Attempts by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, David Lyon and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the sacked governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, to review the Supreme Court rulings ousting them were quashed last week by the apex court in its affirmation as the court of last jurisdiction, whose decision carries the badge of finality.
In the case of Bayelsa State, David Lyon won the election but was not allowed to be sworn-in as the governor due to perjury arising from inconsistencies of names in the certificates of his deputy, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo via a Supreme Court ruling of February 13, which paved way for Senator Douye Diri to be sworn-in as the governor. For Imo State, Ihedioha was sworn-in as the governor and he ruled the state for about seven months before being ousted by the Supreme Court while Senator Hope Uzodinma was sworn-in as the governor on January 14.
In its February 26 ruling in the Bayelsa case, read by Justice Amina Augie, the Supreme Court said: “This court is not authorised and indeed, lacks jurisdiction to review any judgment delivered on merit; more so, when the applicants have not pointed out any accidental error or slip in the judgment. There must be an end to every litigation.” The apex court further averred: “Even if we review this judgment, every disaffected litigant will bring a similar application and the finality of the Supreme Court will be lost. This court is the final court of the land and its decisions are final for all ages so as to ensure certainty in law.”
But for Imo State case, many observers had expected a different outcome because they had thought that the case of Imo is quite different from that of Bayelsa but the Supreme Court proved them wrong and maintained its finality in such matters. While the Supreme Court justices were unanimous in the case of Bayelsa, that of Imo had a split verdict of six against one in favour of Hope Uzodinma.
In the majority ruling of March 3, 2020, read by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, the apex court said: “This application is considered lacking in merit and liable to be dismissed. To ask us to set aside the judgment of the court delivered on January 14, 2020, is an invitation to ask us to sit on appeal against our judgment. We cannot do so. To set aside our judgment in this instance is to open the floodgate to other parties to review the judgment of this court.” It also stated: “To do that, is to say the least, will bring the court into disrepute and ridicule. In the circumstance, this application is accordingly dismissed.”
However, in a dissenting ruling, Justice Chima Nweze held: “In my intimate reading of the January 14 judgment, the meat and substance of the Ihedioha’s matter were lost to time frame. This court once set aside its own earlier judgment and therefore cannot use time frame to extinguish the right of any person. This court has powers to overrule itself and can revisit any decision not in accordance with justice.”
Despite the finality of the apex court in its decisions, there is no doubt that the dissenting ruling by Justice Nweze will resonate with a lot of Nigerians. It is very close to what many had anticipated despite the majority ruling. The Supreme Court rulings in Imo and Bayelsa will continue to attract comments, inquiries and criticisms in many years to come in view of their controversial nature.
While the finality of the apex court in all matters is never in doubt, there should be room for it to correct itself where it is deemed necessary to avoid manifest miscarriage of justice. In other words, justice must not be sacrificed on the altar of finality. There should be a meeting point between finality and justice. In future elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the political parties and their supporters should ensure that our elections are free, fair and credible so that much burden should not be placed on the courts to determine the outcome of our elections.
The Imo and Bayelsa matter ought not to have arisen if INEC and the political parties were alive to their duties. It has become necessary to allow enough time for the trial of all electoral matters before winners are sworn-in. The swearing-in of all elected officials will mark the end of litigation on all electoral matters. If this was the case, the scenario in Imo and other places would have been avoided. Those in charge of electoral matters should be diligent enough to ensure that justice is done and seen to have been done.
I say this because injustice to one is injustice to all. If this democracy must endure, it must be based on justice and fair play. It must be an inclusive democracy and not a winner takes all type of democracy that is presently in vogue in the country. For our politicians, let them bear in mind that power is transient and that nothing in this life is ever permanent including the position of power they have today. They should govern with the fear of God and love for humanity.
It is commendable that both Diri and Uzodinma have extended the olive branch to their opponents. They should do more to run an all-inclusive administration with elements of the opposition party in their domains. It is one thing to win the electoral war and another thing to win the peace.
Winning the peace is more important than any other victory. In Imo State, Uzodinma should strive to win the hearts of all Imo people, including those who may feel aggrieved over their loss of power.
He should reach out to members of the opposition and truly bring them on board. It should not end at the level of rhetoric as politicians normally do when the going is good. It is normal to feel bitter over such a golden loss. What has happened has happened, let all Imo politicians join forces with the incumbent and move the state forward.
No amount of acrimony or bitterness will alter the status quo in Imo at present. The people of the state have really suffered in the hands of their politicians for years. The state has not fared as it should in the past 20 years of uninterrupted democracy.
Imo people want something good from their rulers. The political narrative from Imo must change. Imo people should enjoy the dividends of democracy like their counterparts in the South East and other parts of the country. The new governor should treat all parts of Imo as his constituency and ensure that such dividends trickle down to the rural areas where the majority of the people reside.