In Imo, It’s Renewed Hope by the Supreme Court

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Chuks Okocha writes that the debate following the decision of the Supreme Court in the 2019 Imo governorship election will continue for a long time to come

Since the 1979 controversial Supreme Court verdict that upheld the election of President Shehu Shagari, insisting that Shagari was validly elected by winning in twelve-two-third of the then 19 states of the federation, no other verdict by the apex court has generated as much controversy as the one delivered on January 14, 2020, annulling the election of Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo state, in favour of Senator Hope Uzodinma.

In the debatable verdict, the Supreme Court directed that it should not be cited as a precedent anywhere in the legal history of Nigeria.

The judgement has attracted several interpretations, with majority calling for a review and if possible a reversal as it portends a great danger to electoral laws in Nigeria. The verdict particularly questions the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)   in subsequent elections in Nigeria.   It may be adduced from the verdict that all that a politician needs to win an election is to procure the services of some security agents to produce an alternative result sheet and it would be accepted because the Supreme Court has set the stage for it.

According to Segun Adeniyi in his must-read column, ‘The Verdict’, the implication of the apex court’s ruling in the Imo state governorship election is dangerous for subsequent elections.  He said, “From the Supreme Court judgement on Imo State, neither those who cast the ballots nor those who count them now matter in Nigeria. That message will not be lost on our politicians. All they now need to do is get their own result sheets ready and on Election Day, try and force them on INEC officials. Even if such spurious results put together with the connivance of some senior police officers are rejected by the electoral umpire, the courts are there to complete the job!”

This is indeed bad for elections in Nigeria, as it has greatly undermined whatever role that is expected of INEC.

Apart from the implications,  one thing that is worrisome is how an election that took place same day on March 9, 2019 and the accreditation took place same time for both the governorship and State House of Assembly to produce different results for House of Assembly election and the governorship election. And in the final results how come the All Progressives Congress (APC), to which Uzodinma belongs did not win a single seat, Ihedioha’s the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won 13 seats. As relevant as these questions are, it is not completely that the charisma and other factors of candidates may lead to results such as are available in Imo. For instance, in Osun State, the state house of assembly has 23 APC members, while the PDP has three and if the governorship election had not been declared inconclusive in some polling units and supplementary election ordered, the Osun PDP governorship candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke was heading for victory.

A look at the overall results of the Imo State House of Assembly on party basis shows political parties fared.  In the 27-member House, the PDP has a lead with 13 legislators, followed by Action Alliance (AA) with 8 eight members, while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has six members in the House. Uzondinma’s APC, curiously has no member in the House, though it was the party that controlled the apparatus of power in the immediate past administration of the state.

Incidentally, APC did not win any seat in the House of Assembly election that was held and collated the same day as the governorship election. The Supreme Court may not have seen anything wrong in its calculations wherein it said that the APC candidate won the Imo State governorship election at the Supreme Court without the party winning a single seat in the House. However, it may argued that this was the matter in contention before the court.

Another mystery of the Supreme Court verdict voiding the election of Ihedioha (who scored 276,404 votes) and declaring Uzodimma of the APC, who scored 96, 458 votes as governor of Imo state, is  how the learned judges of the apex court came to the their verdict. Uzondinma’s supporters have asserted that his prayers from the onset was that a certain number of votes that should have been counted for him were cancelled.

Even if that was the case, the verifiable record from the Imo governorship election as at March 11, 2019 when the results were declared shows a total number of 823,743 as accredited votes. The number of valid votes stood at 739,485, while cancelled votes were 25, 130.  But by the time the Supreme Court granted Uzodinma’s prayers, the total valid votes increased to 950,952.

This accounts for 127, 209 votes in excess of total accredited votes of 823,743. This is why the learned justices of the Supreme Court should attempt some of these questions begging for answers.

Expectedly worried by the reversal of fortune, the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus raised some posers to the Justice Muhammad Tanko-led Supreme Court. The first question is “Can the Supreme Court sit in Abuja on January 14, 2020 to increase the total number of accredited votes in election held in Imo State on March 9, 2019?”

Number two, does the Supreme Court have powers to formulate and allocate votes as election results without cross-checking the results with INEC?

Third question, were the said results certified by INEC as required by law?  Did Hope Uzodinma call 388 witnesses from the 388 polling units to speak on the results to obviate the principle of dumping which the Supreme Court used against the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, in the contention against the result of the 2019 presidential election.

