Monday, 25th September 2023

How Ihedioha’s appeal split Supreme Court

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Terhemba Daka, Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Leo Sobechi, Seye Olumide and Olawunmi Ojo (Lagos)
04 March 2020   |   4:30 am
The tussle over who governs Imo State for another four years ended yesterday as the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by the ousted governor, Emeka Ihedioha, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).


• Six justices dismiss suit to reclaim mandate
• ‘We have no power to review any application’
• You’ve inherent power to do so, Justice Nwenze insists
• ‘Courts should be stripped of power to impose candidates’

The tussle over who governs Imo State for another four years ended yesterday as the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by the ousted governor, Emeka Ihedioha, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

They had approached the apex court, seeking a review of the judgment that removed Ihedioha from office.But six out of the seven justices of the apex court led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammed, dismissed the application on the ground that the court could not reverse itself.

In the judgment read by Justice Olukayode Ariwola, the court held that revisiting its January 14 verdict would open the floodgate of similar applications.He said: “The application was an invitation for the Supreme Court to sit on appeal over its own final judgment. Granting the request of the applicants will open the floodgate by parties to all kinds of litigation.

“The general law is that the court has no power under any provision order to review any application unless to correct an error. This court has on each occasion stated that it lacks jurisdiction to do that. We cannot sit as an appeal court. We have no hearing power in respect of the matter.

“The court does not have the competence and lacks the jurisdiction to review its own judgment. The finality of the Supreme Court is inherent in the constitution.

“To ask us to set it aside means an appeal for us to sit on our own decision, which we have no jurisdiction over.

“The application is hereby dismissed and parties are to bear their respective costs.”

But another member of the panel, Justice Chima Centus Nweze, in a dissenting tone, delivered an opposing judgment that attracted loud cheers , an action that defied the tradition of the court.

In a very detailed judgment, Nweze maintained that the Supreme Court had the inherent power to revisit its judgment, and asked his colleagues to do so in the interest of justice.

Describing the January 14 judgment that sacked Ihedioha as a “wonder that shall never end”, the justice asked the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction and redeem its image.

He also confronted his colleagues with instances in the Nigeria’s Supreme Court and other supreme courts, including those of the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and Australia, where the courts had exercised their powers to over-rule themselves, and consequently urged his colleagues to visit the recent judgment in the interest of justice.

Justice Nweze added that except the judgment recently delivered was set aside, it would continue to hurt the nation’s electoral jurisprudence.

Revisiting the Imo State judgment, Justice Nweze pointed out that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Hope Uzodinma, in his petition, presented his case without the record of accredited voters.

According to the justice, Uzodinma misled the court to accept the results of the election from his angle.

He said: “There were over 129,340 votes in excess of accredited voters. The court can redeem its image by setting aside its judgment. If not, this will continue to hurt our electoral jurisprudence. It is awkward and embarrassing to the court. He misled the court.

“When the appellant presented his table of exhibit, he mischievously excluded the votes of others and the court declared him winner. I am of the firm view that this court should set aside the initial judgment and restore the judgment of the lower court.”

Justice Nweze added that the apex court had a duty in the interest of justice to set aside its decision that was given in error. To him, the judgment that declared Uzodinma winner was entered in error.

Ihedioha had on February 5 approached the court for a review of the ruling that sacked him and returned Uzodinma of the APC as the duly elected governor.

At the resumed hearing yesterday, counsel to Ihedioha and PDP, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), asked the court to set aside its earlier judgment and uphold the verdict of the lower court which upheld the election of Ihedioha.

He noted that an error was discovered in the judgment as the total number of votes cast exceeded that of accreditation by over 100,000. Agabi argued that Uzodinma was granted the request he did not pray for. “He prayed for fresh election in 388 polling units, he got what he did not seek.”

Agabi then asked the court to set aside the judgment and restore the verdict of the court of appeal.

But counsel to Uzodinma and his APC, Damian Dodo (SAN), asked the court to dismiss the application for review for lacking in competence and merit.He argued that the apex court lacked jurisdiction to revisit its earlier judgment, adding that the verdict was clear without any ambiguity.

“We want the court to dismiss the application for incompetence and lack of merit. The thrust of this objection is that there is a total lack of jurisdiction of this court to revisit its judgment of 14th February 2020, irrespective of whether the application is characterised as an application for review or classified as an application to set aside or however dressed.

“This court has consistently and rightly so held that there is lack of jurisdiction to sit on appeal over its judgment.

“The only exception is if there was a slip or that the judgment rendered does not reflect the intention of the court, but it is not so in this case. Therefore, the invitation to review is not tenable,” he argued.

According to Dodo, “There is no ambiguity in the judgment. It is clear and categorical. No one can invite this court to reconsider this appeal. The application is incompetent because there is no jurisdiction.”

Although Justice Nweze’s position was overridden by the majority judgment of the other six members of the panel, it appeared to have provided the needed soothing balm on the losing side of the divide.

In fact, the court lost the usual excitement and noise that often herald victory of this sort. There was an unusual quietness as people filed outside the court.

In its reaction, PDP described yesterday’s verdict of the Supreme Court as “a disconcerting endorsement of electoral fraud, which places a huge burden on the court and the justices.”

The PDP, in a reaction to the judgment by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted however that “in the face of the sad verdict, Justice Nweze’s judgment presents a glimpse of hope for our nation’s judiciary.”

“Our party abides completely by every word of the judgment of Justice Nweze as treated facts, which are truly sacred.

“Justice Nweze’s pronouncement, which went straight into the substance of our application, represents a universal view about the travesty of justice that occurred in the Imo State governorship election judgment,” the party added.

