AKEEM NAFIU writes that the protest which last week greeted the Supreme Court’s judgement on Imo governorship polls with the sack of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha as the governor is not novel even as lawyers are divided as to the propriety of the protest
ome senior lawyers have expressed divergent views on the appropriateness of the widespread protests that trailed the recent judgement of the Supreme Court which invalidated the victory of Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Imo State governorship election held on 9th March, 2019.
While some of the lawyers greeted the protesters’ action with outright condemnation, others were of the view that no offence had been committed.
In a unanimous judgement, a 7-man panel of the Justices of Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, declared that Ihedioha’s return as governor of Imo State was predicated on wrong computation of the election results.
In a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court faulted the actions of both the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal in upholding Ihedioha’s victory at the polls.
According to the apex court, the concurrent judgement of the lower court erred in law when it excluded votes totalling 213,295 from 388 polling units from the total scores at the election.
Justice Kekere-Ekun held that the lower court misconstrued the case of the appellants that he was challenging the validity of the election whereas he was challenging the unlawful exclusion of votes in the 388 polling units.
The apex court further held that the lower courts were also wrong in holding that PW 54, a police officer who was subpoenaed, was not the appropriate person to have tendered documents that showed the exclusion of votes in the 388 polling units during collation.
While consequently setting aside the judgement of the Court of Appeal which upheld the election of Ihedioha on the grounds that he did not win majority of the votes cast during the March 9 governorship election, the apex court equally allocated all the votes from the 388 polling units in contention to Uzodinma and his party.
The court subsequently ordered the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to Ihedioha and issue a fresh one to Uzodinma because he won majority of lawful votes cast at the election. INEC has since complied with the directive while Uzodinma has since been sworn in as the validly elected governor of Imo State.
Dissatisfied with the verdict, top hierarchy and members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) embarked on protests nationwide.
Protests were reported in Imo, Abia and Ebonyi States, among others with protesters demanding a reversal of the judgement.
In Imo State, thousands of women, who clad in black attires, stormed the streets of Owerri to register their displeasure at the judgement which they described as a rape on democracy.
The women were joined by leaders and members of the PDP, including Emeka Ihedioha’s Chief of Staff, Chris Okewulonu; Commissioner for Public Utilities, Chuma Nnaji; and the PDP state woman leader, Maria Ude.
They described the Supreme Court judgement as injustice to the people of Imo State and a slap on democracy and consequently demanded reinstatement of Emeka Ihedioha as Imo State governor.
The Imo State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Damian Opara, berated the Supreme Court’s Justices, saying their judgement had ridiculed and annihilated democracy in Nigeria.
“Arising from a meeting on Friday, the party described as unbelievable, ridiculous and annihilation of democracy, the decision of the apex court to void the lawful election of its candidate, Emeka Ihedioha, who polled 276,404 votes and awarded victory to Hope Uzodimma of the APC with just 96,458 votes.
“The party in the state finds it difficult to understand how the Supreme Court arrived at its verdict, even to the point that the seven panelists who sat on the petition gave a unanimous judgmentu7uu7dy,” Opara said.
A member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Henry Nwawuba, who also spoke to journalists, alleged that the Supreme Court Justices had murdered democracy in the state.
He said: “I believe that the Supreme Court must redeem the judiciary. Since the judgment was delivered, the state has become a graveyard. This is unlike what happened when the PDP was holding sway.
“How the Supreme Court Justices gave victory to a candidate who came fourth at the election remains a mystery to many of us. We call on them to revisit the Imo case and do justice.”
In Abuja, the PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Seconds also led other prominent leaders of the party to carry out protest against the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Some of the PDP leaders, who accompanied Secondus in the protest march included; Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State and PDP’s Vice-Presidential candidate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Senate minority leader, former Imo State governor, Achike Udenwa, some House of Representatives’ members, including Kingsley Chinda, Obinna Chidoka, among others.
In his speech on the occasion, the PDP National Chairman said the protest was to register the party’s displeasure at the Supreme Court’s judgement which he described as a miscarriage of justice.
“We are at the Three Arms Zone – the Executive is hearing us, the judiciary is hearing, and also the parliament will hear us from here, and also the entire world. “Today, we are here – it’s a very peaceful, non-violent protest and demonstration to show that we are all Nigerians. The PDP is the most peaceful party and largest party, and well organised party in Africa.
We are a nation governed by law; therefore, all we are seeking today is for our very highly respected jurists at the highest court of the land to listen to us. We’re not against you, we’re against the error. And by the special grace of God, I know you will revisit the error.
“And all we are saying is for you to review this error because the figures are not adding up. We, therefore, called on the leadership of the judiciary, to please – we are all human beings. God is the highest.
“We know that they worship God, all of us worship God, to revisit and reverse the Imo State judgement because we believe that the figures are not adding up. That’s why we’re here, so that the world will hear us,” Secondus said.
While also expressing his displeasure at the judgement, PDP’s Vice-presidential candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Peter Obi, opined that what happened in Imo is enough to kill democracy in Nigeria.
