Ihedioha and the Demand of History

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Guest Columnist: Okey Ikechukwu

Today, the Supreme Court stands on what may well be the precipice of a probably unprecedented judicial challenge. This is with reference to the planned review of its own judgment regarding the last governorship elections in Imo State. So we must urge their Lordships to remember the words of Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, who said: “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” The type of special moment Churchill had in mind stands before the Nigerian judiciary and judicial system today. To make this their finest hour is the demand of history.

All hell broke loose when, a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, be stripped of the Certificate of Return given to him as the duly elected governor and that Chief Hope Uzodinma, the person who came fourth in the said election, be given the Certificate of Return and summarily sworn in as the duly elected governor.

Eminent lawyers, political party faithful, sundry commentators and even freelance grumblers joined issues – even if repetitively so. Protest marches decorated the national landscape. Then, quite unexpectedly, the apex court indicated its willingness to review the judgment. This commendable move remains a decent, dignified and mature stepping forth to take a second look at a case on which it had already made what would ordinarily pass for a final pronouncement.

The Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the learned justices of the apex court should be understood here to be saying to Nigerians that infallibility resides with Divinity alone, as an inherent and inalienable attribute. It does not inhere in human beings, does not reside with men and cannot be successfully simulated by men. Thus their Lordships must, first, be seen to have moved up the ladder of judicial propriety. By so doing, they have also given many people a much-needed emotional respite. The decision to review the case has also tempered the distemper of many whose strident criticism of the apex court verges on the hysterical.

Regarding the criticisms, and this is a slight diversion from our main concern today, it must be said that some of the criticisms have become so tiresome, threadbare and coarsely inelegant that one is sometimes not patient enough to wade through the vituperations to find the substance. Matters have not been helped by the plethora of political cases all over the place. We may recall, for instance, that the PDP cried until it ran out of tears, when its presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, lost at the Supreme Court. The court was (rightly or wrongly) accused of bias and of being a stooge of the ruling party. But the same PDP had celebrated when the APC lost its struggle to field candidates in Zamfara State, all the way to the Supreme Court. The court was not denigrated at all as beholden to the PDP. The story was the same when the APC and Rotimi Amechi, a politician who is largely responsible for over 105% of his political and personal problems, were worsted by the courts. It was inauspicious then to speak of partisanship.

Coming back to the matter at hand, there are currently diverse views on what the Supreme Court should do, or not do. My hope and prayer is that the court comes out with a decision their Lordships can proudly recommend to their children, their grandchildren, to students of law and to posterity. This is a critical case; and for a nation in critical times, standing on slippery slopes of morality in leadership and facing very critical challenges on all fronts. The hunger and anger in the land have fuelled comprehensive distrust of all institutions of state. Ours has become a nation wherein citizens live silently with the quiet certainty and conviction that the average (not every) public office holder is either an outright looter, or at least a person of dishonest means who has escaped the long arms of the law. We live in such trying times, wherein misconduct is made to look very attractive by those who ought to take the lead in guiding society unto the path of moral rectitude. It is against the background of the foregoing considerations that the Supreme Court must exercise the greatest circumspection in the matter at hand. This is the demand of our history today.

I am not from Imo State, but I have said enough about that state on these pages for any observer to note my interests and concerns for good governance in that endowed state. Yes, I confess to having had a healthy contempt for the immediate past government of the state before Ihedioha. Yes, I saw and still see, the great gains of the short, and interrupted, tenure of Emeka as the first real attempt to bring Imo people together, with genuine, people-based, Ikwu-na-ibe notions of leadership and development. I make no apologies about my perception of Ihedioha as having begun to dispel the odour of unsanctity surrounding leadership, governance and service delivery in Imo State before the court judgment. I suggest, and insist, that he brought something that had been largely missing since the days of the late Sam Mbakwe and the likes of Peter Obi as governors in the South-east.

Part of what Emeka brought, and which is in danger of being blown away by Ndi Omekome, is the idea of leadership as service to the people. Not the award of contracts to the elite for kickbacks, in addition to the promotion of never-do-wells into prominence, no. It was service, “for the good of the people, according to their known and accepted norms, and in the promotion of their short, medium and long term interests.”

In those few months, Ndi Imo had the heartwarming experience of seeing a governor who went about conducting government business with calm clear-headedness and unaffected diligence. They beheld someone who came to lead and to offer succor by placing all the cards on the table and asking them to join him so that they could collectively regain and restore their pride as a people. By inviting, deploying and making the best of the state’s rich human capital he was already creating a new reference for the teeming youths, before the Supreme Court judgment.

The contrast between his short stint and the eight years of tomfoolery that preceded him explains why everyone was ready to work with him. The people simply heaved a sigh of relief. This includes the repentant, and perhaps not so repentant, participants in the eight-year leadership dance of shame that preceded his assumption of office. But one thing stood out: he removed the debauchery that had taken violent possession of that endowed state. It is true that the conduct of some Members of the Imo State House of Assembly after the court judgment leaves a big smear on the celebrated rebirth. Yes indeed, it does. But that only shows that some people are still what they were. To take that too hard, or make it a basis for the permanent stigmatisation of the political turncoats, is to overlook the fact that not all are initially guided by deep conviction in all that they do.

But no one must lose sight of the fact that the virtues, and even performance of Ihedioha in office are not matters to tender in a court of law, especially the Supreme Court. They are, at best, subject declarations of preferred values and a cheerful display of ones loyalties with regard to what one would like to see in Imo State. So one does not expect that the Supreme Court that withdrew his certificate on technical grounds will re-award same on the bases of some beautiful prose on his leadership qualities. No. Not at all! It is now a matter of law. But not banal law. It must be law taken new levels of jurisprudential excellence, to the much higher calling that beckons on the ultimate spirit of the law (all rational law) to deliver the type of justice that will resonate with our true humanity. Which is why the Ihedioha appeal that was called up and then adjourned to the second day of March imposes some great demands, based on our recent judicial history. It is the demands ancient jurists would say are imposed on every juror of repute, who does not wish to do anything that is “repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.”

Whichever way the matter goes subsequently, and I hope it goes in favour of those who have argued, stridently, that it beats logic to have a man declared winner in an election wherein the total votes cast exceeds the number of those accredited to vote on the election day, the leadership of the judiciary deserves commendation for reopening this vexatious matter. Those who argue a constitutional restraint on the apex court against reviewing its own case overlook one simple and straightforward fact. That fact is that it is the judiciary that is charged with interpreting the constitution, interpreting all made laws and determining whether any made law, or pretense at law making, can pass muster.

In showing a preference for a return to the status quo ante, one has nothing whatsoever against the gentleman who inherited for the time being the title of governor of Imo State, conferred on him by the Supreme Court judgment. I have known him for as long as I have known Ihedioha, but my position on who I would rather see in the Imo State Government House is personal; and borne of personal certainties about what the state – and Ndigbo- will gain with Ihedioha as governor of Imo State.