Fourthly, were the presiding officers and or party agents of the 388 polling units called to testify by Uzodinma/APC, who were the petitioners?

The fifth question is, what were the figures from each of the various 388 polling units scored by Hope Uzodinma/APC?

Question Number Six, is the Supreme Court saying that all the votes from the alleged 388 polling units were for the APC alone in an election that was contested by over 70 candidates?

Reviewing the Supreme Court decision in the Imo governorship election, a former close associate of President Mohammadu Buhari, Buba Galadima said that the Supreme Court verdict has put the election of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, which the apex court is expected to deliver a judgment on today in serious problem.

He contended that since the apex court concluded that once a result has been announced it cannot be cancelled by any presiding officer, how did the court go against Ihedioha, while refusing Abba Yusuf, the PDP governorship candidate a similar plea?

According to Galadima, “What has happened is that the Supreme Court has now tied itself because how can they do that to Emeka Ihedioha and refuse Abba Kabiru Yusuf in Kano? It was exactly what had happened in Kano.

“If an election had to be cancelled, it has to be at the polling unit level according to the Supreme Court. But in Kano, the votes were not cancelled at the polling unit; they were not cancelled at the ward level but they were cancelled at the local level. So, it goes without saying that Ganduje is gone, and anything to the contrary, Nigeria will see the fire.”

Taking a dim view of Galadima’s suggestions, Mallam Muhammad Garba, Commissioner for Information, Kano State, indicated that the Ihedioha case was totally different from that of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.

He said, “The disruption of the collation of the said results was caused by the PDP agent who testified as principal witness and who also admitted that while the said results were being collated, a commotion erupted and he carted away the original results of INEC and hid himself in a room for over one hour.’’

Garba expressed confidence that the conclusion of the apex court will favour Ganduje.

It was for this reasons that the PDP said that the fact is clear that, the Supreme Court, as presently constituted under Justice Tanko, has lost its credibility and no longer commands the respect and confidence of Nigerians. However, the APC through its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu has described the PDP as a sore loser. According to Issa-Onilu, the PDP cannot bear to lose in any contest. The party has conditioned itself to win all the time. “This is the same PDP that congratulated the Supreme Court and described it as the last hope of the common man and a staunch defender of democracy when the apex court’s ruling was in their favour in Akwa Ibom, Abia, Rivers, Delta and other states. But once a verdict goes against the PDP, then the court and the judges are compromised. The PDP feeds on the sentiments of Nigerians and publishes propaganda that completely distorts that facts.”

Issa-Onilu said, “Even as we are still wondering why we lost elections we clearly won in Zamfara at the Supreme Court and how the same court ruled our party out of the electoral race in Rivers, we have never, as a political party, lost faith in the judiciary.

“We salute Sen. 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.”

In an unproven allegation the PDP insists that it had intelligence before the verdict on the Imo governorship verdict that the hierarchy of APC had decided to use the Supreme Court to take back states controlled by the PDP such as Imo, Sokoto, Bauchi, Adamawa and Benue.

The party therefore questioned the independence of the panel headed by Justice Tanko Muhammad, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, to adjudicate on the remaining cases involving the PDP like Kano, Sokoto, Benue, Bauchi, Adamawa, Plateau and others?

“Is the same fate not awaiting the governors of these states that are controlled by the PDP? Should Justice Tanko Mohammed and his colleagues on the Imo Governorship Panel not recuse themselves from the remaining cases involving PDP?”

He said that the PDP firmly holds that if the judgment of the Supreme Court on Imo governorship election is allowed to stand, it would be a recipe for anarchy, chaos and constitutional crisis not only in Imo state but in the entire country.

Accordingly, Secondus said,  “The PDP therefore advises Justice Tanko not to allow himself to be used to push our nation to the path of anarchy and constitutional crisis as any further attempt to subvert justice in the pending petitions on Sokoto, Bauchi, Benue, Adamawa as well as Kano and Plateau states will be firmly and vehemently resisted.

“In other to avoid an imminent breakdown of law and order, the PDP demands that Justice Tanko Mohammed immediately steps down as CJN and chairman of the National Judicial Council as Nigerians have lost confidence in him and a Supreme Court under his leadership.

