A few weeks ago, the Court of Appeal seating in Abuja adjudicated on the Imo State governorship election petition. The court upheld the earlier verdict of the Imo State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal which held that Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was duly elected as the governor of Imo State in the March 9 governorship election in the state.
A dispassionate view of the substance of the case, based on the two court judgements will readily reveal that the tribunal and Appeal Court judges decided on the matter purely on the merit of the case. Unfortunately, rather than see the merit and sense in the court judgements, those on the other side of the divide have injected sentiment and bad blood into the matter. In fact, the judges of the Court of Appeal have become their whipping boy. Let us recall that after the declaration of Ihedioha as the duly elected governor of Imo state by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), some nine political parties and their candidates approached the tribunal with different claims. Suffice it to say that six out of the nine petitioners have either had their cases withdrawn or thrown out. Only three political parties and their candidates, namely, Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance (AA), Ifeanyi Ararume of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and Hope Uzodimma of All Progressives Congress (APC) sustained their cases. But all the three petitioners have, so far, had their cases dismissed by the tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
Strangely, however, the three petitioners all of whom were sworn enemies before now have congregated for the sake of the governorship contest and have approached the Supreme Court for the final determination of their cases. But the seeming desperation of the three petitioners has elicited more than a passing interest from observers. The main reason for this is the obvious lack of merit in their various submissions which was the real reason why they have been losing in their petitions. Whereas the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal dismissed their cases for lacking in merit, the Court of Appeal, in addition to dismissing their cases, went further to award costs against them. But rather than appreciate the thorough work done by the judges, the petitioners have resorted to cheap blackmail. They are accusing the judges of ignoring the substance of the case and chose instead to rely on technicalities. Legal minds, and even the not so learned, find this allegation laughable. Those who know and understand the substance of the case do not see any point in the disputations of the three petitioners.
The big issue in this matter has to do with Section 179(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which holds that for a candidate to be declared winner in a governorship election, such candidate must secure 25 percent of votes cast in at least two thirds of the local government areas in the state. The petitioners contend that Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election did not satisfy the requirements of the law in this regard. This is the crux of the matter. Interesting as this contention is, both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal could not help the petitioners because there is no evidence before the courts in support of their claim. That was why the trial courts were united in their verdict that the claims of the petitioners were based on hearsay. Courts of law do not rely on unsubstantiated claims. They rely on facts brought before them. The AA, the APGA and the APC and their candidates have no evidence before the courts to prove this allegation. The courts cannot therefore help them.
The cases of the three aforementioned political parties and their candidates are weakened the more by their contradictory and inconsistent prayers. To begin with, Uche Nwosu, who came second in the election, has no political party on which to rest. His political party, the AA on whose platform he contested the election has withdrawn from the case. Nwosu is therefore left to wander aimlessly in the desert. With no political platform on which to rest his case, Nwosu is just entertaining himself in the court rooms. If Nwosu is knocked out of the case as circumstance suggests, the next in line becomes a Mr Ararume who is confused about what he wants the courts to do for him. When Ararume is not asking the courts to cancel the election, he will be asking to be declared winner even in places where he contended that elections did not take place. The courts cannot help such a petitioner who is trying to ambush it.
The case of Uzodinma who came a distant fourth in the election is ultimately laughable. He tried his hands on some electoral voodoo when he usurped the functions of INEC by manufacturing results that do not exist. At the Governorship Elections Petitions Tribunal, Uzodinma tendered results from 366 polling units which he claimed were excluded by INEC in the computation of results. The claims were strange to the electoral commission as well as to the courts. Even worse was that Uzodinma’s private results which he wanted the tribunal to adopt were ineligible. The tribunal was therefore unable to put it to any use and therefore threw it out as worthless. Yet, the same Uzodinma wants the court to declare him winner. This is a clear case of self-deceit.
The point to be noted in all this is that we know, even as laymen, that both the tribunal and the court of appeal have had no technical issue to deal with in this matter. Rather, they have relied on the merit and substance of the case. What is technical in asking those who claim that Ihedioha did not satisfy the requirements of section 179(2) of the constitution to prove their claim?
The point is that the trio of Ararume, Nwosu and Uzodinma are fighting dirty. Their contestation has left the realm of legality. They know that they have no case before the courts. That is why they are blackmailing the judges whose only sin is that they are carrying out their professional assignments without fear or favour. It is unfortunate that Nigerians now fake liberties to malign judges whenever they do not get what they want from the courts. Such people think that they can stampede the courts into giving judgements that have no basis in law. That is certainly the ploy of the three diehard petitioners who are trying to turn Imo into a hostage state whose people must, at all times, be held down by the intrigues and machinations of the aforementioned strange bedfellows.
But the era of politics of blackmail is truly gone for good in Imo. The good people of the state believe in the sanctity of the law and the impartiality of the courts. They are aghast at the acrobatics of the three petitioners who are driven more by the pull him down syndrome than anything else. But Imo must move forward. Like the lower courts, the Supreme Court will be guided by the facts before it not the outlandish claims of those who think that they can stampede the justices into giving judgements that have no basis in law. Blackmail, in whatever colour it is draped, remains cheap and cannot work in the case of the matter under review.
Ukwu writes from Owerri