•Resumes today, fixes Zamfara case for March 17
Alex Enumah in Abuja
For the second time in one month, the Supreme Court yesterday adjourned hearing in the application by a former governor of Imo State, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, seeking a reversal of his removal by the apex court.
It also adjourned hearing in the case of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Zamfara State to March 17 to enable the applicant to serve the suit on all parties.
The adjournment in the Imo case was sequel to a request by the lead counsel to Ihedioha, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), who requested for time to study a process served on him inside the court yesterday.
Ihedioha in the application filed on February 6, is asking the apex court to set aside the judgment sacking him as governor on the ground that the judgment was a nullity because it was procured by fraud.
However, when the matter was called on February 18, Agabi asked for a short adjournment to enable him to respond to the processes filed by the APC and the Imo Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, who are the first and second respondents in the case.
His request was accordingly granted and the seven-member panel of justices of the Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, adjourned hearing till yesterday.
However, when the matter was called yesterday, Agabi informed the court that he had just been served inside the court with the reply of the respondents and he would need to look at the documents in order to respond accordingly.
Although, counsel to the APC and Uzodinma, Mr. Damian Dodo (SAN), and that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Tanimu Inuwa (SAN), had indicated their readiness to proceed with the hearing, Justice Muhammad adjourned the matter till today as requested by the applicants.
The Supreme Court had on January 14, 2020 ordered the removal of Ihedioha from office on the ground that he did not win majority of lawful votes cast in the March 9 governorship election.
INEC had declared Ihedioha as winner of the March 9 governorship election, having won the majority of lawful votes cast at the governorship poll.
The Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in their concurrent decisions in the appeal filed by Uzodinma also upheld Ihedioha’s election and dismissed his petition on the ground that Uzodinma did not prove his allegations against the election of Ihedioha.
But the apex court held otherwise.
The court in its judgment disagreed with the decisions of the lower courts on the grounds that they erred in law when they excluded votes from 388 polling units from the total scores at the poll.
According to the apex court in the judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, when the excluded votes totalling over 200,000 were added, Uzodinma and not Ihedioha actually won majority of the lawful votes cast in the March 9 governorship election.
The apex court consequently declared Uzodinma governor of Imo State and ordered INEC to withdraw the certificate of return earlier issued to Ihedioha and issue a fresh one to Uzodinma.
The court accordingly ordered that Uzodinma who came fourth in the election be sworn in as governor of Imo State.
But Ihedioha in his application said the apex court was misled into arriving at the decision, which removed him from office.
He clarified that his application before the apex court was not in any way seeking review of the court’s judgment or asking the apex court to sit on appeal over its judgment.
He explained that his application is seeking the court “to set aside its January 14, 2020 verdict that removed him from office for being a nullity.
“The application is not an academic exercise or an invitation to this honourable court to answer hypothetical questions as the issue of nullity of the judgment of January 14, 2020 is neither academic nor hypothetical.
“Contrary to the deposition by Governor Hope Uzodinma, he (Uzodinma) never stated the results of the other 68 candidates that participated in the election at the 388 polling units, as their scores were not indicated anywhere by the appellants,” he said in the latest affidavit.
He argued that contrary to the depositions by the respondents, there is nowhere in the judgment of the apex court delivered on January 14, 2020 in which the decision of the lower court striking out the petition for incompetence was set aside or upturned.
However, Uzodinma on his part urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal for lacking in merit and a waste of the court’s time having been caught up with section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides a 60-day life span for the hearing and determination of the appeal.
Uzodinma and the APC, who are first and second respondents respectively, in their reply to Ihedioha’s motion, claimed that the request is nothing but a mere academic exercise and an affront to the 1999 Constitution.
In a 19-paragraph affidavit filed in opposition to Ihedioha’s application, the governor and his party asserted that the 60 days allowed for the Supreme Court by the constitution has since lapsed.
“The undisputed facts relating to the respondents/applicants’ motion hereinafter referred to as “the motion” are to the effect that the judgment of the Court of Appeal was delivered on 21st September, 2019 while the one sought to be set aside was delivered on 14th January, 2020. Clearly, the 60 days allowed by Section 285(7) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) for this honourable court to hear and determine appeal from the Court of Appeal in an election matter, lapsed on 17th January, 2020. The motion to set it aside was filed on 5th February, 2020, 19 days after the time allowed by the constitution.
“It is now a settled law that the 60 days’ time limit to determine and conclude litigation on election matters is sacrosanct and cannot be extended by any guise”, they said in the counter affidavit filed on their behalf by Dodo.
Meanwhile the court has also adjourned hearing in the Zamfara State APC case till March 17 to enable the applicant to serve the suit on all parties.
Respondents in the suit include Senator Kabiru Marafa and 180 Zamfara APC candidates in the 2019 general election.
The APC is asking the apex court to review the consequential order which gave rise to the swearing in of candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into office from governorship to national and state House of Assembly positions.
The apex court had in its judgment last year voided the participation of the APC in the 2019 general election in Zamfara State due to the party’s failure to conduct primary election as required by law.
The court having declared all votes cast for the APC in various elective positions in the state as wasted, ordered that candidates of the party with the highest number of votes and spread be sworn in as governor, senators, House of Representatives members as well as members of the Zamfara State House of Assembly.
However, when the matter was called yesterday, it was discovered that some respondents in the suit were yet to be served with the court’s processes as they were not in court nor represented by their lawyers.
Although counsel to the APC, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), informed the court that an affidavit of service on all respondents had been filed, the CJN said there was no evidence to that effect since the affidavit was not in the court’s record.
Clarke accordingly asked for a short adjournment to enable him to do the needful.
Since the request was not opposed by counsel to the respondents, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), the presiding justice subsequently adjourned till March 17 for hearing.