The Supreme Court verdict on the Imo governorship election is in order, argues

Charles Otu

Since the January 14th, 2020 unanimous decision of a seven-man panel of the Supreme Court on the Imo governorship election, it appears the dust raised by that landmark decision would perpetually remain unsettled!

Having gone the road widely travelled by typical Nigerian politicians just like his co- flagbearers in AA, Uche Nwosu and APGA’s Sen. Ifeanyi Ararume, APC’s Hope Uzodinma could perhaps have lost hope but for the fact that his case was not the same in material fact. His was a novel case seeking for justice against wrongful exclusion of valid votes already signed and validated by the electoral umpire. 

His perseverance eventually paid off with the One-against-Four minority judgment of Hon Fredrick Oho of the Court of Appeal who held: “All your reliefs are hereby granted and I hereby declare you the duly elected Governor of Imo State….” It is already public knowledge that the appellant (Uzodinma’s) contention (as different from the rest of his co-appellants in Imo) was simply that his 213, 695 votes were wrongfully excluded and that the erstwhile governor, (Ihedioha) was returned based on a wrongful computation of results from the 2, 883 polling units.

This contention, not too common in our post- election legal history particularly at the level of the apex court in our land, must have made their Lordships to pay detailed attention to the pleadings of the appellants and in relation to the material, dismissed the decisions of the lower courts and therefore upheld the appeal! In the words of revered Justice Motonmori Olatokunbo Kekere-Ekun of the Supreme Court: “The appeal is allowed. The judgment of the lower court affirming the judgment of the Governorship Election Tribunal is hereby set aside”. The apex court had therefore consequently ordered that votes due to the appellants (Uzodinma) and All Progressives Congress) from the 388 polling units that were wrongly excluded from the score be ascribed to them. 

The substance of the facts of the case of Uzodinma V. Ihedioha which would undeniably shape the context and practice of our law appears to be mischievously ignored by both the protesting parties, their perceived sponsors and many analysts who seem more determined to add to the mumbo-jumbo of our pantheon law especially as it affects the common man. Having taken time to painstakingly study the voluminous expose’ by the learned jurists of the apex court on Imo, it would only be safe to conclude that Ihedioha, PDP and their protesters seem in the eyes of reasonable Nigerians to be misdirecting their anger!

Otherwise, when will his legal team take some portions of the blame for failing to properly join issues with the petitioners/appellants to contradict their claims, particularly at the lower tribunal where the law allows same? It is even more bemusing to saner minds the way and manner the losers and their party, (PDP) are attempting to foist a review of its decision on the Supreme Court mainly on the grounds that the judgment that favoured Uzodinma was obtained by fraud. In the motion for review pending before the apex court, it is contended by Ihedioha that “the Appellants/Respondents (Uzodinma) fraudulently misled this court (Supreme Court) into holding that a total of 213, 495 votes were unlawfully excluded from the votes scored by the 1st Appellant/Respondent in the election”, adding that “The fraudulent nature of the additional votes was demonstrated by the fact that the total votes cast as shown in the 1st Appellant/Respondent’s computation was more than the total number of accredited voters for the election and in some polling units more than the total number of registered voters”.

The Supreme Court, in order to satisfy the curiosities and doubts of all parties has however reportedly fixed Tuesday, February 18th 2020 to determine motion for review in Imo. The views of some lawyers who had argued that the Supreme Court under the principle of stare decisis is bound by its previous decisions, and as such there had been cases where the judgment of the Supreme Court astonished a section of the public but the court didn’t reverse its judgment when approached to do so have now been altered with the confirmation by the spokesperson of the apex court to the enquiry that the appeals would be determined tomorrow.

But the Supreme Court seems to have dropped a hint on the dead-on-arrival posture of the respondent’s cross-appeal when it held while delivering its judgment: “Having regard to the resolution of Appeal No SC 1462/2019 in favour of the appellants, this cross-appeal is spent. It has become academic and is hereby struck out. Parties to bear their costs”. A constitutional lawyer, Realwan Okpanachi had in an interview with the News agency of Nigeria posited that the apex court no longer had the jurisdiction to entertain any application relating to the Imo Governorship election, because it had clearly passed the 60 days provided for in the constitution, citing Section 285 (7) which states that “an appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or Court of Appeal in an election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days”. 

On the argument of many regarding precedence, Okpanachi reflected that: “On November 2, 2009, Supreme Court dismissed Celestine Omehia’s application seeking for review of its judgment of October 25, 2007, which removed him and declared Rotimi Amaechi as the Governor of Rivers State. But Omehia re-appealed, saying that the apex court made a mistake. He had argued that the judgment contradicted some provisions of the 1999 Constitution. But the seven-man panel led by Justice Alloysius Katsina-Alu described the suit as frivolous and an act of judicial rascality. They accordingly dismissed the case with N100, 000 cost, saying even if it was a mistake; the apex court has a right to make a mistake”.

It was the insistence of the apex court that Amaechi remained the legitimate governor and that the decision was final regardless of whether it was rightly or wrongly entered. He recalled that the Supreme Court Justice Katsina-Alu had urged anybody aggrieved by the court’s decision to appeal to Heaven where God Almighty reigns supreme and not in Nigeria where they held sway, adding that “only God can reverse the October 25, 2007 verdict.”

 It would further be recalled that the Supreme Court had nullified the elections of all the candidates of the APC in Zamfara State in the 2019 general elections. The then learned Acting CJN who had led a five-man panel declared the first runners-up in the 2019 general elections in the state as the winners of all the posts earlier declared to have been won by the APC and its candidates.

It would be recalled that the APC, worried by the judgment, had filed an application asking the Supreme Court to review the judgment. But the court threw away the appeal. In his lead judgment, Justice Rhodes Vivour, held that the application was incompetent and time-barred, adding that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. “The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the matter because anything that has to do with pre-election matter must be brought within 60 days after a decision had been delivered”, he had held, maintaining that the consequential orders made were part and parcel of the pre-election matter and it was an abuse asking the apex court to review its judgment or orders. 

 Otu wrote from Abuja