Amid cries of alleged and perceived miscarriage of justice in the outcome of the Imo State governorship appeal at the Supreme Court which led to the ouster of former governor, Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the enthronement of the fourth-placed, now Governor Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), it is looking increasingly certain that the controversy trailing the apex court judgment won’t go away anytime soon.
Apart from sustaining the wail over their loss in the public domain, both local and international, the leading opposition party and his candidate are now back at the same Supreme Court asking the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Mohammed and his colleagues to have a look again at the judgment they gave and have a rethink that would make Ihedioha governor again. The request looks a tall order from a court expected to be the final arbiter in any judicial contest whatsoever and in this particular case and many others like it, where its pronouncement is expected to end all litigation over the rightful and lawful occupant of the Imo government house.
To preserve the finality of the court, a deliberate rule of engagement had been made for it, to avoid becoming the proverbial revolving door, especially in political cases, where politicians hardly give up until decisions are made by courts with final constitutional authority on their matters.
But the sacked governor is riding on high-waves of undisguised public discontentment over the obvious and perceived holes, gaps and lacuna in the judgment that brought about the Uzodinma administration, particularly the issue of votes from the contentious 388 units in the state which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rejected due to alleged discrepancies and outright fraudulent composition of the figures, but which the apex court embraced and added to Uzodima’s numbers, for the fourth-placed to jump ahead of all, including the then incumbent.
Mathematics of all shades have been in public domain, for and against, since the judgment was delivered on January 14, coming as a New Year shocker for Nigerians and the problems that were thrown up by the tallying of votes by the justices that sat on the appeal panel as well as the issue of precedents are now being returned to the same court for what Ihedioha believed would be a mere rectification that would make him the highest vote earner in the said election and governor again without necessarily appearing to be challenging the earlier conclusions of the Supreme Court justices.
Ihedioha’s counsel and his former Attorney General, Ndukwe Nnawuchi, last Wednesday, moments after the motion was filed, disclosed that “I want to officially inform you that this afternoon, the lawyers filed an application in the Supreme Court urging it to set aside the January 14 judgment. The relief being sought is on grounds of nullity.
Details have been canvassed in the application. The court will look at the argument and make a decision one way or the other.”
Will Supreme Court play ball?
The die is now cast and as the nation and international community which had been sufficiently notified of the judicial controversy through PDP’s public protest to the embassy axis of Abuja wait with bated breath on the apex court, to, as said by Ndukwe, decide the issue of nullity, one way of the other, the generality of opinion is that the Supreme Court will likely remain defiant and double down on its earlier position that the tallying wasn’t only done in lawful good faith, but constitutionally-done.
Is Ihedioha then on a wild goose chase as being taunted by the new governor? Constitutional lawyer and human rights campaigner, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), doesn’t think so.
He told Sunday Tribune that despite Order 8, Rule 16 of the Supreme Court Rules, there are three windows of opportunity for a dissatisfied litigant like Ihedioha to return to the same court and possibly get a favourable ruling.
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Order 8, Rule 16 says: “The court shall review any judgment once given and delivered by it save to correct any clerical mistake or some error arising from any accidental slip or omission, or to vary the judgment or order so as to give effect to its meaning or intention. A judgment or order shall be varied when it correctly represents what the court decided nor shall the operative and substantive part of it, be varied and a different form substituted.”
While the above appears a death knell for Ihedioha, the senior lawyer opined that three lawful ways of reopening such a case are still open to the former governor, namely; misrepresentation of facts, the court discovering not having jurisdiction and other party obtaining judgment by fraud which would make the entire proceedings a nullity.
Ihedioha’s counsel disclosed that they were taking the route of the third option, meaning they would be arguing that Uzodinma and his witnesses, particularly the controversial police officer, Rabiu Huseini, who tendered the Ghana-Must-Go evidence containing the said result of the 388 units, misled the apex court.
Since becoming governor, Uzodinma had consistently claimed that the police officer did lawful good that INEC, which the governor alleged was biased against him, refused to do, by adding those votes to his total tally before declaring Ihedioha, governor-elect.
INEC knocked the governor over the bias claim.
