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How Supreme Court’s ruling forces Imo State into off-season guber polls

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
16 January 2020   |   3:33 am
With Tuesday’s Supreme Court’s ruling, former governor Emeka Ihedioha has joined the club of state chief executives that enjoyed brief stints in office.

With Tuesday’s Supreme Court’s ruling, former governor Emeka Ihedioha has joined the club of state chief executives that enjoyed brief stints in office. This is just as Imo State joins the league of states slated for off-season gubernatorial polls. The implication of the delayed swearing-in of Senator Hope Uzodimma as the fifth governor in the Fourth Republic is that the state would have to wait till 2024 after the 2023 general elections to elect their next governor.

The journey to staggered governorship polls actually started from Kogi State, when the Supreme Court invalidated Alhaji Ibrahim Idris’s re-election for a second term in 2007 on the grounds that the candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Prince Abubakar Audu, was wrongly excluded.

Idris, who was elected as Kogi State governor in 2003, stood for re-election in 2007, but the Election Petition Tribunal upturned his victory when the petitioners proved that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) illegally excluded Audu and ANPP from the April 14, 2007 election

After the Court of Appeal upheld the nullification of the 2007 governorship poll, another election was ordered, which held on March 29, 2008, in which Idris was returned again by INEC as the winner. While awaiting the conduct of the repeat poll, the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Mr. Clarence Olafemi, served as acting governor of the state.

Attempts by the governor to have his four-year term begin afresh in March 2008 was rebuffed by the Supreme Court, thus ending his tenure in January 2011, thereby causing the state to have its governorship poll eight months after the general election. The difference in date could be explained by the constitutional requirement for 60 days before the expiry of the subsisting mandate.

Bayelsa State
LIKE Kogi, Bayelsa State suffered a disruption in its electoral cycle due to judicial intervention. Shortly after he was nominated as the 2007 governorship running mate to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Timipreye Sylva went on to become the governorship candidate. Jonathan was elevated to contest the presidential election as running mate to late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. However, although Sylva defeated his closest rival, Mr. Timi Amgbare of the Action Congress (AC), his election was upturned and a fresh poll conducted.

Legacy format detected for design:

The Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Werinipre Seibarugo, was sworn in as acting governor pending the conduct of the fresh poll. Although Sylva won the repeat election as ordered by the court, his plea to elongate his tenure was also rejected.

His second term quest was uneventful as the Supreme Court terminated his tenure on January 27, 2012, and a fresh poll ordered, which held in February 2012, thereby altering the governorship election date in the state.

Anambra State
DR. Chris Ngige was celebrated as the first incumbent governor to be subjected to the harrowing experience of abduction. For the period between May 29, 2003, and March 17, 2006, that Ngige was in office as governor, it was obvious that his mandate was not programmed for stability.

As the governor fell out with his godfathers, little details of how they conspired to rig the election in 2003 started emerging leading to his trumped-up resignation and ultimately removed from office in August 2005.

The Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, headed by Justice Nabaruma, nullified Ngige’s election, even as he lost his appeal at the Enugu Division of Court of Appeal on 15 March 2006.

Mr. Peter Obi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who was announced as the truth of the winner of the 2003 election, was sworn into office to serve a full term of four years that terminated three years after the 2007 general elections.

Edo State
PROF. Oserheimen Osunbor became the second governor of Edo State has won the 2007 gubernatorial election in which he defeated Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Action Congress of Nigeria (A.CN).

Legacy format detected for design:

However, the Election Petition Tribunal quashed his electoral triumph on March 20, 2008, nearly one year after he mounted the saddle. On November 11, 2008, when the Court of Appeal in Benin City confirmed his sack and announced Oshiomhole as the rightful winner, the election cycle had been broken. This year, the state would be heading to the polls once again to elect a governor, eight months after the general elections.

Ondo State
OLUSEGUN Agagu’s ambition to serve a second term in office was cut short after then-President Olusegun Obasanjo led some PDP candidates to displace governors elected on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD). Although INEC returned him as the winner of the April 2007 gubernatorial poll, Agagu was sacked from office in February 2009 on account of alleged electoral malfeasance.

Olusegun Mimiko, who crossed over to the Labour Party (LP) after losing the PDP governorship ticket, was declared the rightful winner. Mimiko’s ascension to the gubernatorial office paved the way for the eventual truncation of Ondo State’s participation in the governorship poll during the general elections.

Prior to the fall of PDP in Ondo State, the outcomes of the 2007 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun States had been upturned, thus putting these Southwest states in a basket of isolated governorship polls except Ogun and Lagos States that have remained faithful to the normal electoral circles.

