Imo Guber: Can The Supreme Court Redeem Itself?

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ONWUASOANYA FCC JONES

22 months after the governorship elections in Imo State and 20 clear months since the change of baton on May 29th, Imo enjoys the awkward record of being the only State among the 29 States whose governorship election held on March 12th, 2019, with valid controversies still hanging around the authenticity of its political leadership at the governorship level. Apart from being the only State that it's governorship election was nullified among all the 29 States, Imo is one State that could be rightly said to have the demons of illegitimacy and uncertainties hanging over its clouds. These situations could to a large extent be blamed on the unconscionable tradeoffs by politicians from all divides in the State, in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

When Justice Chima Centus Nwaeze in giving a contrary opinion on the application for the review of an earlier judgement brought to the court by Chief Emeka Ihedioha and the PDP, warned that the decision of the court in that matter, would haunt the Nigerian Supreme Court and the judiciary for a long time, he was not simply giving a judicial opinion, but been prophetic. And very few people would have doubted him. His, was a clear and undeniable truth. Today, the unpopularity of that 'supreme' judicial decision still resonates and even the beneficiaries are not at ease with their pyrrhic crown.

To understand the situation with Imo governorship, and how best the Supreme Court can redeem itself, we must refresh our minds, unbiasedly to the circumstances that put our dear State in this quagmire and the Nigerian Supreme Court - supposedly, the final arbiter and on issues of Constitutionalism within the borders of Nigeria - in an ignoble limelight.

The first of the factors that brought us to this position in the political affairs of our country is the charade passed off as the governorship primaries of the All Progressives Congress in Imo State. Because of the embarrassing and well publicised irregularity that greeted that primaries, Gulak has become a byword for electoral fraud, while Ben Johnson has taken an entirely new relevance in our political lexicon. No one was in doubt about who really won the APC governorship nomination in 2018, those who celebrated the farcical fraudulence perpetrated by Gulak with the active prodding of Adams Oshiomhole, only celebrated for either of the following reasons, or all of them: 1. They reckoned that it would be easier to defeat Ugwumba Uche Nwosu if he is denied the ticket of the ruling Party 2. They saw Senator Hope Uzodimma as been unpopular and unprepared to undertake a governorship campaign at the time, so, proponents of zoning saw his nomination as a short route to an Owerri or Okigwe governorship. 3. They hated Owelle Rochas Okorocha and would endorse any action, no matter how illegal, that cut him to size, politically.

At the general election proper, the Independent National Electoral Commission picked up from where APC stopped in their culture of impunity by declaring a candidate whom it was obvious didn't meet the Constitutional requirement on electoral spread, as the governor-elect. Had the INEC exorcised itself of the demon of partisanship and refused to be influenced by external forces and powers, they didn't require the advice of a legal practitioner to know that, in the circumstance that the 2019 governorship election was, the right thing would have been to order for a runoff between the highest polling candidate - Emeka Ihedioha, who won the majority votes, but failed to secure 25% in at least, 18 LGAs of the State - and Ugwumba Uche Nwosu, who polled the second highest number of votes. But, for reasons that will forever be stressed on the pages of ignominy, in our nation's book of political history, INEC - with a Professor of Statistics as returning officer - declared Chief Emeka Ihedioha, as duly returned, in glaring derangement from unambiguous letters of our Constitution.

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Curiously, all three judges on the Governorship Petition Tribunal and all five judges on the Appeal panel closed their eyes to the issue of the Constitutionality of Ihedioha's purported victory. At the time the matter got to the Supreme Court, Ugwumba Uche Nwosu's candidature at the governorship election had been nullified, thereby, giving the justices the leeway to avoid answering the most important Constitutional question of the 2019 elections.

However, by going ahead to adopt an allegedly fabricated and unverified set of results submitted by one of the candidates in that election, the Supreme Court opened more rooms for questioning its impartiality and acclaimed prescience on Constitution and justice.

Some of the questions begging for answers as long as Governor Hope Uzodimma's "manufactured" 388 (or is it even 366) polling booth results is concerned are; 1. How come that out of about 70 candidates who participated in the election, only the results of Mr. Hope Uzodimma and Emeka Ihedioha were captured in the results? 2. Did Hope Uzodimma, meet the Constitutional requirement of 2/3 spread, at the end of tabulating these highly controversial results? 3. What logic can explain the reality that a governorship candidate whose election fell on the same day as those of the House of Assembly candidates could win, while non of the 27 House of Assembly candidates who ran on the same platform as him, won their election to the Assembly? Ehime Mbano House of Assembly member was returned by the Appeal Court. 4. What mathematical magic was used in arriving at the figure with which Chief Uzodimma was declared governor?

Now, let us get to the validity of Philip Umeadi's application before the Supreme Court. Umeadi, apparently, a non-Imolite, is qualified to institute this application, being a Nigerian. His is not an application for review of an earlier judgement of the Supreme Court, but a demand to the Supreme Court to execute its own judgement, vide the Action People's Party (APP) Versus Uche Nwosu. By this application, Umeadi accepts the controversial results produced by Chief Uzodimma and upheld by a panel of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Judge, but is calling the attention of the same Supreme Court to an earlier judgement by it nullifying the nomination of Ugwumba Uche Nwosu on the grounds of DOUBLE NOMINATION. The simple grammatical and logical implication of DOUBLE is that something existed in two places. Therefore, if Uche Nwosu was DOUBLY nominated, hence, his disqualification, how could there be another candidate for one of the Parties that duly nominated Uche Nwosu? Uche Nwosu couldn't have been the rightful candidate of the APC and Hope Uzodimma is the governor, purportedly as a candidate of the same APC. One does not need to be a lawyer to appreciate the incongruity in such judgement. Is a political Party empowered by the Nigerian Constitution to field two candidates for the same electoral position, in the same constituency?