However, a new narratives to the Supreme Court verdict came up explaining how the apex court came to its decision. One of Hope Uzodinma’s lawyers, Barrister Remi Olatubora, who was a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ondo State has this insight to the verdict.

According to him, “The petition was fought on the basis of exclusion of election results from 388 polling units in Imo State. These 388 polling units happened to be those in areas where Hope Uzodinma won massively. Many of them are around his father’s village. INEC in its pleading offered no explanation as to the whereabouts of election results of the 388 polling units. INEC only pleaded that no polling units’ results were excluded. In our Law of Evidence there is what we call presumption.

“Applied to election litigation, there is the presumption that the March 9, 2019 governorship election held in all the polling units in Imo. The implication of this is that the legal burden was on INEC to account for what happened in the 388 polling units. We put in evidence results of the 388 contested polling units through the collation agents of Hope Uzodinma who witnessed the unlawful exclusion.

“Neither INEC nor Emeka Ihedioha put in a different set of election results. Interestingly, neither INEC nor Ihedioha denied that those polling units in respect of which 388 Forms EC.8A were tendered and admitted, existed. The Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Operations during the election was subpoenaed. He responded and tendered copies of the Forms EC.8A given to Police officers in the 388 polling units in evidence. These documents were admitted as Exhibits PPP1_PPP366.

“Hope’s petition was not taken seriously. Ihedioha focused more on the 1st runner-up’s petition. The 1st runner-up only asked for nullification on ground that Ihedioha did not get required geographical spread. Hope Uzodinma asked to be returned as the winner of majority of the votes cast (declared result + excluded) and alternatively for nullification and re-run. In the fullness of time and sensing the futility of 1st runner-up’s prayer, we abandoned Uzodinma’s alternative prayer.

“The life of the law is not logic but experience. (O. W. Holmes). We had spilt decision at the Court of Appeal. The minority judgment was in favour of Hope Uzodinma. What the Supreme Court did was to examine the fact of the case, cross-check on the health of the jurisprudence behind the majority and minority decisions of the Court of Appeal.

“If anything was wrong failure of INEC to give account is to be blame not the Supreme Court,” he explained.

QUICK FACTS:

*The annulment of the election of Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo state, in favour of Senator Hope Uzodinma is as controversial as the 1979 controversial Supreme Court verdict that upheld the election of President Shehu Shagari, insisting that Shagari was validly elected by winning in twelve-two-third of the then 19 states of the federation

*The verdict particularly questions the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)   in subsequent elections in Nigeria

*The All Progressives Congress, Uzodinma’s party, scored zero in the House of Assembly elections held on the same day as the governorship election

*Ihedioha’s, Peoples Democratic Party won 13 seats, followed by Action Alliance (AA) with 8 eight members, while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has six members in the House

*In Osun State, the state house of assembly has 23 APC members, while the PDP has three and if the governorship election had not been declared inconclusive in some polling units and supplementary election ordered, the Osun PDP governorship candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke was heading for victory

*The matter before the Supreme Court was not which party had the majority in the Imo State House of Assembly

*Ihedioha scored 276,404 votes against Uzodimma of the APC, who scored 96, 458 votes

* Uzondinma prayers from the onset was that a certain number of votes that should have been counted for him were cancelled

*As at March 11, 2019 when the results were declared, it showed a total number of 823,743 as accredited votes. The number of valid votes stood at 739,485, while cancelled votes were 25, 130.  But by the time the Supreme Court granted Uzodinma’s prayers, the total valid votes increased to 950,952

*This accounts for 127, 209 votes in excess of total accredited votes of 823,743

*Uzodinma’s petition was fought on the basis of exclusion of election results from 388 polling units in Imo State. These 388 polling units happened to be those in areas where he won massively. Many of them are around his father’s village

*Neither INEC nor Emeka Ihedioha put in a different set of election results. Interestingly, neither INEC nor Ihedioha denied that those polling units in respect of which 388 Forms EC.8A were tendered and admitted, existed

*Uzodinma’s petition was not taken seriously. Ihedioha focused more on the 1st runner-up’s petition. The 1st runner-up only asked for nullification on ground that Ihedioha did not get required geographical spread

*Uzodinma asked to be returned as the winner of majority of the votes cast (declared result + excluded) and alternatively for nullification and re-run. In the fullness of time and sensing the futility of 1st runner-up’s prayer, Uzodinma’s alternative prayer was abadoned