The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, sacked governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo state, even as it declared Senator Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressive Congress, APC, as the valid winner of the governorship election that held in the state on March 9, 2019.
The apex court, in a unanimous judgement by a seven-man panel of justices that was led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Tanko Muhammad, held that Ihedioha who contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes.
The Supreme Court, therefore, ordered the immediate withdrawal of the Certificate of Return that was issued to Ihedioha by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
It ordered that a fresh Certificate of Return should be issued to Uzodinma forthwith, adding that he should be sworn in immediately as the governor of Imo state
The lead judgement was delivered by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, while other members of the panel concurred.
The apex court said it was satisfied that the lower tribunal wrongly evaluated Uzodinma’s case, when it failed to countenance a proof of evidence that was brought before it by a police officer that testified before it as the PW-54.
It held that records before it proved that election results from 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded from the overall collated results.
It noted that results from the cancelled polling units amounted to 213, 295 votes, adding that Ihedioha was returned elected, based on wrong computation of results.
According to the apex court, finding by both the tribunal and the appellate court to the effect that Uzodinma did not prove his case, “was as a result of misapprehension of the case of the appellant”.
“There is merit in this appeal, it is hereby allowed. Majority judgement of the lower court affirming the election of the 2nd Respondent is hereby set-aside”, Justice Kekere-Ekun held.
She further directed the addition of all the unlawfully cancelled votes that were due to the appellant, declaring that Ihedioha was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast.
“His election is declared null and void and is hereby set-aside”.
The court further held that Uzodinma satisfied the statutorily required spread.
Aside the CJN, other members of the panel that concurred with the lead verdict were Justices Sylvester Ngwuta, Kayode Ariwola, Uwani Abba Ajji and Amiru Sanusi.
Meanwhile, the apex court deferred its judgement on appeal challenging the election of governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state till Monday.
The panel initially stood down its proceedings to give judgements on appeals that arose from both Imo and Sokoto state governorship elections.
The CJN-led panel had concluded hearing on four separate appeals in Imo and two appeals in Sokoto State.
Even though the apex court was initially ready to hear 13 different appeals that emanated from governorship elections in six states, the CJN, however, announced the decision of the panel to give priority to some of the appeals he said were due to expire.
He noted that whereas the statutory period for hearing of Imo state appeals would elapse by January 17, that of Sokoto state would expire January 20.
Consequently, the apex court adjourned appeals relating to governorship elections in Bauchi, Benue and Plateau state, some of which will elapse from January 25.
In Imo, while the first case marked SC/1461/19, was filed by Ifeanyi Ararume of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, the two other appeals marked SC/1462/19 and SC/1463/19, were lodged against governor Ihedioha by Senator Uzodinma and Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance, AA, respectively.
Likewise, Governor Ihedioha who won both at the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, equally filed a Cross-Appeal with Suit No SC/1470/19, wherein he challenged the minority judgement of the appellate court that gave victory to Senator Uzodinma of the APC.
Meanwhile, Nwosu who is son-in-law to the immediate past governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha, withdrew his appeal before it could be heard.
He predicated his decision to withdraw the appeal on a judgement the Supreme Court delivered against him on December 20, 2019.
The apex court had in the said judgement, held that Nwosu was not eligible to participate in the governorship contest, noting that he was nominated by both the APC and the AA.
Consequently, when his appeal was called up for hearing on Tuesday, Nwosu, through his lawyer, Mr. Solomon Umoh, SAN, said he was no longer willing to continue the case.
“Based on the judgement of this Court dated 20th December, in SC/1384/19, we had resolved to withdraw our appeal, on my advice to my client”, Umoh submitted.
Owing to the withdrawal of his appeal, the apex court panel dismissed it.
All the other appellants, in their separate appeals, argued that Ihedioha was not the valid winner of the Imo state gubernatorial contest.
It was part of their contention that Ihedioha failed to obtain the constitutional one-quarter of votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 Local Government Areas of Imo state as required under section 179 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
They prayed the court to invalidate the outcome of the Imo state governorship election and order a fresh poll.
The appellants maintained that the tribunal wrongly evaluated their petitions and arrived at a decision that favoured Ihedioha and the PDP.
Besides, they alleged that the governorship election was not only marred by manifest irregularities but was not conducted in compliance with the Electoral Act.
While Ararume adopted his brief of argument through his lawyer, Yusuf Alli, SAN, Uzodinma was represented by Mr. Damian Dodo, SAN, even as Solomon Umoh, SAN, argued Nwosu’s case.
Cited as Respondents in the appeals were the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Ihedioha and the PDP.
All the Appellants prayed the court to allow their respective appeals and set aside the lower court judgements that validated Ihedioha’s election.
Specifically, Uzodinma urged the apex court to reckon with votes that accrued to him, which he said was unlawfully and illegally excluded from collation.
However, all the Respondents, through their lawyers, Aham Ejelam, SAN, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, and K. C. O. Njemanze, SAN, respectively, urged the apex court to dismiss all the appeals as lacking in merit and uphold the concurrent decisions of both the Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.
On his part, Ihedioha, prayed the apex court panel to ignore Uzodinma’s claim, maintaining that his appeal was not centred on the exclusion of result, stressing that issues were joined on whether or not election actually took place in the affected polling units.
He insisted that the onus was on the APC candidate to prove that election held in the units before he could allege the exclusion of his votes.
Aside drawing attention of the apex court to the fact that Uzodinma only produced 28 witnesses with respect to result from over 388 polling units, Ihedioha’s lawyer argued that the Appellant had no case in view of the judgement that recognised the nomination of Nwosu as candidate of the same APC.
It will be recalled that the Court of Appeal in Abuja had in its judgement on November 19, upheld governor Ihedioha’s election victory.
The appellate court dismissed appeals that were brought before it by all the other aggrieved candidates.
The five-man panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, further awarded N500,000 cost against each of the appellants.
Though the appellate court was unanimous in the dismissal of the appeals by Nwosu and Ararume, a member of the panel, however, gave a dissenting judgement and upheld Uzodinma’s appeal, even as he awarded N1million cost against Ihedioha and the PDP.
In the case of Sokoto state, the panel fixed Monday to decide the appeal with No. SC/1466/19, which was filed by the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Ahmed Sokoto.
The APC candidate who adopted his brief of argument through his lawyer, Dr. Alex Iziyon, SAN, is challenging the declaration of Tambuwal of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the valid winner of the gubernatorial contest.
However, in a counter move, Tambuwal who won the election with a slim margin of 342 votes after a supplementary poll, and was declared winner by both the tribunal and the appellate court, also filed a Cross Appeal marked SC/1467/19.
Tambuwal’s lawyer, Muyiwa Akinboro, SAN, argued that the appellant failed to show any reason why the apex court should tamper with concurrent judgements of the two lower courts.
He contended that the appellant was unable to establish that judgements of both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, which affirmed Tambuwal’s election, was perverse.