He said: “I’m speaking here, not just as leader of the PDP but as one of those who benefitted from the good governance of the PDP for 16 years, despite being in the opposition.
“I was in a minority party, I won election and PDP did not intervene. I went to court, PDP did not intervene. I benefited from it. Adams Oshiomhole wouldn’t have been governor, he wouldn’t have been beneficiary of the judiciary if the PDP did what APC is doing today. He benefited from it.
“So, as a beneficiary, I am appealing to the judiciary to save this country. What happened in Imo State is enough to kill our democracy. Let us ensure that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. My appeal to the APC is, please, do not kill this democracy.”
Senior lawyers have in the meantime been speaking on the widespread protests that trailed the Supreme Court’s judgement on Imo State governorship contest.
The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend were, however, divergent in their views. They could not speak with one voice on the propriety of the protesters’ action.
In his view, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, said the protesters were only exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression.
He said: “Protests like these cannot be ruled out because we are in a trying time in this country. The sort of things that we are seeing now is unprecedented. The Supreme Court’s judgement came as a shock to many people. I haven’t read the judgement but from the newspapers’ commentaries, people are agape because they are wondering how someone that came fourth in a contest can now become governor in the state.
“That would have been something unheard of some years back but we are in a time where the Chief Justice has been removed, judges houses have been searched and now we are having this judgement. So, really when people are aggrieved and they are somehow pushed to the wall, you then found them taking this kind of desperate measure.
“This is part of what can be seen as freedom of speech. If somebody want to express his freedom of speech in that manner and provided it doesn’t take a violent turn, there should be no problem. I don’t think we can say such protests are unlawful as long as they are peaceful and the protesters are not scandalizing the judges.
“Though protests like these are not conventional and it is not something I would encourage but it is a behaviour that I understand. This kind of protest is not peculiar to Nigeria, it happens in other parts of the world, even in developed countries”.
A similar view was expressed by a Lagos-based lawyer, Ige Asemudara, who also believed the protesters could not be condemned for taking to the streets.
“It is a reminder of the dictum of the Supreme Court itself, I think in the case of Josiah v. State, that justice is not a one-way traffic, it is not a two-way traffic either. It is a three-way traffic; Justice to the plaintiff, to the defendant and importantly, to the society.
“A segment of the society has only protested their dissatisfaction with the judgement. We cannot stop them. That is the highest they can do as no right of appeal lies beyond or above the Supreme Court. The apex court has in its wisdom given a judgment based on its understanding of the facts and the interpretation of the law. We must all abide by it.
“Unfortunately now, we play politics with everything; our law, our judicial system, our justice system. It is not a good thing to do whether from the APC-led federal government or from the PDP-led opposition,” the lawyer said.
However, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Adekunle Ojo, believed the protests were politically motivated and uncalled for.
He said: “As far as I am concerned, these protests have political undertone and as such it will not have any negative impact on the nation’s justice system. Assuming this is the way protests are being carried out on other cases perceived to be smacked of injustice, then, one can be thinking of a dent on the justice system. But, the truth is that the protests are politically motivated.
“Besides, the protest is also coming from a particular political party. This shows that we really have a lot to do in this country, particularly regarding sanitizing the political process. The protest was uncalled for because when judgement was delivered in the Zamfara case, there was no protest. It also happened in Rivers State and no one protested.
“So, for me, the people who lost in Imo have lost rightly or wrongly but unfortunately, the judgement came from the highest court of the land following which no other appeal can be entertained.
“I think what those protesting should have asked for is a review of the judgement if they are convinced of their position. So, basically, if we all see the judiciary as the last hope of everyone, for the common man and the rich, there should have been no such protest. After all, it cannot bring back Ihedioha as governor. If we are saying the nation’s judiciary is nothing, where lies our hope?
“If there was no similar judgement in other appeals heard by the Supreme Court from other states, I expect that anyone who felt aggrieved will see the judgement as a human error because the decision is already made and no amount of protest can reverse it”.
The Editor of Nigeria Weekly Law Report (NWLR), Oluwole Kehinde, also condemned the protest saying it portends danger for the nation’s justice system.
“The protests portend grave danger to administration of justice. It’s an invitation to chaos. The time honoured tradition is to employ legal channels for challenging decisions of courts, including the Supreme Court, even though the decisions of the latter are final.
“If all people who lose cases in courts take to the streets, it may lead to counter protests, violence, break down of law and order, and breach of peace. In the absence of any available channels to seek further legal remedy, the right thing is to accept any unfavourable decision in good faith, and for the sake of peace and order,” he said.
Mohammed Fawehinmi also faulted the protesters’ action saying it is not well thought-out.
He said: “In the first place, there’s nothing we can do about the judgement. This is a judgement from the final court of the land and it has to be taken the way it is. The protest is not well thought-out and it is uncalled for. It makes no sense. I don’t expect anyone to embark on any protest against the Supreme Court’s judgement.
“I expect those aggrieved to meet with their lawyers and fashion out the way forward rather than embarking on any protest. The protest will not have any negative effect on the nation’s justice system.”