PHILIP NYAM reviews how the Supreme Court ruling on the Imo State gubernatorial election petition appeal was received by a cross section of Nigerians
ince the declaration of Hon. Rotimi Amaechi as the duly elected governor of Rivers State and removal of Sir Celestine Omehia in 2007 by the Supreme Court, no other ruling by the apex court has generated so much controversy as Tuesday judgement that annulled the election of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and affirming Senator Hope Uzodinma as the validly elected governor of Imo State.
Consequently, it has been a cacophony of voices and deluge of analysis by legal luminaries, politicians, community leaders, electorates and Nigerians from all walks of life.
While some of the reactions and analysis are based on law, some are spiced with sentiments, as others are founded on ignorance with some anchored on the fear of the consequences of such judgement. Yet, some also found solace in logic and national interest.
A prelude to the wide reaction trailing the Supreme Court ruling on Ihedioha vs Uzodinma was set afloat by the fiery and controversial Enugu based Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka. The cleric had in his New Year prophecy, declared that Ihedioha had lost favour with God and that Uzodinma was coming to be governor.
It was a chilling and shocking revelation because many Nigerians could not fathom how a candidate that came fourth in the poll would eventually become governor at the expense of the incumbent and two other candidates ahead of him.
Surprisingly, Mbaka’s prophecy came to pass last Tuesday, when the Supreme Court in a historic judgement asked Ihedioha to vacate the Imo State government house and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw his Certificate of Return and issue a fresh one to Uzodinma, who should be sworn in immediately as the duly elected governor of the state.
Delivering the judgement in the Imo case, members of the seven-member panel of the apex court unanimously agreed that INEC was wrong to have excluded results from 388 polling units from the votes recorded for the APC candidate.
The votes scored by Uzodinma and his party in the 388 polling units and which the court held was unlawfully excluded was put at 213,695. Ihedioha and the PDP were said to have scored 1,903 in the polling units said to be located in Uzodinma’s stronghold.
Justice Kekere-Ekun, who read the lead judgement held that the election petition tribunal and the Court of Appeal misunderstood Uzodinma’s case when they ruled in favour of Ihedioha.
Justice John Okoro, who took ill a day before was excluded from the panel and replaced by Justice Amina Augie. Other members of the panel were Justices Tanko Muhammad (Chief Justice of Nigeria), Sylvester Ngwuta, Olukayode Ariwoola, Amiru Sanusi and Uwani Abba-Aji.
Summary of the judgement read: “It is hereby ordered that the appellants’ votes from the 318 polling units, unlawfully excluded from the appellants’ scores declared, shall be added to the results earlier declared by the 3rd respondent (INEC).
“It is hereby declared that the 1st respondent, Rt Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, was not duly elected. by majority of lawful votes cast at the said election. His return as the elected governor of Imo State is hereby declared null and void and is accordingly set aside.
“It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator Uzodinma, polled the majority lawful votes cast at the governorship election held in Imo State on 9th March 2019 and satisfied the mandatory constitutional threshold and spread across the state.
“It is hereby declared that the 1st appellant, Senator Uzodinma is the winner of the governorship election of Imo State held on 9th March 2019 and declared on 11th March 2019. The certificate of return issued to the 1st respondent, Hon. Ihedioha, is hereby withdrawn.
“It is hereby ordered that a certificate of return shall be issued to the 1st appellant, Senator Uzodinma forthwith and should be sworn in as the governor of Imo State immediately”.
Hailing the judgement, President Muhammadu Buhari commended the Supreme Court for its courage and perseverance to return a well-deserved victory to the APC and its candidate in the Imo State gubernatorial contest.
“The road to justice may be long and tortuous, but it is the best path for anyone aggrieved,” Presidency Spokesman, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari to have said.
According to him, “under the new administration, a new journey to build a new Imo with new energy is about to begin. In this outcome, it is the people of Imo State who have emerged victorious.”
Many lawyers have expressed diverse views on the judgement. Supporting the judgement, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Kenneth Ikonne, in a statement titled “The Imo gubernatorial judgement: A painful but legally correct verdict.” Said: “It is indeed a perplexing paradox: Hope Uzodinma may not have won the 2019 Imo State gubernatorial election, yet the Supreme Court, on the facts, was right in declaring him the winner of that election in law. The error was not the Supreme Court’s, but that of Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s legal team; and it was a crucially fatal error.