Brief governors’ league
ELECTION petitions have been the cause of many heartaches, disappointments and pains to some politicians after their electoral victories. Although the phenomenon is more defined in the Fourth Republic, what is on record as the most devastating was the case of Mr. Ben Amalaha, who was returned as deputy governor-elect in a joint governorship with Sam Mbakwe of defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in 1979 in the First Republic.

The candidate of defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Chief Nwakamma Okoro, who was defeated by Mbakwe, went to court praying the tribunal to declare him and his party as the rightful winners of the governorship election.

In his grounds of the petition, the petitioner argued that the fact that the NPP’s deputy governorship candidate, Amalaha, did not formally resign his appointment with Alvan Ikoku College of Education (AICE) as prescribed by the Constitution and Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO’s) regulations invalidates their participation in the election.

On the fateful day that the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling of the tribunal disqualifying Amalaha, tears flowed freely, with most of his kinsmen lamenting that the man went to the land of the dead to light up a candle only to extinguish in the land of the living.

The breather for NPP was the observation by the court that the breach of the law on the part of the running mate should not negatively affect the standard-bearer, being a subordinate candidate.

On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, Imo State was back in the news for a similar electoral ordeal. The Supreme Court ruled on the appeal filed by the governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Hope Uzodimma, upturned the election of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of PDP as the winner of the March 9, 2019, gubernatorial poll in the state.

Ihedioha had always dreamed of becoming the governor of his state. In 2015, he came close to realizing his ambition but was stopped through a combination of anti-PDP sentiment and power of incumbency.

During the electioneering, the singsong across the length and breadth of Imo State, except in his Mbaise axes, was okpu agaghi achianyi (Green Cap would not reign over us) on account of the cap insignia that symbolized his campaign organization.

However in 2019, the rhythm had changed. The rejected stone became the chief cornerstone. Ihedioha defeated three other powerful contenders to become the governor of Imo State.

Eight months after mounting the saddle to seat as the distant successor of Sam Mbakwe, the same fate that befell Mbakwe’s running mate became his lot. Was he fated not to be governor? Did the swear words that trailed his campaign in 2015 haunt his grand victory of 2019?

Whatever be the case, Ihedioha has a class of other governors that enjoyed brief stints in office, including Senator Andy Uba, Celestine Omehia and Mukhtar Idris, to console himself with.

While reacting to the apex court’s ruling, Ihedioha stated: “I do not agree with the judgment 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 judgment.”

Mukhtar Idris
The case of Alhaji Mukhtar Shehu Idris is very pathetic. Idris emerged as Governor Abdullahi Yari’s preferred candidate in the Zamfara State chapter of APC for the post of governor. Despite some confusion over the participation of APC in the March 9, 2019 governorship poll, he has announced the winner by INEC and actually took part in an induction ceremony organized for new and returning governors-elect.

INEC refused to hand him a certificate of return based on the fact that the Court of Appeal ruling disallowed his participation in the poll, was being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Like a thunderbolt, a few days to his planned inauguration, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower courts that APC had no candidates for the 2019 general elections.

Andy Uba
ALTHOUGH he won the April 14, 2007 governorship election, Mr. Peter Obi of APGA, who was briefly impeached in the office prior to the election secured, a favourable judgment that quashed his impeachment. The incumbent further challenged the governorship that held midway to his term in office, arguing that he was entitled to full four years as stipulated by the constitution.

By June 14, 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional interpretation suit filed by Governor Obi, Uba’s stint as governor was declared unconstitutional even as the court maintained that INEC ought not to organize a fresh governorship poll since, according to the court, no vacancy existed.

Obi went on to enjoy more three years in office. Uba did not challenge his eviction, even if to delay his exit, despite the fact that he was not joined in the suit.

Celestine Omehia
FOR Sir Celestine Ngozichim Omehia, the shout of joy over his victory in the hotly contested 2007 Rivers State Governorship poll was short-lived. As was the cases of others in the class of brief governors, the apex court’s ruling uprooted Omehia’s stint as the fourth governor of Rivers State.

Ruling on the case of alleged wrongful substitution by Rotimi Amaechi against the PDP, the Supreme Court on October 25, 2007, declared Amaechi as the rightful candidate of PDP.

The court held that having won the governorship primary, PDP ought not to have replaced Amaechi with Omehia and therefore upturned his election. Omehia’s request to have the judgment reviewed failed and his sack paved the way for Amaechi’s eventual swearing as the fifth governor of the state.