In the aftermath of the 2019 general election, the president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, who then doubled as the chairman of the Presidential Election Petitions tribunal, stunned the nation when she disclosed that Imo State had the highest number of election petitions in the country.
At the inaugural sitting of the tribunal, Bulkachuwa said, out of 786 petitions filed, 76 of them emanated from Imo alone. This was in sharp contrast with Jigawa State that had no single petition filed after the elections. It was on account of the high number of petitions from the state that six election petition panels were constituted to ensure speedy disposal, especially given limited time available.
Implicit in the comparison between the high number of litigations from Imo State and the absence of one from Jigawa State is the abnormality in a single state generating such high number of petitions. For one, it was suggestive of a thriving culture of refusal to accept defeat and bitter politics that have been the greatest challenges in enthroning a virile political culture that is supportive of enduring democracy in this country.
For another, it also conveyed the miserable impression that some of the petitions could have comfortably been let go by their sponsors as only one candidate would eventually emerge victorious in every electoral contest. But even as some of the petitioners included in this high number have withdrawn their petitions since thereafter, some others have trudged on in a manner that seems to suggest that Imo is home to do-or-die politicians. Some have even gone ahead to exhibit conducts that seem to suggest they think it is still business as usual; when judgements can be procured, irrespective of their merit. It is this ruinous attitude that accounts for the refusal to accept defeat and the attendant scandalous and sometimes frivolous petitions that it engenders.
Perhaps, it is at the level of the governorship election petitions in Imo State that this phenomenon has come to create serious concerns in the minds of discerning members of the public. The outcome of that election saw the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerging victorious, having been duly declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The candidate of the Action Alliance (AA) came second, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) came third, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) trailed in the fourth position. Incidentally, all three losing parties are currently at the tribunal with their individual prayers ranging from a re-run election, total cancellation and declaration that they won the election.
It has to be said and very clearly too that it is within their rights to seek redress, if they feel strongly so. But a situation where the three parties are in the tribunal seeking one form of relief for the same election, irrespective of their standing in the declared election result, cannot but raise eyebrows. It is, perhaps, the difficulty in reconciling the rationale in four political parties laying claim to victory in one singular election that stands Imo out in the eyes of the rest of society.
However, one petition that has continued to raise serious concerns in the minds of the discerning public is that from the candidate of the APC, Senator Hope Uzodinma. He came fourth in the governorship election even as he could hardly record any reasonable impact in his ward and local government. He also lost his local government in the state House of Assembly election to the PDP. But he has approached the tribunal claiming that he won the governorship election and should be, therefore, declared winner.
Proceedings in his petition featured the tendering of alleged copies of results from 366 polling units out of 388 allegedly excluded from the final results declared by the INEC in the March 9, 2019, governorship election. He wants the tribunal to admit the results as they allegedly gave him a high margin over and above other candidates. A deputy commissioner of police in charge of operations during the election in the state, Rabiu Huseini, tendered the results after he was subpoenaed. After some initial fireworks among counsel to the APC, PDP and INEC as to the procedure for tendering results in police custody, the tribunal, in its ruling, directed the police witness to testify and tender the available 366 police counterpart copies of polling unit results. Media reports had it that there was jubilation from the APC camp in the tribunal as the results tendered by Huseini tended to corroborate the earlier ones tendered by Uzodinma.
Not unexpectedly, propagandists have been let loose. The social media and the rumour mill have been awash with how the admission of the alleged results will ensure the victory of their candidate. Some see it as clear evidence that Uzodinma has proved his case and is surely on his way to take over the mantle of leadership in the state.
However, those of this view seem to be ignorant of the fact that the admission of the results does not, in any way, imply that the tribunal has accepted them as being valid. Far from it! The fact of the matter is that the amended provisions of Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution (4th alteration) allows documents to be dumped on the tribunals because of the exigencies of meeting up with the 180 days lifespan. Issues arising from such documents are usually resolved before final judgement.
So, nobody should be deceived by the propaganda and lies from the camp of Uzodinma, who had a woeful showing during that election. Perhaps, the rising hope in their camp stems from euphoria that all is well and possible in politics even when the facts on the ground speak eloquently to the contrary. We do not begrudge them their happiness. But they should allow the honorable tribunal members do their job.
Even then, there are searing posers regarding the circumstances surrounding the results tendered by Huseini and the procedure adopted:
1. Considering that DCP Huseini is of the Benue State Police Command, was he the right person to authenticate the results tendered by Uzodinma?
2. Who received the subpoena on whose strength Huseini testified? The police command or the officer himself?
3. From whose custody did he retrieve the results? The police high command or his own personal archive?
4. Whose interest was he representing? The police authorities or himself?
These and others are issues begging for answers as the police authorities have kept mute on issues relating to Huseini’s evidence. They are issues for the tribunal to determine in arriving at a decision on the documents that have been tendered by Huseini. These are also issues to be taken up by counsel for both the INEC and the PDP, when the opportune time comes. There are also issues with the process of deposition on oath.
Extant rules require that depositions of proposed witnesses of a petitioner shall be on oath and front-loaded with the petition and served together on the defendant. The intension here is to avoid ambushing the defendant by smuggling extraneous materials not pleaded or conferring advantage on either of the parties. Sadly, this condition was not complied with in the instant case.
It is also instructive that a similar case involving Senator Ifeanyi Araraume’s witness in the same tribunal was thrown out of the witness box for even far lesser anomaly than that of Huseini. In the case of Araraume’s witness, his written statement on oath was filed outside the 21 days allowed.
Even then, the contents of the 366 ward results tendered by Uzodinma were unreadable. It is puzzling how the tribunal will make out something from computations that are illegible. It was an irony of sorts that those who tendered those results were unable to read them to the hearing of the tribunal. How the tribunal intends to make something out of those illegible results remains to be imagined.
In all, what we see is desperation to twist facts with the hope of reversing the harsh verdict of the Imo electorate at the ballot box through unwholesome means. Unfortunately, the era of procuring judgements through hook and crook is gone. But the chameleon has refused to change colour. The Imo people are watching as political merchants move to twist facts to procure through the back door what they lost in open contest. But can that possibly happen?
•Chukwuemeka writes from Owerri, Imo State