out victorious is to conduct the election without the participation of the Labour Party and the only way is to put away our candidate behind bars. It thus appear that this strategy has worked for the PDP. The leadership of Labour Party is perturbed by this development and we are calling on Nigerians to rise up against this assault on democracy being perpetuated in Enugu state.

We strongly believe that our party and candidate did not get fair hearing. Like I stated earlier, this matter has been rested for about 7 years but all of a sudden, the Presiding magistrate reassumed the matter and within 24 hours gave a ruling in spite of protestations by the defence counsel who fruitlessly dissuade the magistrate to adjourned the matter to a latter date for the purpose of fair hearing.

Recall that the magistrate had claimed he was under pressure to dispense with the matter. This, we see as undue interference from the executive in order to achieve premeditated action. Right to a fair hearing is a right gifted by the laws of the land. Was there fair hearing; don’t the candidate under the law entitled to fair hearing; Is it not a right guaranteed under the law?

Our candidate was jailed even without the trial magistrate allowing him to address the court. All five motions by his legal team were dismissed before they could finish entering them. Rather than being given a date for judgment, His Worship brazenly delivered a judgment right there and then in a way that suggests that he must have written the judgment before coming to court while pretending that the case was still going on.

As if to add to the mystery of the speedy trial and judgment, there was an unusually heavy presence of policemen armed to the teeth on Friday in Onwu’s magistrate court. The security men came in two Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), four Toyota Hilux pickups, five sedans, and four Toyota Sienna vans. Two of the Hilux pickups escorted Magistrate Onwu home after the judgment.

Again, we ask, did the judge have the jurisdiction to entertain the matter? The community had applied to discontinue the matter and wanted the matter transferred to another magistrate court in Enugu South Magisterial Court over alleged bias clearly exhibited by the trial magistrate. The same townsmen who made the complaint requested the court to hands-off the case so that they could resolve it themselves, but the magistrate bluntly refused. This is strange because our statute provides for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), a faster and a more amicable process of settling disputes.

What is the interest of the state, why did the Attorney General exhumed the case, even when the state is not in anyway part of the matter? Why did the magistrate refuse all entreaties by the Akwuke community to settle the matter internally. Why are they desperate to want Ngene in prison by all means? Can it be that they are hoping to approach INEC to request it to declare the PDP candidate the elected member of the Enugu State House of Assembly representing Enugu South Urban. Or that they want Ngene declared a convict by all means, thus disqualifying him from further participation in the election and its outcome.

To us, it appears the magistrate was doing a job scripted by another person. It is all part of the electoral fraud that we are talking about. This is nothing but executive rascality on display and we urge Nigerians to rise up to condemn this action and to also defend the democracy which has been under constant threat.

A magistrate, under the law, is not expected under the prevailing circumstances impose a sentence that is more than three years, and in this case, there was even no option of fine. What is the motive behind the long sentencing. Why the urgency to imprison our candidate even when the NJC has accepted custody of the matter as requested by the candidate? Wouldn’t the parties have maintained status quo pending the intervention of the NJC?

We are at this point calling on the National Judicial Council to initiate a disciplinary action against the Attorney General of Enugu state, the Honourable Chief Judge of Enugu State, the Deputy Chief Registrar, and the controversial Magistrate, His Worship E. D Onwu for over reaching their professional dictates and bringing the judiciary to opprobrium and disrepute.

We are also demanding that the state government should desist from being a clog in the wheel of democracy by denying a citizen or a political party the right to political participation. For this reason, we insist that on no account should the Labour Party be disenfranchised from contesting the Enugu South Rural Constituency election or any other election for that matter, in which we are qualified to participate.

Questions are now raised as to whether a valid election can still be conducted in the eight polling units in the Enugu South Urban Constituency for the state House of Assembly seat as the 90 days given by the Election Petitions Tribunal for the rerun have long elapsed.

This is because, we have it on good authority that to our utter dismay and disbelief that the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) in a swift decision has fixed a reelection for Enugu Urban State constituency just a day after the unjust jailing of the election’s rightful winner. This hasty move undermines the principles of justice and fair play, raising serious concerns about the integrity of the electoral process.

We are therefore urging INEC to reconsider this decision and to suspend any further action as regards the Enugu South Rural Constituency election until further notice. This we believe will not gift an undue advantage to a particular party over the rest pending the conclusion of the legal processes arising from this undemocratic actions being perpetrated in Enugu state. INEC must ensure that the will of the people is respected.

SIGN. Dr. Ayo Olorunfemi
Deputy National Chairman

For the National Working Committee

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