- No vacancy — INEC
Forty days after a former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (APC, Abia North), was sent to prison, some of his constituents have petitioned the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) demanding for the conduct of a by-election to fill the vacuum created by his incarceration.
Kalu, the Chief Whip of the Senate was on December 5, 2019 found guilty by a Federal High Court in Lagos on fraud charges and remanded at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.
His conviction and sentencing to 12 years in jail came 12 years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed N7.65 billion fraud charges against him. EFCC filed the charge in 2007.
Apart from his absence at the Senate chamber, the annual December parley between the people of Abia North and their senator was not held. The parley, our correspondent reports serves as an avenue for “stock taking” between the lawmaker and his constituents.
Our correspondent reports that the parley started during the era of Senator Ike Nwachukwu in the Senate and was sustained by the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije and the immediate past senator, Chief Mao Ohuabunwa.
During the face to face interactions, stakeholders asked questions and made suggestions on issues affecting their senatorial district.
Speaking on the matter, Barrister Ukpai Ukairo said the people are worried and have served a letter to INEC to fix a date for by-election.
“This is because going by Section 166 of the 1999 Constitution, he has vacated his seat following his conviction for fraud by a competent court.
“We may have to go to court and compel them to fix a date because we can’t be without a senator,” he said.
The petition was submitted to INEC on December 10, 2019 in Abuja.
The petitioners hinged their demand on the provision of Section 66(1) (c) and Section 68(1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, and their rights to participate in the democratic governance of Nigeria through dully elected representatives.
“No person shall be qualified for election into the Senate or House of Representatives if he is under a sentence of death imposed on him by any competent court or tribunal in Nigeria or a sentence of imprisonment of fine for an offence involving dishonesty and fraud,” the petitioners quoted.
They maintained that, “Kalu, the incumbent senator from the 5th of December 2019, being the date he was convicted of fraud and sent to prison, that was the same date he vacated the seat. For that reason, you (INEC) have the duty to fix a date for a by-election to fill the vacated seat.”
A political analyst, who does not want his name in print, said there are two perspectives to Kalu’s case: the legal and the political perspectives, he said.
He said the embattled senator has the right to appeal the decision of the court even up to Supreme Court.
“The Court of Appeal is yet to decide his case, also there is the aspect of the law which gives power to the Senate president to declare the office of any senator vacant, if he fails to attend sitting after 60 days; so it’s just one month, and so too early to declare his seat vacant.
“On the political perspective, the people have the right to initiate a recall process after due process his followed,” he said.
No vacancy -INEC
Meanwhile, INEC has said that there is no vacancy in Abia North Senatorial District despite Kalu’s incarceration.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), Mr. Festus Okoye, told Daily Trust on Monday in Abuja that there is no legal reason for now for the commission to conduct a fresh election in the senatorial district.
“The commission conducted election there and declare a winner. As far as we are concerned, there is no vacancy in that senatorial zone.
“The commission cannot just go to any constituency to conduct fresh election due to protest by some people. The commission can only act if it received a letter from the Senate President that there is a vacancy,” Okoye.