IMO STATE: Stakeholders Lament Politicians’ Penchant For Denigrating Court’s Verdicts


Recently, the Court of Appeal sitting in Imo State validated the election of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). However, there are disturbing moves by the parties to discredit the judiciary. Although, there is still room for appeal as the Supreme Court is expected to fix a date for hearing of appeals on the Imo State Governorship election, politicians’ penchant to denigrate the judiciary each time a court’s decisions do not favour them has drawn condemnations from stakeholders across political and legal spectrums.

Governor Emeka Ihedioha’s opponents are praying the Supreme Court to overturn the judgments of the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal judgment that upheld his victory in the March 9 election.After a keenly contested election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) winner of the election.

The returning officer, Francis Otunta, said Ihedioha polled 273,404 to beat his closest rival, Uche Nwosu of the Action Alliance (AA), who polled 190,364. Ihedioha won in 11 of the 27 local government areas, defeating about 69 other candidates.The other major candidates included former Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who polled 114,676 votes, Senator Hope Uzodinma of All Progressives Congress (APC), who garnered 96,458 votes, and former governor Ikedi Ohakim of Accord Party (6,846 votes).

The Returning Officer declared Ihedioha the winner “having satisfied all the requirements of the law and scored the highest number of votes.”Dissatisfied with the outcome, Ihedioha’s opponents approached the Election Petition Tribunal to cancel the election on the grounds that he did not meet the mandatory 25 per cent in two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state. They also alleged substantial non-compliance with the electoral laws. But both the tribunal on relocation to Abuja, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the cases.

How the courts decided the cases
THE Election Petition Tribunal, chaired by Justice Malami Dogondaji, in a September 21 verdict, held that the petitioners were unable to prove their allegations. It held that the evidence supplied was mainly based on hearsay and that the unlawful exclusion allegation was not proven. Dismissing Uzodinma’s petition, the tribunal held that the results he presented were not recognised by law as they neither emanated from, nor were authenticated by, INEC.

Justice Dogondaji said Nwosu’s application for judgment on admitted facts could not be sustained on the basis that declaratory reliefs were not granted on admitted facts. The tribunal held that Ararume’s expert witness could not be sustained having not participated in the election. It dismissed Araraume’s and Nwosu’s petitions for lacking in merit and for being incompetent.“Failure to discharge the heavy burden of proof makes the petition liable for dismissal and it is accordingly dismissed,” the tribunal held.

Not satisfied, Ihedioha’s opponents proceeded and approached the Court of Appeal, which also dismissed their appeals on November 19. A five-man panel, led by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, dismissed the appeals on grounds that they lacked merit. The court also awarded N500,000 cost against all the appellants in Ihedioha’s favour. One of the Justices, however, rejected Ihedioha’s cross-appeal and ordered him to pay N1million to Uzodinma and APC. AA’s and APGA’s appeals were unanimously dismissed, but APC’s appeal was decided by a four-to-one verdict (minority judgment).

The Court of Appeal disagreed that the election was marred by corrupt practices, non-compliance with the electoral laws and failure to secure the majority of lawful votes cast. It upheld the tribunal’s findings and conclusions. The appellate court found that Uzodinma, who came fourth, called no witness from the polling units, ward or local government level to prove that Ihedioha did not score 25 per cent of the votes cast in 18 out of the 27 LGAs.

The Court of Appeal discountenanced a set of documents in which he claimed to have scored substantial votes from 386 polling units, but which he alleged were excluded by INEC. The appellate court allowed a cross-appeal to the effect that with respect to Section 179 (3) (4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), only the person who came second in an election can make a case regarding Section 179 (2).

The Section provides: “A candidate for an election to the office of governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected where there being two or more candidates (a) he has the highest number of votes; and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.”Ihedioha’s lawyers had contended that no other contestant in the March 9 election, except Nwosu, was competent to canvass the issue of whether Section 179 was complied with or not. On Ararume, the appellate court agreed with the tribunal’s position on his expert witness. The tribunal had found that the witness had degrees in education rather than in statistics.He relied on Form EC8D, being the overall collation of results by INEC, and not polling units, ward or LGA results, and could not successfully demonstrate how he arrived at his figures from Form EC8D.

Ararume’s other witness, his state collation officer, testified as to events that took place at the polling units in different parts of the state.The tribunal held that his evidence was hearsay and not based on what he witnessed.

Both the tribunal and Court of Appeal disagreed with Nwosu, who came second in the election, dismissing his claims that Ihedioha did not satisfy the requirements of geographical spread as stipulated in Section 179 (2).The section provides: “A candidate for an election to the office of Governor of a state shall be deemed to have been duly elected to such office where …(b) he has no less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state…”

The AA candidate’s witness, a teacher at the College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State, admitted under cross-examination that the only document he analysed was Form EC8D – the overall INEC-collated result. The tribunal and the Court of Appeal concluded that Nwosu’s “expert” was a mere sympathiser, who was out to support the petitioner’s case rather than help the court arrive at the truth.

The Court of Appeal held that none of the petitioners was able to establish, by credible evidence, that Governor Ihedioha did not meet the requirements of geographical spread as stipulated in Section 179 (2). The courts noted that Araraume did not predicate his original petition on the geographical spread but called for cancellation of the election on allegation of fraud.

