Calls for bye-election for the replacement of the Senatorial seat of jailed former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu has been growing louder by the day. This is coming barely two months into the 12 years jail term imposed on Kalu, which he is presently serving at the Nigerian Correctional Service in Kuje, FCT.
Senator Uzor Kalu was on December 5, 2019 sentenced to 12 years prison for diversion of N7.2billion by a Lagos Federal High Court alongside a former Commissioner for Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu and his company, Slok Nigeria Ltd.
Kalu, who was Governor between 1999 and 2007, was charged with 39-count charges bordering on money laundering, fraud and diversion of funds.
Sources told Daily Trust Saturday that he spent only one day at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre in Lagos before he was moved to the Kuje Correctional Centre in the FCT. He later made a post-sentence bail application seeking to be released on medical grounds.
But Justice Abdullahi Liman refused the application and wondered the haste in making same while the appeal against his conviction on a 39-count charge by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had not been heard by the Court of Appeal.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered since being relocated to Abuja, the senator representing Abia North Senatorial District on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), have been receiving visitors in the prison facility. It is believed that part of the agenda for these meetings behind the fortified walls of the prison, has to do with his political future.
Kalu won the senatorial seat in February 23, 2019 election after polling 30,580 votes to beat other rivals, including immediate past senator for the District Senator Mao Ohuabunwa of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) who had 21, 940 votes and Ogba Onuoha Bourdex of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with 11, 410 votes.
Kalu’s election was initially upturned by the Abia State National Assemblies Election Petitions Tribunal in Umuahia, and ordered a supplementary rerun within 90 days in several polling units under the District such as Arochukwu, Ohafia, Isiukwuato LGAs. Other local governments under the zone are Bende and Umunneochi. But he was by the Court of Appeal in Owerri, Imo State affirmed victory in November, 2019.
But some constituents of the ex-governor are already calling for his replacement in the Senate. Senator Ohuabunwa has hinted that Kalu’s incarceration will affect some of the constituency projects such as health centres he initiated in the 8th Senate.
Similarly, the Chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Ceekay Igara, said it was natural to call for the replacement of Senator Kalu, who he said is being sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, four of which was meant to represent the people of Abia North in the Senate.
Also, some aggrieved constituents were recently reported to have sent a petition to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) complaining of the vacancy of the senate seat for the district. They cited Section 66 (1) (C) and 68 (1) (b) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 (as amended), which has made provision for their representation.
They said Kalu’s absence from the senate will place the people at disadvantage and impede their fair representation at the nation’s parliament.
“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,” they said in the petition.
Similar demands were made for the replacement of Senator Joshua Dariye of Plateau State who is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for corruption by an FCT High Court in 2018. But he retained his seat until the election of 2019. It was reported that he had attempted to contest the election from prison.
INEC maintained that it would not act on the Abia Senate seat except the National Assembly moves it to do so by declaring the seat vacant.
Senate spokesperson, Godiya Akwashiki said Kalu remains a senator and entitled to his full benefits until the Supreme Court makes a final decision on his status.
But an Abuja-based lawyer, John Ochokwu Esq said Kalu’s salary ought to be stopped since he is no more in a position to perform the functions for which he is being paid.
“The fact that he has the right of appeal does not mean he is not a convict until a court rules otherwise,” he said. “That is why he cannot participate in the proceedings of the Senate.”
A former General Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mazi Afam Osigwe explained that he does not know the status of the appeal filed by Kalu which the Senate relied on and insist he remains a senator.
He however, noted that the country may be guided by Section 68 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 which provides that an elected representative can be made to vacate the seat under circumstances different from defection from the sponsoring political party provided in Section 66 of the Constitution.
Ali Zubairu Esq. said INEC is right to wait for the Senate to declare his seat vacant based on appealing his conviction.
Citing the case of Bode George, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court after being jailed for corruption by the lower courts, Zubairu said whichever way the case goes at the Court of Appeal, it is likely to be further appealed to the Supreme Court.
Zubairu said it is because of that possibility of ‘what if’ stressing “that is why INEC is trying to play safe. What if the court finds him not guilty and that there has been a miscarriage of justice after a by-election has been conducted?”
He also said the option left for the constituents is to commence a process of recall, but warned that they must meet certain conditions for it to scale through.
Contacted on whether the Senate may review its stand on the issue, the spokesperson of the Senate President, Ola Awoniyi stated that he has not received any briefing to that effect and therefore is not in a position to speak on it.