Can the Supreme Court Undo Imo Guber Controversy?

Can the Supreme Court Undo Imo Guber Controversy?

Will the outcome of the governorship election in Imo State on November 11 stop the Supreme Court from resolving contentious matters arising from the 2019 governorship election in the state? Asks Alex Enumah

Before the November 11 governorship election in Imo State, Nigerians had received the news that the Supreme Court was going to hear an appeal seeking to invalidate the years that Governor Hope Uzodimma spent in office as the Governor of the state on October 31, 2023.

The matter was later deferred to December 5, giving the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the opportunity to conduct the November 11 governorship election in which Uzodimma was seeking a second term in office and which he eventually won.

The hearing, coming three years after the motion was filed at the apex court, has exposed the startling delay and the sluggishness of the wheels of justice.

But the question many are now seeking answers to is whether the outcome of the November 11 election will stop the apex court from still going ahead to resolve contentious matters?

From January 2020 when the court delivered the judgement sacking Emeka Ihedioha as governor till dated, the court has not known peace, with many wondering how such a judgment could have come from a Supreme Court, especially when his replacement, Uzodimma, going by the earlier judgment of the same court, was not a candidate in the election. The decision left many speechless and dumbfounded.

Before the verdict, precisely on December 20, 2019, the same court had adjudicated on the Imo governorship dispute and ruled that Uche Nwosu was guilty of double nomination in that he was the candidate of both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Action Alliance (AA) in the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state. Consequently, the court disqualified Nwosu from the election and declared that the two parties he held their tickets did not participate in that election.

Curiously however, the same court, while sitting on another petition on Imo governorship election brought before it by Uzodimma, threw its earlier judgment overboard and came up with a strange verdict. In the judgment delivered on January 14, 2020, it conveniently glossed over its earlier judgment and recognised Uzodimma as the APC candidate in the said election.

The court did not just recognise him as candidate, it went ahead to award him victory in that election. By this act, many felt the court, wittingly or unwittingly, imposed two candidates on the APC, thereby contradicting its earlier declaration that “a political party is not capable of sponsoring two candidates for the same office in the same election”.

But in a motion later filed at the court, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in its application, sought the removal of Governor Uzodimma from office.  It claimed that a fresh election was necessary since in the eyes of the law, Imo State had no duly and validly elected governor, going by two judgments of the apex court in appeals number SC/1384/2019 and SC/1462/2019. It equally filed an application for an order, directing INEC to conduct a fresh election in the state within 90 days.

APGA, through its legal team, pointed out that the apex court, in its judgement in the second appeal number SC/1462/2019, wherein the then governor, Ihedioha of the PDP was sacked, did not establish that Uzodimma was duly nominated by the APC.

“Indeed, this court rightly noted at page 9 of its judgement in appeal number SC/1462/2019, Uzodimma vs Ihedioha, that the issue of the 1st appellant’s nomination by the 2nd appellant did not arise.  Consequently, there is no decision of this court that has determined or established that Senator Hope Uzodimma is the duly nominated/sponsored governorship candidate of the APC in Imo State as stipulated by Section 11177(c) of the Constitution,” APGA added.

Apparently due to the fact that the court did not take immediate steps to give effect to its judgement, it was railroaded into giving another judgement that contradicted its earlier position. The contradictory judgement was that of January 14, 2020 in which the same court pronounced Uzodimma as the governor based on the election of March 9, 2019.

APGA found it baffling because Uzodimma could not have emerged winner in an election he did not participate in. The December 20, 2019 judgement of the Supreme Court affirmed that Uzodimma and his party, the APC, did not participate in that election.

They have posited that it is this contradiction that the court has set out to resolve. They added that everybody that has respect for democracy and rule of law was looking forward to the resolution of the case and they hoped that the court would free the state from all the quagmire that had beset its governorship since 2019.

Aside APGA, both the PDP and APP equally filed fresh appeals wherein they urged the court to give effect to its 2019 verdict that disqualified Nwosu on the grounds that he was nominated by both the AA and the APC.

PDP is asking the apex court to restore its candidate, Ihedioha, back to office, since the APC was precluded from sponsoring two candidates in the Imo State governorship election.

In an affidavit filed in support of the application, which was deposed to by a legal practitioner, Adedamola Farokun, PDP averred: “The 3rd respondent/applicant (PDP) is neither in any way seeking a review of the valid, subsisting and well considered judgement of this court delivered in this appeal in 2019, nor seeking a review of the judgement of this court delivered on January 14, 2020 in SC/462/2019, but humbly seeking that this court give effect to its judgement delivered on December 20, 2019.

“That this court has the constitutional, inherent powers and jurisdiction to grant the reliefs sought and give effects to its judgement. That it is in the interest of justice for this court to exercise its wide discretionary powers in favour of granting this application as prayed.”

Farokun also averred that Uzodima was not the candidate of the APC based on the court’s judgement that Nwosu was nominated by both the APC and the AA.

PDP urged the Supreme Court to hold that “both the AA and APC did not sponsor and/or field any candidate for the governorship election held in Imo State on March 9, 2019 in view of the double nomination of the appellant/respondent by the two political parties aforesaid, and his subsequent disqualification as their gubernatorial candidate, as found by this honourable court in its judgement.”

It argued that in view of the fact that governor Uzodimma did not contest the election as an independent candidate, there was no legal basis for him to be recognised as the validly elected governor of Imo State.

This is why a public policy think tank, the Neo Africana Centre (NAC), has expressed satisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit its December 20, 2019 judgement.

In a statement by its Director of Public Affairs, Jenkins Udu, the Centre said it was difficult to understand how a political party, in this case the APC, which had been disqualified from an election by reason of double nomination would be assigned another candidate for the same election.

The group said the absurdity of January 14 would not have taken place if the court had given effect to its earlier judgement of December 20. It has therefore commended the court for revisiting the issue in the hope that justice, even though it has been delayed in this matter, should not be denied ultimately.

The statement reads in part: “We at the Neo Africana Centre have followed with keen interest the political developments in Imo State since the turbulent turn of events that followed the outcome of the governorship election held in the state on March 9, 2019. As an organisation whose focus areas revolve around good governance and democracy, we do not shy away from issues that tend to detract from our core objectives.

 “The truth is that the Imo political situation has been a pain in the neck following the unjustified removal of Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State on January 14, 2020. Our concern here is that the judgement under reference was an illicit jump. It would not have been necessary if the Supreme Court which, in its December 2019 judgement, disqualified a certain Nwosu from the governorship election on grounds of double nomination had given effect to its judgement. It is therefore heartwarming that the court has decided to revisit the issue, in full recognition of the fact that its December 20 judgement has been hanging in the balance.

 “We appreciate the fact that the Supreme Court understands the need to take judgments to their logical conclusions by ensuring that consequential pronouncements are not overlooked. Regardless of the fact that a fresh election will be held in Imo State soonest, the need to resolve the lingering issues around the 2019 exercise remains paramount. The coming election in Imo State will be haunted by the ghost of 2019 if the contentious issues are not laid to rest.

 “We therefore urge the Supreme Court to stay on track in this matter. The people of Imo State need justice and this will come through a tidy cleansing of the Augean Stable around the March 9, 2019 governorship election. The ultimate import of the judgement will be to ensure that even though justice has been delayed in this matter, it should not be denied outright.”

Despite the obvious faults in the January 20, 2020 judgment of the Supreme Court, many are skeptical if the apex court will use the opportunity to correct the wrongs it made given the fact that it has never reversed itself.

If the motion is eventually thrown out, it will as usual continue to taint and dent the image of the highest court in the country.

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