It was after Nwosu’s candidacy was nullified on grounds of double nomination that the Senator raised the issue of geographical spread at the Appeal Court. The Court of Appeal cautioned Ararume on the point that he could not present one case at the trial court and an entirely different one on appeal. AA withdrew from the petition, and a high court struck out Nwosu’s candidature, which was upheld by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution provides: “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election…”With the Constitution having no provision for independent candidature, observers will be keen to see how the Supreme Court resolves his prayers. The Court of Appeal cautioned Ararume on the point that he could not present one case at the trial court and an entirely different one on appeal.

Ihedioha’s opponents have headed for the Supreme Court on which its decision is being awaited. The appellants are contending that the tribunal and the Court of Appeal failed to adequately address their contentions. The Imo Professional Group, had also faulted both judgments, saying the courts did not do justice.

In an advertorial signed by Dr. Ifeanyi Emeka, the group said: “It is a cardinal principle of law that justice must not only be done, but seen to be done.“The ‘justice’ of the judgment of the Imo State Election Tribunal, chaired by Justice Malami Dongondaji, and the Court of Appeal by five man panel led by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, can definitely not be seen from the judgment of the courts.”

The group said Ihedioha failed to meet the constitutional minimum requirements of scoring 25 per cent of the votes cast in each of at least the two third of all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.“It, therefore, baffles one’s imagination why and how the ‘Learned Judges’ can find legal reasons to ignore such a brazen wrong against the constitution,” the group said.

But, another group, Imo Leaders of Thought (ILT), has dismissed the position of Imo Professional Group, warning against denigrating the judiciary. ILT comprises former Deputy Governor Ebere Udeagu, former Minister of Commerce and Industry, Engr. Charles Ugwu, former Attorney-General, Prof. Francis Dike, Secretary, Imo State Council of Elders, Chief Peter Mgbenwelu, former military governor of Delta State, Commodore Luke Ochulor and an elder statesman, Chief J. C. Odunna.

To them, the statement by the Imo Professionals “is a direct assault on the integrity of the nation’s judiciary,” adding, “What the authors of the publication attempted to achieve, throughout the 10-paragraph advertorial, was to discredit the learned Judges involved in the matter at both the Tribunal and the Court of Appeal.“We are, however, of the view that this growing penchant to turn the Nigerian judiciary into a whipping boy is something every well-meaning and patriotic Nigerian must rise against.

“Much as we agree that the laws of the land allow citizens the liberty to seek remedies where they are not satisfied with judicial pronouncements, the growing tendency by political litigants to brand every court ruling that is not in their favour as a ‘travesty’, makes a mockery of our collective integrity as a people.” ILT noted that the INEC, in declaring Ihedioha winner, said he satisfied all the requirements of the Electoral Act and the Constitution.

“This means that in the eyes of the law, the result declared by the electoral body was correct, valid and authentic,” ILT stated. “Therefore, the burden of proof to the contrary lies on the petitioners. The electoral laws require that to establish that a person did not satisfy the constitutional requirements as winner of an election, the results will have to be recalculated, beginning from the polling units; the reason being that votes are cast at the polling units.

“But throughout the trial, none of the petitioners was able to provide any new configuration of results from the polling units that could prove what INEC declared wrong. We agree that these three brothers of ours have the right to pursue their cases to the highest level, but the desperation they are manifesting in the matter is a let down to the rest of the people of the state.

“Imolites are amused that these three hitherto mortal enemies, after losing woefully at the Tribunal and Court of Appeal, have proceeded to the Supreme Court as one unit, through a covert blackmail of the entire judiciary, as could be seen from their joint advertorial.“But the people of the state, who voted overwhelmingly for Governor Ihedioha, are undeterred by the fact that the matter at hand is about the requirements of the law and are confident that the judiciary will not be swayed by the paranoia of recalcitrant clansmen.”

However, political watchers have condemned the attitude of politicians in denigrating the judiciary as well as making unfounded allegations when cases do not go in their favour. They want an end to the practice of discrediting judges and casting aspersions on the judiciary.

According to Mr. Ebun Olu Adegboruwa,
‘It is wrong for a party who has lost a case in court to proceed to denigrate the judiciary or castigate the judge. It amounts to contempt of court to subject a judicial officer to ridicule only on account that he gave a judgment that one of the parties considers unsuitable.

“The notion of rule of law is that due process should be followed in all cases and in all circumstances. A situation whereby the judiciary is pilloried for the reason only of judicial exercise does not augur well for our nation.“Constantly criticising the judiciary in the media is to lower the estimation of that noble institution in the eye of the ordinary man and thus reduce the confidence that people have in that organ of government which in turn may lead to lawlessness and resort to self-help.”

For Adegboruwa, it is the duty of everyone to preserve the integrity and authority of the judiciary while also encouraging all judicial officers to decide the cases brought before them according to law and according to their good conscience.In the same vein, former President of Aka Ikenga, an Igbo cultural group, Chief Anayo Uwazurike, condemned the practice, stressing that the situation might arise when a dishonest lawyer collects money from his client, ostensibly to bribe a judge, but pockets the money, which naturally will make the litigant to feel betrayed.He said: “I know that the Court of Appeal descends heavily on a lawyer who denigrates the trial court. The loser may have briefed a lawyer who has a lot of confidence in negative law practice. The line of action is as follows.

“Where the facts are against his client, the lawyer goes for the law. Where both the law and facts are against his client, he goes for judge, through bribery and denigration.“But there are some disgruntled litigants who are so cantankerous that any judgment against them is a reason to badmouth the judiciary. Some even write petitions to the National Judicial Council. Luckily, the NJC will require proof of the accusations. Even some lawyers encourage a losing client to embark on a campaign of calumny.”