Ozekhome also raised certain query which he expected the apex court to address whenever it chooses to hear the Ihedioha’s application.
One is the issue of precedent and why the court’s position in Atiku Abubakar versus INEC, didn’t come into consideration in deciding the Ihedioha versus Uzodinma’s matter.
According to him, the apex court held that Atiku’s appeal, as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party against the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling APC failed because “for a petition to be successful, the petitioner must show results, polling booth by polling booth, to prove his case of winning the lawful votes. How come the court departed from its earlier decision?”.
He also raised the issue of APC fielding a lawful candidate for the said election following court ruling that the lawful candidate, Uche Nwosu, had defected to Action Alliance (AA).
The lawyer also touched on the contentious issue of Prosecution Witness (PW) 54, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Rabiu Huseini, asking why the Abubakar Atiku’s standard would not apply in the tendering of the said 388 units’ results, which instead of being on polling-booth basis, were practically dumped on the court by the police officer, who wasn’t part of the result collation process and not knowledgeable in the way of its procedure. He believed Ihedioha had a fighting chance.
Rabiu Huseini, the police officer who changed the entire narrative in Imo governorship appeal, used to be the Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Warri Area Command and was visible in the 2015 election when he began what he said was an operation to mop-up illegal arms in the build-up to the said election. In 2016, he was Area Commander of Railway Command, Zaria, still as an Assistant Commissioner. He was at this duty post when he won a special promo by a popular telecommunication company for police officers that fetched him N500,000 alongside 19 others.
Regardless of how the fresh judicial move ends, he is surely going to be literally in the eye of the storm for a long time to come.
Expectedly, precedents are far in-between on revisit and reversal by the Supreme Court, being the highest court in the land and expected to create order and stability. While the court doesn’t have a recent history of reversing itself on a major matter like the Imo State governorship appeal, it is not without precedents.
A known reversal was in the case of Johnson Vs Lawanson (1971) 7 NSCC 82.
In the case, which is about 49 years old, the Supreme Court had a reason to overrule itself. In that case, Justice G. B. A. Coker, then of the court, said: “When the court is faced with the alternative of perpetuating what it is satisfied is an erroneous decision which was reached per incuriam and will, if followed, inflict hardship and injustice upon the generations in the future or of causing temporary disturbances of rights acquired under such a decision, I do not think we shall hesitate to declare the law as we find it.”
If the apex court, still relying on Order 8, Rule 16, deems the mathematical error a clerical error which can be corrected under the said rule, then Uzodinma may be kissing the job he just got goodbye and possibly making him the governor with the second shortest tenure in history of Nigerian democracy, the record-holder being Andy Uba, who was governor in Anambra State for just about two weeks before the same Supreme Court sent him packing on 14th June, 2007. Another governor with a short tenure was Mr Celestine Omehia of Rivers State who spent about five months in office (29th May, 2007 to 25th October, 2007) before the apex court returned Rotimi Amaechi as governor, without being on the ballot for the said election. The Amaechi’s judgment isn’t a popular precedent.
The Supreme Court, however, said its conclusion was because INEC and Ihedioha did not disprove the results from the 388 units, which Huseini and the new governor claimed were originally from the March 8, 2019 poll.
According to the court, “Having pleaded that the documents are false, the respondents (Ihedioha and INEC) made allegation of criminal nature against the appellants.
“They were required to plead the specific elements of fraud and lead evidence showing the genuine results. Not only must the allegation be proved beyond doubt, it must also be proved that the appellants personally committed the forgery or aided and abetted the commission of the crime or that they procured the commission of the crime through their agents or officials.
“Although they relied heavily on the assertion that exhibits PPP1 –PPP366 were fake, no evidence was adduced to prove the assertion at all, let alone beyond any reasonable doubt.”
Though the Appeal Court rejected the results, Supreme Court overruled the court below.
“The tendering of exhibits PPP1 – PPP366 through PW54 was to show that the scores recorded therein were excluded from the forms EC8B (ward collation results).
“The respondents failed to prove that the documents were fake or forged” the apex court held in its full judgment.
After close to a half of a century, will the apex court reach another landmark conclusion and remake Ihedioha governor? Only time will tell
By LANRE ADEWOLE