TUNDE OYESINA writes that although Senator Hope Uzodinma has been sworn in as Governor of Imo State following the verdict by the Supreme Court that the governor who came fourth in the governorship election held on 9th March, 2019 won the election, the apex court’s judgement has not been without condemnation and applause
t is no longer news that the Supreme Court last Tuesday 14th January, 2020 sacked former deputy speaker House of Representatives Ho. Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State and consequently declared Senator Hope Uzodinma as the elected Governor of the state.
But what a section of lawyers still surprised about is the legal arithmetic the Supreme Court employed to kick Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of the Imo State Government House when it declared candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma, who came fourth in the election with 96,458 votes as against Ihedioha’s 273,404 votes.
In 11th March, 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) through its Returning Offi cer and Vice-Chancellor Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umidike, Abia State, Prof. Francis Otunta declared Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party winner of the election having polled 276,404 votes to beat Uzodinma of the APC to the fourth position with 96,458 votes.
The judgement had, however, continued to generate controversies among lawyers including major stakeholders.
The Imo State gubernatorial appeal was the first of such judgment by the apex court since it started delivering verdicts on appeals arising from the 2019 governorship election.
So far, the Supreme Court had delivered judgments in appeals against the election of 13 governors and upheld their victories.
The appeals are those involving Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Katsina, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Oyo and Rivers States, affirming the election of the governors.
Others are Abia, Delta, Niger and Taraba States.
The apex court has also deferred judgments in the cases of Kano and Sokoto States till today.
However, Uzodinma and his party, APCA had approached the Imo State Election Petitions Tribunal to nullify Ihedioha’s election on the grounds that he did not win majority of votes cast in the election.
He also cited non-compliance with the electoral guidelines as another ground for his call for the sacking of Ihedioha.
But the tribunal dismissed Uzodinma’s appeal, saying he was unable to prove his allegations against Ihedioha’s election.
Similarly, the Court of Appeal, Abuja division on 19th November, 2019 upheld the decision of the tribuna compelling Uzodinma to approach the apex court to get justice.
But the Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, held that the case of the appellants had merit and consequently granted the reliefs as prayed by Uzodinma and APC.
According to the apex court, the concurrent judgment 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.
It said Ihedioha was returned as governor of Imo State based on wrong computation of the election results.
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 on subpoena, was not the appropriate person to have tendered documents that showed the exclusion of votes in the 388 polling units during collation.
It consequently set aside the judgment 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.
In addition, the court held that the excluded votes from the 388 polling units be ascribed to Uzodinma and his party.
It, therefore, ordered 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.
Uzodinma has since been sworn in as the validly elected governor of Imo State.
Reacting to it, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome , who agreed that the Supreme Court was the final court of the land said that once it settled a dispute, such dispute would become final for all times.
He said: “Anyone who is disappointed or dissatisfied can only appeal to God Almighty. In governorship election matters, it constitutes a full panel of seven Justices to hear it in place of five Justices of the Court of Appeal that hear a governorship election petition. As the apex court itself once famously declared in Adegoke motors case, “the Supreme Court is final in the sense of real finality. It is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is final”.
“In the Hope Uzodinma v Emeka Ihedioha’s case, it has spoken. I believe in the rule of law and its sanctity. I also believe in total and absolute obedience to court orders, however, unpalatable to the loser to avoid chaos and anarchy.
Obedience to court orders is one of the inescapable building blocks of constitutional democracy. There is ordinarily a presumption by the society that the Supreme Court, being the final court of the land, is supposed to be right in its decisions after rigorous and painstaking perusal of cases brought before it between feuding parties.
“However, the next stage is for legal pundits, analysts and academicians to dissect the judgement thoroughly to decipher if it met the justice of the case, having regard to the available facts.
I do not have these facts, not being one of the counsel in the appeal. They must interrogate whether the judgement actually delivered justice according to law. After all, law is but a handmaid instituted by man to deliver justice.
“The two are siamese twins. One without the other is bare and vacuous. One area that needs critical analysis and interrogation is what makes a candidate that came 4th in an election to be declared the winner of that election. Another area that requires an urgent answer is why INEC has so failed the nation that Presidents and governors are now being packaged and delivered for the country and states against the clear choice of the electorate at the polls.
“If INEC got its acts right, the Judiciary’s frequent interventions would have been greatly minimised.
“Today, INEC is neither independent, impartial, nor well-equipped to count the electorate’s votes, and also allow such votes to count. That is the sorry state we are in today, especially since 2015.May God help Nigeria.”
Ozekhome was echoed by a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Ondo State, Mr. Remi Olatubora, who noted that the petition was fought on the basis of exclusion of election results from 388 polling units in Imo State.
Olatubora said: “These 388 polling units happened to be those in areas where Hope Uzodinma won massively. Many of them are around his father’s village. INEC in its pleading offered no explanation as to the whereabouts of election results of the 388 polling units. INEC only pleaded that no polling units’ results were excluded. In our Law of Evidence there is what we call presumption.
“Applied to election litigation, there is the presumption that the 9th March 2019 governorship election held in all the polling units in Imo.
“The implication of this is that the legal burden on INEC to account for what happened in the 388 polling units. We put in evidence results of the 388 contested polling units through the collation agents of Hope Uzodinma who witnessed the unlawful exclusion. Neither INEC nor Emeka Ihedioha put in a different set of election results.
“Interestingly, neither INEC nor Ihedioha denied that those polling units in respect of which 388 Forms EC8A were tendered and admitted, existed.
“The Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Operations during the election was subpoenaed. He responded and tendered copies of the Forms EC8A given to Police Officers in the 388 polling units in evidence. These documents were admitted as Exhibits PPP1 and PPP366.
“Hope’s petition was not taken seriously. Emeka focus more on 1st runner-up’s petition. 1st runner-up asked for only nullification on the grounds that Emeka did not get required geographical spread and Hope Uzodinma asked to be returned as the winner of majority of the votes cast (declared result + excluded) and alternatively for nullification and re-run.
“In the fullness of time and sensing the futility of 1st runner-up’s prayer, we abandoned Uzodinma’s alternative prayer. The life of the law is not logic but experience. (O. W. Holmes).
“We had spilt decision at the Court of Appeal. The minority judgment was in favour of Hope Uzodinma. What the Supreme Court did was to examine the fact of the case, cross-check on the health of the jurisprudence behind the majority and minority decisions of the Court of Appeal. If anything was wrong, the failure of INEC to give account is to be blamed not the Supreme Court.”
Another senior lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), noted that the Supreme Court was the final court of the land and its decision would only be changed by legislation.
He said: “The provisions of the Supreme Court for a review of judgement have to do with correcting clerical mistakes.
“Besides that, the court cannot revisit any decision it has rendered.”
Also reacting, a former NBA President, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and Ahmed Raji (SAN) were of the opinion that the decision of the apex court on the matter was the final.
Agbakoba noted that it was unrealistic that the apex court would reverse itself in the matter.
Raji in a similar vein noted that the Supreme Court rules allowed for a review in a very limited way, but however, there are other factors to be considered.