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‘Supreme Court judgment on Imo State governorship election petition unassailable’

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Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN)

Chairman, Nigeria’s Council of Legal Education, Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), in this interview speaks on last Tuesday’s verdict of the Supreme Court that voided the election of Chief Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Imo State and declared Senator Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who had come fourth in the result declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the winner. Describing the judgment as unassailable, right and sound, Ngige says those faulting the judgment do not have the facts of the case. He, however, calls for far-reaching electoral reforms that will make the outcome of elections in the country acceptable to all and sundry.

The judgment of the Supreme Court on Imo State governorship election has been generating mixed reactions from various quarters. What is your take on the matter as a senior lawyer in the country?
My take, which I had canvassed in a television programme on the very day the judgment was delivered, is that based on the facts on ground, the judgment is unassailable. The judgment is right; it is sound in the circumstances. And I gave my reasons that if results were excluded by the tribunal and the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court finds that the exclusion of those results were wrongly done and they now included it, thereby re-computing the collated result, the outcome will naturally be what it is now; that after re-computing, the candidate who has scored majority of one quarter votes in two thirds of the local government areas will be declared winner. And the Supreme Court after re-computing found that the person who had earlier come fourth has now become number one and the person who was earlier number one is now number two and the person who earlier became number two is no longer a candidate so all the votes are deleted.

The person who came third did not ask to be declared winner; he only wanted a re-run but the re-run cannot be given when there is a clear winner and the Supreme Court is not a father Christmas; they cannot give him what he did not ask for. So, the person that became number one and met the spread was therefore lawfully declared as the winner of the election.

Sentiments have been raised about how the result came about. It is not my business to discuss how the result came about. The only issue is: Did the Supreme Court properly admit the result? If they properly admitted the result, then you cannot question the decision.

If you remember, when election takes place, result sheets are made into up to 10 duplicates so that all the party agents will get their copy, the police will get their own copy and even the DSS. At times, some observers are given. So, if the candidate who claims to have won the election subpoenas the police to come and tender their own copy that tallies with his own, he has discharged the onus on him and the probative value will be given to those results. And this is not the first time this is happening.

If you can recall, in the case involving Peter Obi and Chris Ngige, it was a question of also each candidate producing results and calling witnesses who had duplicate copies to come and corroborate his own. In the end, the tribunal engaged in re-computation based on the result available. After re-computing, they held that Peter Obi had the highest majority votes cast in two third of the 21 local governments of Anambra State and he was therefore declared winner over Ngige, who was the person INEC had earlier declared. So, it is the same thing.

People are also saying that there is no APC member in the Imo State House of Assembly and referring to Action Alliance (AA) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and others. All those people are offshoots of the APC. And in any event, when Peter Obi was declared winner in Anambra, he met a House of Assembly that was dominated entirely by PDP. He had no single member in the House. So, all these things have their precedent before. So, there is nothing new in what the Supreme Court has done in my own view.

But why some legal luminaries are questioning the judgment, saying it needed to be further digged into… ?
(Cuts in) Anybody asking further questions after the Supreme Court had made the pronouncement is engaging in academic discussion, which is good for a symposium or retreat. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the decision is final. How can you further dig into how number four became number one when, like you said, I have explained that it was as a result of the exclusion of some results that made number four to come to that position. And with the inclusion of those results, he has now become number one. It’s simple.

Couldn’t the Supreme Court have ordered for a re-run of the governorship election since the exclusion of those results suffices for substantial non-compliance to the Electoral Act and Constitution?
Well, it’s a kind of discretion for them to exercise. One is, if there is somebody who has met the spread and has majority votes, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enjoins you, without going to the contrary, to declare that person winner irrespective of the number of cancelled votes.

I am aware that there is a provision in INEC manual that says that where the number of votes in the polling stations cancelled will make a difference between the winner and runner-up, it should order for a supplementary election in the cancelled area. But that provision of the manual must be read subject to the provision of the Constitution. The manual cannot dictate to the Constitution; it is the Constitution that will dictate to the manual. But that provision in the manual applies to National Assembly elections because in the Constitution, there is no provision as to the manner of winning elections, to be declared winner, for offices other than the president and governors. So, for legislative houses, you refer to the Electoral Act and Election Manual by INEC for declaration of a winner. So, that is what has happened.

How would you react to derogatory statements made against the judiciary by some politicians since the judgment was delivered?
It is because most of them are ignorant of the facts of the case or ignorant of the legal principles that informed the decision. It is also because we are still a developing nation. Do you know election was held in England few weeks ago and the Labour Party lost abysmally to the Conservatives; the Conservatives also lost in some areas. But there is no single election petition; not one! So, we are still evolving.

President Buhari has given an indication that he wants to leave a legacy of free and fair election with the election that will be conducted next time around. So, we look up to that promise because that will be the beginning of our journey towards electoral reforms that will be like that of United Kingdom or the U.S.

So, the politicians are reacting out of ignorance and out of frustration; and because they don’t know the facts of the case.

There were over 900 petitions after the 2019 general election and even the Supreme Court have complained that they have been over burdened with election petition cases. What path should we tread to get electoral process right?
The issue is that electoral reform is the key to our total emancipation even from corruption, poverty, economic retrogression and decadent public institutions. Electoral reform is the key to every thing because if you reform your election and do it in a way that even before the total collation of results is concluded, the person that is losing would have known that he has lost. He will concede to the person that is leading. That is when we will know that we have come to the emancipation stage because by that time, we will be electing people that we yearn for.

So, electoral reform particularly on internal democracy of political parties is very important. We can make it in a way that a tricycle rider or even commercial motorcyclist (okada) can decide to contest for the state House of Assembly and will not have to deposit N5 million but will just pay a nominal amount to buy the nomination form and participate in the primary. If the party people choose him at the primary, from there he will proceed to contest the main election. From there we shall be having all manners of people in legislative houses. You will have a PhD holder there; you will have somebody with just school certificate; you will have legislators representing all classes of people. From there our democracy will evolve to become one of the best in Africa. And it is from there that you can now fight corruption because when I enter the House of Assembly without spending millions to secure my ticket or to do vote buying, I don’t think I will be asking anybody to give me a dime to confirm him/her as a commissioner. But when we spend close to N200 million each to get to House of Assembly and the governor wants to send the list of commissioner nominees for confirmation, we will be asking, ‘where is our own’ in order to recoup what we have spent. So, electoral reform is the way to fight corruption. Once we do it and do it well, it will be better for this country.

And we cannot close our eyes to electronic voting, merged with manual voting, so that manual will be a backup. If electronic fails, we fall back on the manual. For instance, in an area where there is no network, the people there can be asked to vote manually on their ballot paper. But if there is telecom network there, then we do electronic. With that, as soon as you are accredited with your smart card reader, your accreditation is already registered at the headquarters. If we do accreditation electronically, there is no way somebody will be wasting his time to snatch ballot papers. If you snatch ballot papers, thumbprint on them and bring, the result that you have will be more than the number of those accredited. And it will become a stupid act.

So, these are the things we need to practice and get them right. Once you do this, the judges will be resting. You know in 2015, there were some states where there was no election petition. So, the tribunal that came there waited and waited. When they didn’t see any petition, they either folded up or they were transferred to another state where there were petitions. If you remember, in 2015 former president Goodluck Jonathan did not go to the tribunal because he felt that the result was a reflection of the votes cast. But this time around, virtually every state had election petition.

So, I’m yearning for a time when we will conduct all our elections from presidential to even councillorship and there will be nobody going to tribunal. I’m yearning for that day.


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