Since the January 14th, 2020 unanimous decision of a Seven-man panel of the Supreme Court of Nigeria being the final arbiter in the land to allow to stay, an appeal filed by the All Progressives Congress, APC candidate in the March 9th, 2019 Governorship election in Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma which challenged the declaration of the quondam Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as winner of the said election and following the subsequent restoration of the former’s mandate, it appears the dusts raised by that historic and landmark decision would perpetually remain unsettled!
Having gone the road widely travelled by typical Nigerian politicians just like his co-contesting flag-bearers in AA, Uche Nwosu and APGA’s Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume beginning from the lower Tribunal to the Appellate court and also getting the typically Nigerian syndrome of throwing away the baby with the bath water rather than properly spilling the beans, APC’s Uzodinma could perhaps have lost hope but for the fact that his case was not the same in material fact and pleadings with those of his co-travelers. His was a novel case seeking for justice against wrongful exclusion of valid votes already signed and validated by the electoral umpire.
His perseverance eventually paid off with the One-against-Four minority judgment of His Lordship, Honourable Justice Fredrick Oho of the Court of Appeal who held: “All your reliefs are hereby granted and I hereby declare you the duly elected Governor of Imo State. And I put the cost of the action against the 1st (Ihedioha) and 2nd (PDP) respondents at N1m.” It is already public knowledge that the appellant (Uzodinma’s) contention (as different from the rest of his co-appellants in Imo) was simply that his 213, 695 votes were wrongfully excluded and that the erstwhile Governor, (Ihedioha) was returned based on a wrongful computation of results from the 2, 883 polling units.
This contention, not too common in our post election legal history particularly at the level of the apex court in our land must have made their Lordships to pay detailed attention to the pleadings of the appellants and in relation to the material, unchallenged and undisputed facts dismiss the decisions of the lower courts and therefore upholding the appeal! In the words of revered Justice Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun of the Supreme Court: “The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the lower court affirming the judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal is hereby set aside”. The apex court had therefore consequently ordered that votes due to the appellants (Uzodinma) and All Progressives Congress) from the 388 polling units that were wrongly excluded from the score be ascribed to them.
“It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator Hope Uzodinma polled a majority of lawful votes cast at the Governorship Election held in Imo State on 9th March, 2019 and satisfied the mandatory constitutional threshold and spread across the State. It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator Hope Uzodinma is the winner of the Governorship election of Imo State held on 9th March, 2019; The Certificate of Return issued to the 1st Respondent, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, is hereby withdrawn; it is hereby ordered that a certificate of Return shall be issued to the 1st appellant, Senator Hope Uzodinma, forthwith and he should be sworn in as the Governor of Imo State immediately”, the apex court had boldly declared to the pulsating reaction of a tensed court room, thus, living up to the sayings of many that it is indeed supreme in remedy!
What expectedly followed as the benefactor and His Deputy made their way to Heroes Square, Owerri to be sworn-in were rude shocks on the directly-affected invalidly elected and appointed officials of the quondam Imo government, apoplexy on the part of the PDP- a Party which failed woefully to convincingly defend its so-called victory in the polls and later, protests, protests, upon persistent protests marked by both public demonstrations and mobilisation of strong sentiments against unsuspecting members of the Nigerian public through targeted and sponsored mainstream and Social media onslaughts against the verdict of the apex court. In extreme cases, the world has watched in utter discombobulation how rented members of the proscribed IPOB adorned in their attires have suspectedly been mobilized in their numbers to hit the streets of Owerri in protest over the month-old judgment. Even entertainers and activists have also found pleasures in taking to the streets to register what they dub ‘rape of democracy in Imo’, sometimes all to the consternation of many.
But then, many would argue that the ceaseless protests are understandable, especially considering their prejudiced and preposterous claims cum utter bewilderment as to how a candidate with the ‘4th highest number’ of the initially declared votes would later be announced as the actual winner of the election by the apex Court. The fact is that there is no better word to classify such nauseous posturing and loss of common sense of deductible reasoning and logic than hysteria! In fact, the synonym, delirium, aptly defined by Collins Dictionary as … in the sense of panic, a sudden overwhelming feeling of terror or anxiety, sometimes affecting a whole group of people suitingly captures the unending theatre of the absurd in the name of protests over the verdict.
The substance of the facts of the case of Uzodinma V. Ihedioha which would undeniably shape the context and practice of our law in the most populous black nation even though already in public domain following their Lordship’s wise decision to give its ratio decidendi (the reason for the decision) less than two weeks after its judgment appear to be mischievously ignored by both the protesting parties, their perceived sponsors and many analysts who seem more determined to even add to the mumbo-jumbo of our pantheon law especially as it relates and affects the common man. Having taken time to painstakingly study the voluminous expose’ by the learned jurists of the apex Court on Imo, it would only be safe to conclude that Ihedioha, PDP and their protesters seem in the eyes of reasonable Nigerians to be misdirecting their anger!
Otherwise, when will his legal team take some portions of the blame for failing to properly join issues with the Petitioners/Appellants to contradict their claims, particularly at the lower tribunal where the law allows same? It is even more bemusing to saner minds the way and manner the losers and their Party, (PDP), is attempting to foist a review of its decision on the Supreme Court mainly on the grounds that the judgment that favoured Uzodinma was obtained by fraud. In the motion for review pending before the apex Court, it is contended by Ihedioha that “the Appellants/Respondents (Uzodinma) fraudulently misled this court (Supreme Court) into holding that a total of 213, 495 votes were unlawfully excluded from the votes scored by the 1st Appellant/Respondent in the election”, adding that “The fraudulent nature of the additional votes was demonstrated by the fact that the total votes cast as shown in the 1st Appellant/Respondent’s computation was more than the total number of accredited voters for the election and in some polling units more than the total number of registered voters”.
