•Removes Ihedioha, orders immediate inauguration of Uzodinma
•Defers judgments in Sokoto, Kano appeals till Jan 20
•PDP kicks, ruling party hails judiciary
Chuks Okocha, Alex Enumah and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Supreme Court in a unanimous judgment yesterday sacked Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Imo State because he did not win majority of the votes cast in the March 9 governorship election.
It directed the immediate swearing-in of his main challenger, Senator Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), whom it declared was the validly elected governor of the state.
Yesterday’s judgment effectively returned Imo State to the ruling party at the centre and restored its territorial presence in the South-east.
It was the first of such judgment by the apex court since it started delivering verdicts in appeals arising from the 2015 governorship election.
So far, the Supreme Court had delivered judgments in appeals against the election of 13 governors and upheld their victories.
The appeals are those involving Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Katsina, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo and Rivers affirming the election of the governors.
Others are Abia, Delta, Niger and Taraba states.
The apex court has also deferred judgments in the cases of Kano and Sokoto states till January 20.
However, while the APC has congratulated Uzodinma, saying that it has never lost faith in the judiciary even when the judiciary denied it victory in Rivers and Zamfara States, the PDP described the judgment as another sad commentary in Nigeria’s democracy.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in March declared Ihedioha winner of the governorship election.
However, miffed by the declaration, Uzodinma and his party had approached the Imo State Election Petitions Tribunal to nullify Ihedioha’s election on the ground that he did not win majority of votes cast in the election.
He also cited non-compliance with the electoral guidelines as another ground for his call for the sacking of Ihedioha.
But the tribunal dismissed Uzodinma’s appeal, saying he was unable to prove his allegations against Ihedioha’s election.
Similarly, the Court of Appeal, which sat in Abuja, on November 19, upheld the decision of the tribunal, forcing Uzodinma to approach the apex court to get justice.
But the Supreme Court, in the unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, held that the case of the appellants had merit and consequently granted the reliefs as prayed by Uzodinma and APC.
According to the apex court, the concurrent judgment of the lower court erred in law when it excluded votes totalling 213,295 from 388 polling units from the total scores at the election.
It said Ihedioha was returned as governor of Imo State based on wrong computation of the election results.
Justice Kekere-Ekun said the lower court misconstrued the case of the appellants that he was challenging the validity of the election whereas he was challenging the unlawful exclusion of votes in the 388 polling units.
The apex court further held that the lower courts were also wrong in holding that PW 54, a police officer who was on subpoena, was not the appropriate person to have tendered documents that showed the exclusion of votes in the 388 polling units during collation.
It consequently set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which upheld the election of Ihedioha on the grounds that he did not win majority of the votes cast during the March 9 governorship election.
In addition, the court held that the excluded votes from the 388 polling units be ascribed to Uzodinma and his party.
It, therefore, ordered INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Ihedioha and issue a fresh one to Uzodinma because he won majority of lawful votes cast at the election.
The apex court had earlier struck out the appeal of candidate of the Action Alliance (AA), Chief Uche Nwosu, against Ihedioha’s election.
The appeal was struck out following an oral application for withdrawal by counsel to the appellants, Solomon Umoh (SAN).
Nwosu and his party, AA, are among three candidates seeking the nullification of Ihedioha’s election on the allegations of malpractices and non- compliance with the electoral laws.
However, when the matter was called, lawyer to the appellants, Chief Solomon Umoh, informed the court that based on the decision of the apex court delivered on December 20, 2019 that his client was not qualified to participate in the March 9 governorship election in Imo State, he advised them that the appeal be withdrawn.
The court had also stated that judgment in the appeal filed by Uzodinma would be used to decide that of Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The Supreme Court, however, deferred judgment in the appeal of APC’s candidate, Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu, against the election of Sokoto Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, till Monday.
Justice Ibrahim Mohammad who presided over the seven-member panel had stood down the appeal for judgment after counsel representing parties in the suit adopted and argued their briefs of argument in the appeal.
Justice Muhammad said due to time constraints, judgment would now be delivered on January 20.
Earlier, the apex court had also fixed January 20 for judgment in the appeal seeking the sacking of Kano State Governor, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje.
The appeal filed by Alhaji Abbah Yusuf of the PDP is seeking to set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed Ganduje as lawfully elected as governor of Kano State.
In arguing the appeal, Yusuf’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), urged the court to nullify the election of Ganduje on the grounds that his victory was based on a purported illegal by-election conducted in 207 polling units.
Awomolo told the Supreme Court that the state returning officer who had conducted the by-election in the affected polling units lacked the legal powers to do so.
He added that the state returning officer after declaring the entire results of election in the 44 local government areas of Kano State was wrong to have gone ahead to cancel elections in 207 polling units and conducting a by-election thereafter.
However, the respondents in their various submissions urged the court to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the state returning officer did not cancel elections in 207 polling units as claimed by the appellants.
Counsel to INEC, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN) told the apex court that the appellants both at the tribunal and Court of Appeal failed to prove that votes were cancelled in 207 wards
According to Raji, records only showed the inability of the state returning officer to collate results of the affected polling units, which was occasioned by the action of the appellants own witness, who in his evidence admitted carting away with ballot boxes of Galma wards belonging to the 207 polling units.
Both lawyers to the APC and Ganduje aligned themselves with Raji and urged the court to dismiss the appeal for lacking merit.
Justice Muhammad, after listening to submissions of all counsel, announced that judgment would be delivered on January 20, 2020.
PDP Kicks, Ruling Party Hails Judiciary
However, the PDP and APC differed on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the Imo State governorship tussle.
While the PDP described the judgment as another sad commentary in the country’s democracy, the APC hailed the judiciary.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement yesterday, also called on all Imo State APC stakeholders to support Uzodinma to ensure the success of the party’s Next Level agenda and to democratically entrench the APC in the state and entire South-east.
Issa-Onilu said: “We salute Senator Hope Uzodinma, our supporters and members for their temperance displayed in the aftermath of the blatant rigging of the Imo governorship election. We chose to focus on the judicial route to reclaim the party’s mandate. We are confident that our other stolen electoral mandates will be restored by the courts.”
The PDP said it was surprised at the judgment, describing it as yet another sad commentary on the nation’s democratic order.
The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said it found it difficult to understand how Uzodinma, who came fourth in the governorship election with just 96,458 votes, would suddenly defeat Ihedioha who scored 276,404 votes.