According to the PDP, “it is indeed unfortunate that the Supreme Court had the wholesome opportunity to redeem itself and correct its errors, but chzose to hide behind technicality to justify and endorse an electoral fraud.

“What Nigerians expected of the Supreme Court, since the error in its earlier judgment had been fully established, was to summon the courage to affirm its infallibility by correcting the errors and handing over victory to the rightful winner. Sadly, it failed to do so.

“What the Supreme Court had done in this judgment is to uphold and legalise the writing of election results by individual contestants against the will of the people as expressed at the poll.

“As a party, we hold that on this judgment, all election stakeholders must rally to create remedies for this pathetic situation created by the Supreme Court in the Imo governorship election before our entire electoral process becomes vanquished.

“This judgment will continue to haunt the Supreme Court. It has created a burden of precedent ß and fallibility on the court,” the statement stressed.

The PDP said that “more distressing is the fact that the judgment has heavily detracted from the confidence Nigerians and the international community reposed in the Supreme Court and our entire jurisprudence.”

In Imo State yesterday, it was sadness for supporters of Ihedioha, but joy for those in the governor’s camp.

In some streets in Owerri, the state capital, some persons who wore long faces said they had expected the sacked governor to have been reinstated.

But in some areas, especially the ever- busy Wethdral Road, scores of Uzodinma’s supporters were spotted dancing and marching on the streets.

A chieftain of the APC, Chief Chekwas Okorie, described the judgment as a welcome development that no one could ever upturn again.

He said the dissenting judgment from one of the seven judges was insignificant considering the history of Supreme Court judgments, which is replete with dissenting judges.

Okorie expressed the hope that the latest judgment would restrain politicians and other people with mischievous intentions from approaching the apex court to seek a review of its earlier decisions or seek to downgrade the supremacy of the court.

On his part, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, said the apex court’s decision was ‘a Daniel come to judgment’ because, regardless of how anyone or party felt, the Supreme Court ought to be given its due as the highest court of the land.

Okechukwu said: “For anybody or group, whether they were injured or not, to decide to ridicule the Supreme Court is not ideal for the society. All of us would come and go. This pains us particularly because these are some of the things that lead to the erosion of democracy.”

Some eminent citizens under the auspices of Third Force Movement faulted the Supreme Court for rejecting the review of its judgment on the Imo governorship election.

After an emergency meeting yesterday, the group, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Dr. Olusegun Obe, said the latest ruling of the Supreme Court, ran contrary to precedent set by the same court on the matter of review.

According to the group, the court violated the ‘spirit and principle of justice’ which is the whole essence of the necessity for the judiciary and so may heighten the political tension in Imo and the southeast at large

The group said it would internationalise the matter by immediately sending a petition to the United Nations (UN), United States, United Kingdom, African Union and European Union, among other world powers.

Some observers are of the view that PDP has itself to blame and not the Supreme Court for the failure of Ihedioha to reclaim his mandate handed out to the APC .
Signs that Ihedioha had a good case emerged when Justice Nweze dissented to deliver a minority judgment on the review of the earlier ruling.

While the court, in its lead judgment read by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola held that “the application was an invitation for the Supreme Court to sit on appeal over its own final judgment,” it was obvious that PDP’s decision to reopen the presidential election petition matter frightened the apex court.

But for the PDP’s hint on reopening the case between its presidential candidate in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari, Justice Nweze’s ruling would have been the majority decision.

Justice Nweze had, in disagreeing with the lead judgment, allowed Ihedioha’s application, stressing that not only was the judgment that declared Uzodinma winner entered in error, but also that the Supreme Court has a duty to set aside its decision that was given in error in the interest of justice.

The PDP had in a moment of emotional reprisal put together a committee to review the Atiku versus Buhari election dispute shortly after the APC filed an application before the apex court to revisit its ruling on the Bayelsa State governorship pre-election matter.

Announcing the party’s decision at a press conference, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Ologbodiyan, disclosed that the National Working Committee (NWC) had also resolved to seek a review of the governorship polls it lost in Osun, Kaduna and Kogi states.

Affirming the Appeal Court ruling on the presidential election tribunal, the Supreme Court held that PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku, failed to prove the grounds of their case against Buhari’s victory.

It is perhaps out of concerns that granting Ihedioha’s application could open the door to a rash of similar review appeals that the apex court swallowed its spit in the Imo governorship election despite obvious shortcomings.

PDP had through its spokesman explained that it had to seek a review of the case following what it called the desperation by “APC to annex the Supreme Court, and direct judicial determinations to suit their selfish ends.”

Meanwhile, the APC has called for immediate parliamentary amendment of the Electoral Act to make it an offence for courts to impose on the electorate a rejected candidate during a democratic election.

The national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole said: “Court should not impose. If the court finds out that the preferred candidate did not win, for me the only democratic option, legal option will be to repeat the exercise.

“The very best the court can do is to order that the exercise be repeated, because in a democracy, nobody, other than the people, can choose who governs them, not the courts.”

Oshiomhole spoke to State House correspondents yesterday after the Supreme Court dismissed the application of Ihedioha.

The APC chairman, who lauded the ruling, said the apex court had affirmed that the choice of the people of Imo State had been respected.

Oshiomhole said the National Assembly should quickly amend the law to strip the court of the power, such that no matter what happens, when people have voted, their choice would not be dismissed.

“What I think that we must discuss as a people, which concerns you and I as Nigerians, who believe in democracy, is that the law should be amended, such that no matter what happens, when people have voted, they cannot be dismissed as ‘April Fool.’”