The Supreme Court, in order to satisfy the curiosities and doubts of all parties has however reportedly fixed tomorrow, Tuesday February, 18th 2020 to determine both motions for review in Imo and Bayelsa which the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC is also seeking a review of its last week’s verdict declaring PDP’s Sen. Diri as the authentic winner of the November 16th elections in the oil-rich State. That is for many public analysts a balance of bedevilment and palpitating agitations on the part of both Parties! The views of some lawyers who had argued that the Supreme Court under the principle of stare decisis is bound by its previous decisions, and as such there had been cases where the judgment of the Supreme Court astonished a section of the public but the court didn’t reverse its judgment when approached to do so have now been altered with the confirmation by the Spokesperson of the apex court to the Cable.ng enquiry that the appeals would be determined tomorrow.
But the Supreme Court seems to have dropped a hint on the dead-on-arrival posture of the Respondent’s cross-appeal when it held while delivering its judgment: “Having regard to the resolution of Appeal No SC 1462/2019 in favour of the appellants, this cross-appeal is spent. It has become academic and is hereby struck out. Parties to bear their costs”. A constitutional lawyer, Realwan Okpanachi had in an interview with the News agency of Nigeria posited that the apex court no longer had the jurisdiction to entertain any application relating to the Imo Governorship election, because it had clearly passed the 60 days provided for in the constitution, citing Section 285 (7) which states that “an appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days”.
According to Okpanachi: “The judgment in particular was delivered by the Court of Appeal before November 20, 2019. The appeal by Uzodinma was filed around November 20, 2019, and that is to say that the judgment was passed before November 20, 2019. When you calculate from November 20, 2019 till date, it clearly shows that it is above 60 days”. He had added that the judgment (of the Supreme Court), as it is, is binding, conclusive and cannot be set aside, reversed or touched by any person, including the Supreme Court itself. The Supreme Court is the apex court; the highest court in Nigeria and its decision is not subject to any other authority or persons”
On the argument of many regarding precedence, the same Constitutional Lawyer, Okpanachi reflected that: “On November 2, 2009, Supreme Court dismissed Celestine Omehia’s application seeking for review of its judgment of October 25, 2007, which removed him and declared Rotimi Amaechi as the Governor of Rivers State. But Omehia re-appealed, saying that the apex court made a mistake. He had argued that the judgment contradicted some provisions of the 1999 Constitution. But the seven-man panel led by Justice Alloysius Katsina-Alu described the suit as frivolous and an act of judicial rascality. They accordingly dismissed the case with N100, 000 cost, saying even if it was a mistake; the apex court has a right to make a mistake”.
It was the insistence of the apex court that Amaechi remained the legitimate governor and that the decision was final regardless of whether it was rightly or wrongly entered. He recalled that the Supreme Court Justice Katsina-Alu had urged anybody aggrieved by the court’s decision to appeal to heaven where God Almighty reigns supreme and not in Nigeria where they held sway, adding that “only God can reverse the October 25, 2007 verdict.” It would further be recalled that the Supreme Court had nullified the elections of all the candidates of the APC in Zamfara State in the 2019 general elections. The then learned Acting CJN who had led a five-man panel declared the first runners-up in the 2019 general elections in the State as the winners of all the posts earlier declared to have been won by the APC and its candidates.
Justice Paul Galinje, who read the lead judgment, upheld the decision of the Sokoto Division of Court of Appeal to the effect that the APC did not conduct any valid primary election and as such had no candidate for any of the elections was wasted. He had consequently ordered that the Party and the candidates with the second highest votes and the candidates with the second highest votes and spread in the various elections were the valid winners. With that landmark verdict, the APC lost the 26 elective positions comprising the governorship, deputy governorship, three Senatorial , seven House of Representatives and 24 State House of Assembly seats to the PDP”.
It would further be recalled that the APC worried by the judgment had filed an application asking the Supreme Court to review the judgment. But the Court threw away the appeal. In his lead judgment, Justice Rhodes Vivour, held that the application was incompetent and time-barred, adding that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. “The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the matter because anything that has to do with pre-election matter must be brought within 60 days after a decision had been delivered”, he had held, maintaining further that the consequential orders made were part and parcel of the pre-election matter and it was an abuse asking the apex court to review its judgment or orders.
As Nigerians anticipate tomorrow’s appeals of both the ruling and leading opposition Parties, it is emphatic to note that the decision would have a long-standing impact on the seeming conjuration that has bedeviled our legal system. But would the outcome of the review cure opposition, PDP’s limitless hysteria particularly on the Imo Governorship? The peculiar and worrisome nature of the protests must have led to the motion moved by Imo House of Assembly to declare opposition against the lingering protests and such should be commended for the overall interests and development of the Eastern Heartland. This is more so considering the fact that Governor Uzodinma, unlike many incumbents in Nigeria has towed a path of unity and uncommon concern for the interest of the Imo electorates by continuing with most of the projects started by his predecessor.
•Otu, a Public Affairs Analyst, sent in this piece from Abuja.