Apparently, the judgement returning Chief Hope Uzodimma as governor is a very unpopular one and puts the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the judiciary in general on the headlamps of ignominy. This application by Philip Umeadi (SAN) therefore offers these justices an opportunity to either redeem the image of the Nigerian judiciary or allow this discontentment and mistrust against her to continue to fester. How can they do this? We will look at different scenarios that some commentators have played and analyze the logicality of each of them:

  1. UPHOLD HOPE UZODIMMA'S "MANUFACTURED" RESULTS, BUT UPHOLD UCHE NWOSU AS THE RIGHTFUL CANDIDATE OF THE APC AND RETURN HIM AS GOVERNOR OF IMO STATE: This scenario would be the most preferred by me, yet, it is most unlikely and would not rest the controversy bugging the Imo governorship. The Supreme Court had in about two previous cases, before the double nomination case, affirmed Ugwumba Uche Nwosu as the rightful candidate of the Action Alliance (AA), hence, the judgement by Justice Mary Odili led panel affirming him as both the candidate of AA and that of APC gains more relevance. Since, this is not an application for the review of any of those judgements, this Supreme Court panel cannot reverse any of those judgements. So, this means, that Ugwumba Uche Nwosu - clearly the most popular of all the governorship candidates, adjudged variously as the actual winner of the election, but a victim of high wired conspiracy - remains disqualified.
  2. UPHOLD PHILIP UMEADI'S ARGUMENT AND RETURN EMEKA IHEDIOHA AS GOVERNOR: This is the head for which the hat of the matter was made. Philip Umeadi instituted this argument, Ihedioha has joined and the PDP has also joined the matter, expecting favourable judgement. However, this would not resolve the controversies bugging the Imo governorship nor would it be a good way for the judiciary to redeem itself. A judgement in this direction would present the Supreme Court as bowing to high-level blackmail and media intimidation, orchestrated by the PDP. This will not be a good precedent for the integrity of the Nigerian Supreme Court and judiciary in general.
  3. DISMISS THIS OBJECTION AND UPHOLD THE STATUS QUO: This is what Uzodimma's scant group of supporters would earnestly wish for. But would it be popular with the people of Imo State? Will it speak well of the image Nigerian judiciary? If we had good pollsters in Nigeria, we would be able to come up with a very reliable data on what Imo people and Nigerians think about the Supreme Court judgement that returned Hope Uzodimma as governor. However my little experiment leaves me with more than 95% of percent of respondents in Imo State and about 90% of Nigerians believing that the judgement was influenced by either money or political considerations.
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During the last Christmas, I spent over two weeks in Imo State, within which time I used public transportation for all my movements. The prevailing opinion among Imolites is that the Supreme Court was compromised in giving that judgement. In fact, a Busimo operator whom I engaged in an interaction was unsparing in his dismissal of that judgement as the; "most brazen miscarriage of justice and the clearest evidence of the partiality of our judiciary." He told me that Imo State has been sold off to some powerful elements outside Imo State and that it would only take a reversal of the judgement, if possible, for an average Nigerian to have the slightest confidence in our judiciary.

  1. REFUSE TO HEAR THE OBJECTION, THEREBY, SUSTAINING THE STATUS QUO: Some people are of the opinion that the best way the judiciary would save itself of further embarrassment is by turning down the request to entertain this matter. This would be cowardly and would be tantamount to avoiding treatment for a cancerous tumor in order to avoid the pains. This would leave you in the more precarious situation where the cancer metastasizes and would require more painful, expensive and likely fruitless treatments. This is not a matter the justices should sweep under the carpet for any reason. They should hear it, and give a judgement, then leave posterity to pay them in the right coins.
  2. NULLIFY ALL 2019 GOVERNORSHIP ELECTION PROCESSES IN IMO STATE AND ORDER FOR FRESH PROCESSES: This would be unprecedented, but seems to be the only option left in the circumstance. Imo governorship is like a building on the verge of collapse due to serious structural deficiencies. It would be both expensive and risky, if we continue to reenforce this danger, by carrying out remedial works, here and there. The best thing would be to demolish everything completely and build afresh.
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The governorship of a State once it has got to the table of the highest court in the land should not be awarded on the basis of sentiments or to the highest bidder or most politically connected, but to the most judicially qualified candidate. In the circumstance, everyone of those who stand a chance of being returned as governor in the final consideration of the present litigation, has one judicial baggage or the other related to the 2019 electoral processes. So, the best option would be to quash everything and order a completely fresh exercise, from the nomination stage to the main election. This option could pass as a doctrine of necessity. It would both calm the volatility of the Imo political temperament and afford the Nigerian judiciary of an opportunity to cleanse itself of the taint of partisanship and corruption in the eyes of Nigerians in particular and the curious international community.

May Truth Win!

OMOKOSHABAN

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