By Austin Uganwa
Imo State Governor, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha last Saturday in Abuja High Court, Jabi recorded a second victory appropriate to consolidate his regime. In an unanimous decision, Justice Mallami Umar-Dogondagi –led Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal affirmed him as the validly elected governor of the state in so doing upholding his declaration on March 9 this year by the independent National Electoral Commission as the winner of the gubernatorial election in the state
The authentication of Ihedioha’s victory by the three-member tribunal which many Imolites believe is an endorsement of the people’s will was sequential. It flowed from the panel’s months of painstaking examination and reexamination of the motions, petitions and applications brought to it by Ihedioha’s three major rivals in the election: Uche Nwosu of Action Alliance, Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of All Progressives Grand Alliance and Senator Hope Uzodinma of All Progressives Congress.
The three litigants approached the tribunal on diverse reasons. Senator Hope Uzodinma , the APC candidate who came a distant fourth in the election curiously requested the tribunal to declare him winner of the election claiming to have won the majority of the legitimate votes and secured the mandatory one quarter of the votes cast in at least two thirds of the 27 Local Governments Areas in the state. Senator Ararume’s fundamental grouse was that the election was flawed on account of alleged malpractices, irregularities and corrupted tendencies. Unlike Uzodinma that opted to be declared winner, Araruma and Nwosu’s solicitation was for the cancellation of the election and a fresh one to be conducted.
The three-man panel dismissed the three petitions. The panel which earlier sat in Owerri, the Imo State capital for about three months before moving to the Abuja High Court in Jabi for the judgment held that the three petitions challenging the declaration of Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) as the winner of the governorship election, lacked merit. While delivering the judgment, the tribunal chairman, Justice Mallami Umar-Dogondagi affirmed that the petitioners did not establish their complaints against Governor Ihedioha submitting that the petitioners failed to discharge the burden of proof placed on them by the law.
The judgment is historic in many respects. First, it shows the extent to which the judiciary can demonstrate courage, in so doing, bringing justice to bear. As a result, the landmark decision of validating Ihedioha’s election has rekindled people’s confidence in the judicial system which many had hitherto viewed and assessed with apprehension. Fundamentally, the judgment inherently and judiciously reinforced the will of the people which they demonstrated March 9 when they altruistically entrusted their mandate in Ihedioha.
This is instructive in the heightened manner Imo people were overjoyed over the judgment. For instance, at the High Court in Jabi, Abuja where the judgment was delivered a large number of Imo people who travelled all the way from the state besieged the court to enlist their solidarity for Ihedioha. They jubilated and chorused victory songs at the end of the tribunal session when they learnt the outcome. Back home, Owerri, the state capital went agog on that eventful Saturday night. Hordes of euphoric youths and women thronged to the streets to express their excitement while many others ended up in popular drinking joints in the city to celebrate. Understandably, the opposite naturally would have been the case if the will of the people and justice were perceived to have been subverted in the judgment. The state would have been worse for it.
Although Ihedioha has been able to record uncommon accomplishments within the short period of his regime as seen in the flagging off of the rehabilitation and construction of 14 urban roads projects and 381 rural roads at a total cost of N38b among several other signature milestones, the tribunal decision will certainly have a far-reaching impact on accelerating the governor’s performance even further and higher. Maria Mbakwe, a popular women leader drove this point home more succinctly when she led Imo women on victory march. According to her, the victory has the inclination to reducing distractions from the opponents thereby enabling the governor to fast-track the pace of development in the state.
This perhaps explained the olive branch Ihedioha extended to his rivals after the judgment, encouraging them to join him in the onerous task of rebuilding the state. “I call on all Imolites across party and opinion divides, especially my opponents in the last election to join hands with us as we make Imo great again. For me, there is no victor and no vanquished”, he submitted. Accordingly, the earlier Nwosu, Araruma, Uzodinma and others on the opposing divide buy into this peaceful, patriotic and welcoming call for Imo renaissance the better for the state.
*Uganwa writes from Owerri