Still On Imo Governorship Tussle

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad’s recent advice to the judges of superior courts in Nigeria — against the use of technicalities in deciding cases brought before them, has reinforced our sound argument that justice cannot be scarified on the basis of technicalities, in the recent Court of Appeal’s judgement in the governorship election petition — involving Senator Godwin Ifeanyi Araraume Vs Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who was returned by INEC in the last governorship election in Imo State.

Justice Muhammad, who noted in a conference of judges in Abuja recently that the judiciary play a critical role in sustaining the nation’s democracy, scolded judges and advised them to leave above board, so as to win the ‘’confidence’’ of Nigerians at all times.

According to him relying on technicalities in justice dispensation contributes to delay of justice delivery; while stressing that technicalities in itself sometimes constitute ‘’unreasonable’’ delay in dispensing with cases. We agree with the CJN in his sound judgement.

It is our considered opinion that the recent Court of Appeal ruling, affirming the victory of Emeka Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State, was merely based on technicalities, against the altar of substance and reviewing the document (EC8D) that was the basis for the return of Ihedioha, as governor of Imo State.

The petitioners had argued that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, as provided under Section 179 of the Constitution and consequently, asked the court to set aside the decision of the election petition tribunal and order a rerun.

But, the three-member panel of the tribunal refused and had in a unanimous decision delivered on September 21 held that Mr Ihedioha was lawfully declared the winner of the governorship election by INEC. The panel led by Justice Malami Dongondaji had in the judgment dismissed APGA and Ararume’s petitions for lacking in merit on the grounds that they failed to prove the allegations made in their petitions.

Apart from the submission that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with the provisions of the law, the petitioners had also alleged substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and Guidelines, including other irregularities.

But the court in its judgement held that the case of the petitioners was unmeritorious because they failed to call relevant witnesses and that evidence of witnesses called were based on hearsay.

The tribunal, in addition, rejected documents presented by the petitioners in support of their claims on the grounds that those who led evidence in the documents were not the makers of the documents.

For many senior lawyers, including the petitioners’ counsels – many of them Senior Advocates of Nigeria, the judgement was suspicious, especially when the judges refused to examine the evidences presented before them.

The fundamental principle of law is that ‘’justice must not only be done, but seen to be done.’’ And it is extremely difficult to find grounds for the judgement of the Court of Appeal on this matter. In fact, it is safe to argue that ‘’justice’’ of the judgement 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 judgement of the courts.

Because, the well-known trust of APGA and Senator Ifeanyi Araraume’s petition, is the obvious breach of the constitution by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — by the declaration and return of Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, as Governor of Imo State, despite his failure to meet the constitutional minimum requirements of scoring 25% of the votes cast in each of at least the two-third of all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.

Imo State has 27 Local Government Areas. And that two-third of 27 is 18 is not rocket science. That Hon. Emeka Ihedioha scored up to 25 % of the votes cast in only 11 local government areas out of 27, is an established fact – as can be clearly seen on Form EC8D (Summary of Results from LGAs Collation at State Level, Imo State) — personally certified as Certified True Copy (CTC) by the Head of Legal Department, Imo State INEC, O.Elekwa Esq, on March 20, 2019. The CTC was tendered and admitted in evidence at the Election Petition Tribunal.

That an expert, who holds a BSc (Maths), Msc (Maths) and Ph.D (Maths), and heads the Department of Mathematics at Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, and gave evidence — analysing Form EC8D (Summary of Results from LGAs, Collation At State Level), to show that two-third of 27 is 18; and that 11 is below 18.

Yet, his evidence was rejected by both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal — on the grounds that he did not prove that he is an expert. And one now wonders who an expert is – if a holder of Ph.D in Mathematics with over 40 years as a lecturer, is not regarded non-professional.

The requirement of Section 179 (2) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended, in respect of spread, does not require any legal gymnastic for interpretation. 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. We begin to wonder whether the days Ubi Jus Ibi RemedIun (where there is a wrong, there is a remedy), has come to an end.

Otherwise, how else can one explain the reason by judges to brand documents, personally certified in long-hand with the name of the Certifying Officer and the office he occupies, as hearsay? Has our law degenerated to the point, where CTC of documents are now branded as hearsay?

As we approach the final court of the land – the Supreme Court, and in line with the CJN’s advice, we hope that the apex court will rise to the demand of justice by scarifying technicalities on the altar of substance and review the document (EC8D) that was the basis for the return of Hon. Ihedioha, as governor of Imo State. Because, as many democratic institutions have canvassed, the legitimacy of democratic government is established, in large measure, by genuine elections. It is our strong view that Ihedioha is not a product of genuine election in view of the electoral fraud and other infractions that characterised the last Imo State governorship election.