There are salient questions the Supreme Court must answer to assure Nigerians that the judgment removing Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party in Imo State and replacing him with Senator Hope Uzodinma of the ruling All Progressives Congress, was just and fair, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Though the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in legal disputes in Nigeria but as in all over the world, there have been series of debates on the fact that despite the fact that this highly esteemed court possesses the powers of life and death, it is not necessarily infallible, and often, its judgments could be subject to its own review.
This explains why some disappointed recipients of the judgments handed down by the apex courts often disagree with the grounds of their pronouncements especially, when they considered them as travesty of justice.
The recent Supreme Court sack of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State and declaration of Senator Hope Uzodinma of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the last governorship election is one judgment that has continued to elicit reactions from Nigerians, many of whom were of the opinion that the apex court needed to explain the rationale behind its position in the case.
One very disturbing aspect of the debate is that in view of the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Ihedioha polled a total of 273, 404 votes; Uche Nwosu (AA) got 190, 364 votes, Ifeanyi Ararume (APGA) polled 114, 676 votes while Uzodinma (APC) came distance fourth with 96, 458 votes.
Though Uzodinma had approached the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal, demanding that votes from 388 polling units voided by electoral umpire be reinstated to him, INEC argued that the votes were cancelled due to over-voting as stipulated by the electoral act, Ihedioha defeated him at the tribunal. The Appeal Court also toed the line of the tribunal by upholding Ihedioha’s victory at the election and his subsequent emergence as governor of Imo State.
But the Tuesday, January 14 judgment of the Supreme Court brought a new dimension to the previous arguments. The seven-member panel in its lead judgment read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun unanimously agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result.
Justice Kekere-Ekun said with the results from the 388 polling units added, Uzodinma polled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by INEC.
“Vote due to the appellant, Senator Hope Uzodinma and the APC from 388 Polling Units were wrongly excluded from scores ascribed to the appellant. It is thereby ordered that the appellant votes from 388 Polling Units unlawfully excluded from the appellant vote declared shall be added and that the first respondent, Emeka Ihedioha, was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the said election,” Kekere-Ekun declared.
Nigeria’s main opposition party, the PDP, whose candidate was removed from office by the judgment, expressed shock as to how Uzodinma, who came a distant fourth in the March 9, 2019 governorship election, with just 96,458 votes, was declared winner of the election by the Supreme Court, saying he defeated Chief Emeka Ihedioha/PDP, who scored 276,404 votes.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said, “The PDP and indeed, most Nigerians are still at a loss as to understand the basis upon which the Supreme Court arrived at its decision.”
Also, in his commentary on the issue, former Special Assistant (Public Affairs) to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, queried the judgment, when he said, “Would someone please explain to me how a candidate that came fourth in the election suddenly became the winner? The Supreme Court has a lot of explaining to do. People of Imo did not deserve this nonsense!”
Though former vice president and presidential candidate of the PDP, who also challenged the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, did not seem to agree with the decision of the court since there is nowhere else to seek redress, he urged the people to accept it.
“With regards to the judgment of the Supreme Court, which nullified the election of the candidate of the PDP, Emeka Ihedioha, as governor of the state of Imo, I can only say that since the Supreme Court is the final, we must accept its judgment”, Atiku stated.
But speaking in defence of the judgment, the Director of Strategic Communications of the 2019 re-election bid of President Buhari and current Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo was of the view that opposition members only make so much fuss about unfavourable court pronouncement.
Keyamo, on his twitter handle, wrote: “The same revered and exalted Supreme Court of Nigeria that nullified APC’s victory in Zamfara State has affirmed the victory of APC in Imo State. That is judicial neutrality at its very best,” adding: “I quickly dropped this here before our usual bad losers begin to cry foul and change the narrative.”
The APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, also celebrated the victory, arguing that some foes of democracy had engineered a plot by which the improper and willful exclusion of over 200, 000 valid votes cast for Uzodinma would deny him the office the people of Imo had chosen him to fill.
“The wrongful exclusion of such a vast number of valid votes threatened to turn the Imo governorship election into an unfortunate rejection of the sovereign will of the electorate…The Supreme Court prudently and judiciously rose to the occasion as the defender of our constitution by rendering the only judgment that could protect the democratic rights and the collective will of the people of Imo State,” Tinubu stated.
While those who benefitted from the judgment had been jubilating and those who didn’t licking their wounds, there are definitely going to be lots of questions for the apex court to answer. One of such questions was one raised by the Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi in ‘The Verdict’, titled: ‘Imo and the Arithmetic of Injustice.’
He noted that going by the results declared by INEC for Imo State, “Emeka Ihedioha polled 273,404 votes followed by Uche Nwosu who garnered 190,364 votes and then Ifeanyi Araraume who secured 114,676 votes. Hope Uzodinma came fourth with 96,458 votes. But with the addition by the Supreme Court of contentious votes from 388 polling units, Uzodinma’s tally now reached 309,753 while the votes by others remain unchanged.
“But the absurdity of that judicial arithmetic was brought to light yesterday on Twitter by @dondekojo: ‘Just ran the numbers again. According to @inecnigeria website. This is the total result for Imo State. With 823,743 accredited voters and 714,362 votes. With the new number from the Supreme Court, the votes go up to 948k, which is accredited voters. More votes than accredited voters.”
So, where did those votes come from? Even if only for academic purposes, the apex court should tell Nigerians the rationale for relying on the evidence of the police in determining total votes cast, while ignoring INEC’s position on the same matter, whereas INEC is the constitutionally recognised electoral umpire.
No doubts, the Imo Supreme Court declaration has drawn the attention of many Nigerians and the international observers to the remaining governorship appeals for Governor Bala Mohammed (Bauchi State), Governor Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto State), Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano State), Governor Simon Lalong (Plateau State) and Samuel Ortom (Benue State).
The Supreme Court, last Monday, suspended the hearing of the governorship appeals due to sudden illness of one of the judges hearing it. So, focus is now shifted to these cases to see how they are handled as a way to confirm if the electoral battles had been shifted to the apex court under the watch of Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, who many believed to have ascended the exalted office to do the bidding of the ruling party and the president, Muhammadu Buhari.