Another lawyer, Kenneth Opara, in his reaction, noted that “in its judegment, the Supreme Court relied heavily on the testimony of PW54 (Rabiu Hussein) a Deputy Commissioner of Police and the results tendered by him marked Exhibits PPP1-PPP366 in holding that Hope Uzodinma scored the majority of lawful votes in the Imo State Governorship Election and declaring him winner of the election.
He maintained that “It is noteworthy that the policemen, who allegedly worked in the polling units, received the 366 documents and submitted same to Police Headquarters were not called to testify by Hope Uzodinma. The Police Administrative Officer who allegedly received the 366 documents from the policemen were not called to testify. Furthermore, the Presiding Officers who allegedly made the entries and signed the 366 documents and the polling unit agents did not also testify.”
In his farewell message to the people and official reaction to the judgement, Ihedioha condemned the judgement saying it was “unfair, unjust and does not reflect the voting that took place during the elections” in Imo State. He argued that the judgement reflected “the truncation of the people’s will and an affront on the good initiative his administration after its experiences with ‘bad governance’ of the previous government in the state.”
He further declared: “In the last seven months, we sought to elevate merit, unity of purpose, honesty, transparency and an inclusive approach to governance, as the hallmarks of our administration. We sought to restore once again, the pride and dignity of Imo people. We worked very hard to re-engineer the Imo renaissance. But God knows why he has allowed this current state of affairs.
“I do not agree with the judgement of the Supreme Court. I think it is unfair, unjust and does not reflect the voting that took place during the elections. It also didn’t take care of the sensibilities of the people of Imo State. But as true democrats, Engr. Gerald Irona and I have no option but to respect the outcome of that judgement.”
PDP blasts CJN
The PDP, which sponsored Ihedioha was much more fierce in its reaction as it called on the CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad to step down with his panel in the interest of justice. Addressing the media in Abuja, national chairman of the party, Mr. Uche Secondus said after a thorough examination of all the issues relating to what he described as miscarriage of justice by the Supreme Court, the party resolved that the apex court, as presently constituted under Justice Mohammed Tanko, has become heavily compromised, lost its credibility and is now annexed to execute ignoble agenda of the APC-led federal government against the Nigerian people.
“That the judgment of the Supreme Court voiding the lawful election of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (who scored 276,404 votes) and awarding fictitious votes to declare Hope Uzodimma of the APC, who scored 96,458 votes as governor of Imo state, is highly irrational, unfounded, a provocative product of executive manipulation and a recipe for crisis, which should not be allowed to stand.”
“With the verdict, the Supreme Court executed a coup against the PDP and the people of Imo State as well as other Nigerians, and such must not be allowed to have a place in our democracy.”
According to him, the Supreme Court, in a host of cases, the latest and most celebrated being Atiku V Buhari & Ors, consistently decided that for a petitioner to succeed in an allegation of infraction of any provision of the Electoral Act especially one complaining about malpractice, as in this case, wrongful exclusion of votes, the petitioner must call witnesses polling unit by polling unit.
“The question is, how many witnesses did Uzodinma/APC call from the 388 polling units from where the Supreme Court allocated votes to him?” Secondus asked.
He further stated that the so called results from the 388 lolling units were rightfully rejected, in line with several decisions of the Supreme Court, by the Tribunal and Court of Appeal as it was merely dumped on the tribunal in a Ghana Must Go bag, by a policeman who had no mandate of the police to testify at the tribunal.
In spite of the anger and varying opinion on the judgement, former vice-president and presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, urged his party and Ihedioha to accept the verdict.
Atiku, in a statement he personally signed, said that the verdict of the Supreme Court, though unexpected and unpalatable, must be obeyed and accepted by the PDP and Ihedioha as the rule of law remains the guide and the way forward.
He also said that he stands fully with the PDP in good and bad times, adding: “We must continue to be the object of hope that the Nigerian people have for their escape from the prevailing despotism and despair that has gripped almost every aspect of our national life.”