Those who understand the trajectory of electoral contest in Nigeria know that the declaration of a winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is final only to the extent that the opponents accepts the outcome, as it is, and, therefore, waive their constitutional and legal rights to contest such declarations at the election petitions tribunal and the appellate courts. This is so because the Constitution of the Federal Republic and the Electoral Act created legal avenues for candidates who are not pleased with the outcome of elections to ventilate their grievances and seek to correct them. So, seeking to correct anomalies in an election at the tribunal and appellate courts is a legal call on those who feel cheated in an election. It is also a way to test and strengthen the law because an untested law is not an effective law. To this extent, the two basic ways to win an election in Nigeria are either by way of declaration by INEC or by the declarative judgment of the Supreme Court.
Critically examined, therefore, almost every elected official of state, including the President, has had their victory declared finally by the Supreme Court. Implication of this is that it is within the powers of the Supreme Court to either vary and set aside a declaration by INEC, or uphold it, given evidence before it.
Therefore, that the Supreme Court declared Hope Uzodinma the duly elected governor of Imo State is not novel in Nigeria’s political history. For those who still care to recollect, Rotimi Amaechi became governor in Rivers State in October 2007 on the strength of a Supreme Court declaration. That declaration upheld his victory at the primary election of his party at the time. The Supreme Court declared that the winner of the primary election ought to be the rightful candidate of the party and must, as consequence, inherit the victory of the party at the governorship election. Implication of that was that Amaechi, whose name did not even appear on the ballot paper and who also did not even campaign for the election, became governor over Rivers State. Celestine Omehia, who had held office for about five months, accepted his fate and moved on.
Unless we affirm that memories are indeed short, we would also recall that Rauf Aregbesola became governor in Osun State on account of a declaration by the Appeal Court at a time Justice Ayo Salami was its president. On that day in November 2010, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, in her lead judgment, cancelled governorship election results of 10 local governments and declared Aregbesola governor based on results from the remaining local government areas. That judicial decision ended the second term journey of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and installed the reign of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Osun State. That decision meant that voters in 10 local government areas of the state had no say in making Aregbesola their governor. They lived with it however.
The same fate had earlier befallen PDP in Ekiti State in October 2010. The Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Salami, delivered the lead judgment wherein it annulled results of governorship rerun election in some keenly contested wards of some local government areas and declared Dr. Kayode Fayemi winner of the rerun election. That judgment terminated PDP’s hold on the state and ushered in the ACN. Though Segun Oni, like Oyinlola, cried foul over the declarations, there was nothing he could do because, at the time, election petitions terminated at the Court of Appeal. They accepted their fate and moved on. The interesting thing about Ekiti was that, instead of falling back to cry over spilt milk, PDP went back to work. Outcome of their work was that the party bounced back to the leadership of the state after four years through Ayo Fayose.
In Edo State, November 2008, the Court of Appeal, presided over by Justice Umaru Farouk Abdullahi, declared Adams Oshiomhole governor after upholding the cancellation of governorship election results in two local government areas of the state, Akoko-Edo and Etsako. The judgment effectively ended Prof. (Senator) Oserhiemen Osunbor’s romance with the Edo State Government House. At the time, Oshiomhole was of the Action Congress. Osunbor was of the PDP.
A similar situation happened in Ondo State, where Olusegun Agagu was in February 2009 removed by the Court of Appeal. Dr. Segun Mimiko was beneficiary of the judgment in which the Court of Appeal declared that the nomination of Agagu in April 2007 was fraught with irregularities and as such did not poll the required numbers to beat Mimiko. It thus ordered that Mimiko of Labour Party be sworn in. He was.
If those were too distant in the past to easily recall, the situation in Zamfara and Bayelsa states are still too recent. In Zamfara, the Supreme Court cancelled out all victories by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and declared PDP the winner. The action followed the Supreme Court’s agreement that APC flouted guidelines for the 2019 election. In none of the states listed above did the opposition focus on insulting beneficiaries of the final court’s action. Rather, those who lost out directed their energies towards being effective opposition with their eyes on future elections. In Bayelsa, the Supreme Court upheld argument that APC’s candidate was not qualified to contest the election ab initio, having contested with a running-mate who had issues with the names on his certificates. APC members in Zamfara and Bayelsa states have moved on, working towards the next general election.
Sadly, in Imo, the opposition PDP is acting like everything good on earth has come to an end because of the Supreme Court decision in favour of Uzodinma. That cannot be. The reality is that Uzodinma is the incumbent governor of Imo State. Painful or joyful, that is a fact Imo people, opposition and supporters, must live with till the next governorship election. Those who understand this fact, like Emeka Ihedioha, have accepted their fate and moved on. Some are yet to see it. Accepting the reality as it is would mean to live for tomorrow. Sitting back on spilt oil does not create a progressive mindset. Humans make progress by looking back at the road they passed, taking note of the missteps and working to correct them so as to achieve more mileage in the future.
My thinking had been that the opposition in Imo State would hold Governor Uzodinma accountable to his promises and challenge him on serious issues that affect people of the state. There are issues of security, electric power supply, availability of pipe-borne water, waste management, urban and rural roads construction, motivated civil service, transportation, housing, food security, healthcare development and management, education and many more. These are issues to benchmark the governor and his team on. These are also issues that add value to the people. A serious-minded opposition would sit over these and see how best to ‘tackle’ the governor with them; not churning out fake news like there is a competition for who manufactures it better. Imo State is faced with serious challenges to its security, especially with unnecessary infiltration by suspected persons at a time of suspension of interstate movements. This is a time for everyone that cares about the good and safety of Imolites and their property to demonstrate care and concern, not a time to deride the person of the governor. Imo people ought to, at this time, accept that all politics is local.
Uzodinma has gone 100 days in office. His performance during this period ought to be of critical review interest to the opposition. This way, the opposition will draw parallel notes for the people to judge. But it has failed to do so. Be that as it may, Governor Uzodinma’s tenure will expire in January 2024. Between now and then, he will discharge the functions of the office of governor of Imo State. Already, many who have seen the direction of his governance road map have left the opposition train and joined him. They did so knowing that to build Imo state is a task for everyone, not just the governor. But as the driver, he steers the ship. Therefore, closing the book on him now may just be an action taken too soon. He still has several empty pages to write on. Most people believe that he will write positively on those pages and with those writings, leave the opposition without a voice.